Today, I’m going to give you a challenge. But before that, I want you to think about all the projects you and your team have on your plate. Take a few seconds to jot down a list if it’s helpful.

Illustration of individual with all their projects
Illustration of individual with all their projects

Once you have a good sense of the projects underway, I want you to grade each based on your enthusiasm and excitement.

Give a “+” to the projects that you feel are on track, that will push the organization further, and that have you and your team motivated and growing.

Give a “-” to any projects where you feel the opposite. Maybe project deadlines have lapsed, the team has lost sight of the goal, or you just know the results will fall short of expectations. …


Near the start of Radical Candor, Kim Scott writes that “Bosses guide a team to achieve results.” The Silicon Valley veteran and cofounder of Candor, Inc., builds upon this definition to identify a manager’s three areas of responsibility:

  1. To create a culture of guidance (praise and feedback)
  2. To understand what motivates each person on your team well enough to avoid burnout or boredom and keep the team cohesive
  3. To drive results collaboratively

I’ve been mulling over this definition of a “boss” since finishing the book a few months ago. On one hand, it’s so simple! Imagine if these bullets topped the job description of every boss on the planet. …


As a manager, I’m guessing your reports come to you with all sorts of questions. How should I respond to this email? What do you think we should do on this project? Should we change our timeline?

In the moment, providing a solid answer feels great. You’ve helped address your report’s problem, and they have clearance to move ahead. But over time, this creates a culture in which your team defaults to your direction when they’re stuck, inhibiting initiative and autonomy.

A helpful tactic to avoid this trap, and ultimately delegate more effectively, is to respond to every prompt or question from your team with seven simple words: “I don’t know, what do you think?”


Over the years, I’ve experimented with several ways to give me space to reflect on my work as a manager. The goal has been to create a cadence for developing self-awareness of my leadership patterns and performance. Today, this primarily takes the form of a Clarity Break, but every so often, I return to an old journaling exercise.

On a daily or weekly basis, take 15 minutes to reflect on three areas: The IT, your tasks and your work; the WE, your relationships and the quality of your interactions; and the I, your attitudes and energy that you bring to the workplace. …


Does your team hear what you’re saying?

Great managers communicate all the time. Often, this communication happens through casual conversations, so it’s important to gauge how a verbal directive is received in the moment.

The parroting technique is a simple tactic to do just that. After you deliver a message, ask whoever you are talking with to play it back for you. Much like the telephone game, this will help you understand if the message you sent was the message received.

Illustration of a manager practicing the parroting technique. The manager asks an employee to "Say it again," which the employee repeats.
Illustration of a manager practicing the parroting technique. The manager asks an employee to "Say it again," which the employee repeats.

Here’s an example:

You: Okay, let’s recap our plan. We’re in need of marketing collateral to help with an upcoming sale. You’ll talk with the marketing team about the status of the material and when we can expect it, and help them prioritize the most important pieces if they can’t make our deadline. Once you have this information, you’ll brief the rest of our team. …


The lasting legacy of the management pioneer

Like any human tool, management is an invention. In the late 1800s, Frederick Taylor was working at Midvale Steel Works in Philadelphia, where he rose from machine-shop laborer to chief engineer and machine-shop foreman. At Midvale, Taylor observed that employees were not working the machines as hard as they could, so he set about to systematically measure the productivity of both the laborers and the machines, designing experiments to optimize the factory’s output.

Image for post
Image for post

Taylor codified what he learned in a book, The Principles of Scientific Management. The chief innovation was the application of the scientific method to maximize human performance. …


Every year since 1997, Jeff Bezos has penned an annual letter to shareholders that provides a glimpse into the leadership stylings of the Amazon CEO. This year, the letter turned to the subject of high standards, which Bezos says have been instrumental to Amazon’s success.

In some areas, high standards are easy to recognize. Hit this or that KPI, and you’re good. But in my career as a creative and marketing professional — and as a manager — I’ve found that high standards are often hard to pin down. …


I’ve been humbled again and again by the simple fact that we bring our whole selves to work. A rough morning commute leaves you on edge. A catch-up call with a friend has you running high on life. A tough family situation saps focus and creativity. Joy or challenge, these events impact our work.

Illustration of person working at a computer, surrounding by the other things that are on their mind: bills, traffic jam, relationships, etc.
Illustration of person working at a computer, surrounding by the other things that are on their mind: bills, traffic jam, relationships, etc.

Obvious, right?! We’re humans after all. But it can be easy to forget such factors amid the day to day of our working lives. As a manager, lacking this context can cause blind spots when you assess a report’s performance.

This context is hard to get in the moment. It’s a lot to ask someone to open up about a challenge they’re facing in their personal lives. But the foundation for this context can be built over time, and it starts with a simple conversation. …


Illustration of the difference between performance reviews and 1:1s. Performanc reviews are infrequent and formal, while 1:1s are frequent and informal.
Illustration of the difference between performance reviews and 1:1s. Performanc reviews are infrequent and formal, while 1:1s are frequent and informal.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer conducted a study in which they asked 238 managers to keep a daily diary answering whether or not they were motivated at work that day. Over the course of 12,000 diary entries, a trend emerged: days of high motivation were the result of “making progress on meaningful work.”

This sounds pretty straightforward, but ask yourself, how would you know you’re making such progress? What would tell you your work is meaningful to the organization? This requires some type of feedback signal — most often the word of your supervisor. …

About

Sean Conner

Content strategery by day, drawing things by night.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store