Tag Archives: leadership

Ten Things Your Boss Should Be Saying to You

In my last post, I talked about the ten things you should be saying to your boss. Now it's time to  look at the other side and share ten things that your boss should be saying to you.

  1. "What do you think?" Your boss should value your opinion and contributions and frequently ask for your input. He/she should understand your unique perspective and solicit it often. This isn't done just to make you feel better, but because teams function a lot more smoothly when everyone feels like they're contributions matter.
  2. "I'm sorry." Just because you're the boss doesn't mean you're without fault. Be honest. Be transparent. We all make mistakes (well, I assume we do – I sure as hell have). Your boss should be self-aware enough to know when they're at fault and why. And guess what? If you're the boss and someone on your team messes up, your first inclination to should be to look internally – it's your team. You're responsible for their success and their failures. If they mess up, is it because you didn't provide enough direction? Because you forgot to pass along a key bit of information? Because you didn't read an email they sent to you? Own up to it. Apologize and move on.
  3. "Are you having fun?" My very first boss at Booz Allen made this a habit to ask this question of everyone on her team at least once a month. While she was always focused on meeting our deadlines and staying under budget (she was a PMP, after all), she also realized that there was often more than one way to do that. She made sure that everyone was also enjoying their work because she understood that more (and better) work got done if people were having fun doing it.
  4. "How can I help you?" Despite what your job description and place on the org chart may say, you aren't employed to simply ensure your boss's success. It's a mutual relationship. One of your boss's most important jobs is to ensure your success as well. One of the first things I told my account supervisors when I took my current job was that I wouldn't be successful unless they were successful. Just like you should be proactively asking your boss what you can do to help, he/she should be asking you the same thing.
  5. "Go ahead – I got your back." Sometimes, the best thing your boss can do is to give you the top cover to take a risk. To do something innovative. To challenge the status quo. One of the reasons I really enjoyed working at my last job was because my leadership always encouraged me to push the envelope and empowered me to do what I thought needed to be done. Even when they didn't agree me every step of the way. My boss once told me, "I don't really get what you're doing, but you seem to be passionate about it and I trust you know what you're doing so go for it." And if I stirred up a political battle or wrote a controversial blog post, my bosses were right there behind me to step in and negotiate those difficult conversations. Employees need to know that their boss is behind them 100% and will go to bat for them whenever, wherever, and with whomever is needed. Employees with this freedom and encouragement can do amazing things.
  6. "Here's what's going on…" One of the most common complaints in pretty much of every organization that I've worked with has been internal communications. The C-suite gets frustrated when they tell their senior leadership teams something and it doesn't cascade down through the organization. Middle managers get inundated with messaging and don't have the time, or the incentive, to take time away from their projects and budgets to share anything with their teams. Operations staff feel like their just cogs in the machine because they have no idea where the company is going. Junior employees get frustrated because they don't see a path forward for their career. A good boss will take the time to sit down with his/her team and pass along the information they receive that their teams may not be privy too – either because they're not on the same distro lists or in the same meetings. Your boss should be filling in those details for you and letting you know where you fit into the bigger picture.
  7. "This isn't going to work for me. Here's why…" Being able to provide candid, timely feedback is a lost art among many managers. They try to sugarcoat their feedback or they avoid the confrontation altogether and fix everything themselves. If I create something that totally misses the mark, I want my boss to take the time to tell me that, help me understand what I did wrong, and how I can do it better next time. If your boss doesn't give you that feedback, how can they expect you to do it any differently or any better the next time?
  8. "You did a great job." As a manager, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day deadlines, budgets, and client demands. You become so focused on what needs to get done that you forget to share positive feedback as well. Your boss's feedback should always include a mix of positive and constructive feedback – while it's certainly important for you to clearly understand your mistakes (see #7 above), it's also important that you understand what you did well and why.
  9. "Here's what I'm looking for." I used to work for someone who was notorious for giving very cryptic direction on new projects. In some cases, she wanted you to follow her direction to a tee – your role was to simply regurgitate her exact words into a PowerPoint slide. In other cases though, doing exactly that would only cause her to throw out everything you did because you took her too literally. You can imagine how confusing this was to her team as they were constantly guessing what she was really looking for. Your boss should be able to clearly articulate exactly what he/she wants you to do…even if sometimes, that means, "I don't know what the right answer is – see what you can find out and bring me a recommendation."
  10. "It can wait until later." Have you ever worked in an environment when everyone is seemingly "putting out a fire" or "handling another fire drill?" No one likes working in that kind of job. Guess what? Not everything is a fire. Not everything needs to be done ASAP. Make sure your boss is helping you prioritize what needs to be done today and what is truly important. If you don't need that report until next week, make sure you're telling your team that so they don't spend 10 hours at the office on something that you aren't even going to look at until next week. I don't think bosses realize how stressful an environment they create for their teams when they make it seem like everything is a priority all the time.

How many of these are you hearing from your manager on a regular basis? If you have a good manager, what other things are they saying to you that you appreciate? If you're a boss, are you saying these things? Why or why not?

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Ten Things You Should Be Saying to Your Boss

One of the questions that my team members and potential employees have asked me a lot over the last few years is "what are you looking for in an ideal employee?" We just finished a performance review cycle here where I worked with a few members of my team on their development plans for the next year. I've also been spending some time identifying and interviewing potential new team members and holding regular mentoring meetings with the members of my team. This is all on top of leading the annual performance review process for more than 600 people while I was still with Booz Allen. Over the course of all those interviews and development discussions, I found that I've repeated a lot of things.

Here are ten of those things that I've said repeatedly over the last few years that I think any employee should be regularly saying to their boss. 

  1. "How am I doing? How did I do?" Ask for feedback early and often. It shows that you want to improve and that you want to know how to do things better. After every presentation you give, report you complete, article you write, etc. make sure you ask your manager if he/she has any feedback for you. And don't let them get away with just telling you that "you did a good job." Ask them specifically what you could have done better. Seek the negative AND the positive feedback.
  2. "Don't worry about it – I got it." One of the things that all managers love is to be able to cross something completely off of their to-do list because they know that someone they trust is taking care of everything – from beginning to end. From doing the actual work to keeping the right people informed, the ability to take something entirely off your manager's plate and do it well is something that will be much appreciated. It will also give you some great experience in showing him/her that you've got what it takes to move up to the next level as well. 
  3. "I just read/watched/heard…and it got me thinking that…" Learn how to look at everything you read/watch/listen to from a work/client perspective. I want people who are constantly on the lookout for newer, better, more efficient ways to do things and who can apply them to their current work. You should be bringing new ideas to your boss at least as often as he/she is bringing them to you.
  4. "You know how we've been doing X? Why do we do it that way?" Question the status quo. Don't just accept things because "that's the way they are." If you're curious about some process or rule or regulation, ask for the background on it. You'll be surprised to discover how many things we do for no other reason than that's the way it's always been done and no one ever bothered to ask.
  5. "I don't think that's the best way to do that. How about we do it this way instead?" Please, don't be a yes-man/woman. Disagree with me. Don't just assume that what I say goes. Sometimes, I have no idea and am just throwing ideas out there and want some honest feedback on them. When I was first given a team, the first person I approached was a good friend of mine whom I knew would be candid with me and tell me when I was wrong. I knew that she'd tell me about an awful idea long before it made its way to the client.
  6. "Here's what I'd recommend and why." If I've asked you to work on something, don't just send me your research. I want to know your thoughts on it too. You're the one closest to the research. Give me your recommendation and your rationale for it. It shows me that you can think critically and that you can back up your assertions.
  7. "Here's what I learned and how I'll do it better next time." Learn how to be your own worst critic. One of the best things you can do is become self-aware. Know where you're strong, know where you're weak, and know where you can improve.
  8. "You gotta see/read/listen to this – I know you'll love this." It doesn't always have to be about work. Don't be afraid to send your boss the latest meme if you think he/she will enjoy it. I like to know my team's interests outside of work, and I want them to want to get to know mine as well.
  9. "Do you know who I can talk with to understand this better?" If you're struggling with something, I will NOT think of less of you if you ask how you can get smarter on the topic. I'll be impressed that you were self-aware enough to know what you don't know and confident enough to ask about it. I may not know the answer either, but I'll be sure to help put you in touch with someone who will.
  10. "What can I do to help? Be proactive. Don't wait for other people to task you with something. Ask if you can help with something. Or better yet, refer to numbers 3 and 4 above.  

Now don't get the wrong idea here – while you may have thought this post was targeted toward more junior employees, these are all things that I try to regularly talk with my boss about as well. These aren't just for entry level or mid-level employees – at no point should you feel that you're too old or too high on the org chart to ask for feedback or to challenge the status quo. If you're a manager now, start asking your employees to think about these things. Likewise, look internally and ask yourself if you've been been doing the same with your boss.

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Recovering from a Social Media Mistake

Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. Don't worry so much about the past and get back up on the horse. That's what will define you, not one post.

On Friday, the NextGen Journal published an article titled "Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25" by Cathryn Sloane. This article predictably generated a TON of traffic (More than 6K Facebook likes, 1K Tweets, and about a billion times more traffic than any other article on the site) not to mention a ton of online vitriol from the social media community. Let's put aside the content of the actual article – there have been plenty of posts made already by really smart people that do good job of offering alternative viewpoints. Let's put aside the discussion around what Cathryn did (she wrote a blog post that pissed off a bunch of a people – join the club) or didn't do (she hasn't responded to the people carrying pitchforks outside her window – I don't know that I would have done any differently at that age either). Instead of discussing what Cathryn said or should have done, let's discuss how we can help her and others like her and move forward from here.

Cathryn could have easily been one of my team members or mentees. Lord knows I've pushed and prodded the junior members of my teams often enough over the years to do more writing, sharing, and commenting online. If you were going to be advising a client or colleague how to use social media, you damn well better be using it yourself too, right? That's why I've spent an inordinate amount of my time on internal mentoring, giving presentations at colleges, sitting on the SMCEDU Board of Advisers, and holding social media training for internal teams. To say that I've been passionate about helping this next generation use social media more effectively, both personally and professionally, would be an understatement.

That's why I want to use this opportunity to do what my friend Mark Story recommended in his rebuttal post and offer Cathryn some career counsel.

Dear Cathryn,

First of all, I want to tell you congratulations. You took a step many aren't willing to take and you played the game. It's a hell of a lot easier to sit back and say that you don't have the time to start a blog or that you're just a kid so who cares what you think and never actually use social media in a professional manner. You got up on that stage and took a chance, which is more than most will ever do.  You've written posts for NextGen Journal and USA Today. You've already taken the most difficult step – going from doing nothing to doing something. You've already done more in this space than most people you've graduated with and for that, you should be congratulated. It shows me that you have initiative and that you can take risks and that's something to be proud of.

Right now, you're getting a first-hand education about social media that you wouldn't learn in any class or from any book. Last Friday, you published a very controversial post that angered a lot of people (and understandably so). I'm sure you've already read through all of the rebuttal posts and comments people have posted and have been completely overwhelmed by it all. I've read through many of these as well and was a little taken aback myself. As you read through them, remind yourself that most of these comments were written by people over the age of 30 who feel as though you were attacking them and their livelihood. Please put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them before dismissing them as trolls. You have to understand that there's a history of ageism within this community – for the longest time, employers automatically assumed social media could only be understood by the young kids and so they were the ones given these new positions instead of more experienced individuals. Only recently have employers and the C-suite begun to realize how important social media is and how important it's become to identify the right people for these positions. So when they read your post, I think many people saw it as an opportunity to again demonstrate their value, to show potential clients why they should hire them instead of someone under 25.

That said, a lot of those comments were made by people who should know better. People who should realize the difference between disagreeing with someone's opinion and vengefully attacking the person behind the post. People who should realize that their comments, whether they're made online or off – "good luck getting a job in this industry, you idiot!" – reflect on them too. I hope they know that just as they bully you and try to destroy your reputation, they're doing the same to themselves from a managerial perspective – I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to work with someone with a history of treating people like that, be it online or off.

Once you've gone through the thousands of comments, posts, and Tweets and weeded out the hateful ones, spend some time absorbing the feedback. Do you have a better understanding of why people were so upset? Do you feel any empathy toward their position? Do you still agree with the basic premise of your article or have you changed your mind (there's no right answer to that one, but either way, make sure you have some thoughts/facts to back up your assertion)? What were some of the most beneficial pieces of feedback you heard? Once you've collected this feedback and filtered out the garbage, start drafting a follow-up post. One of the reasons this situation spiraled out of control so quickly was because your voice was MIA the entire weekend. As Tony Heyward or any of the dozens of CEOs who have paid the price of silence can tell you, it's important that you communicate early and often.  Now, I'm making the assumption that you haven't spoken up because you were utterly overwhelmed by what was happening and had no idea what to do. That's totally understandable, especially given the tone and amount of the feedback as well as your experience level in handling stuff like this.

Boil the feedback you received down to 3-5 key points and then address each one. Admit where you were wrong, but also don't be afraid to disagree with them.  Don't give in to the mob collective just to get them off your back if it's not something you believe in. Did people misinterpret what you were trying to say? If so, tell us why. Were you just not aware of some of the points made in the comments/posts/Tweets? If so, tell us which ones and why they've changed your mind. Tell us what you would have done differently. By the same token, tell us what you would have done the same. Explain what you've learned and how you'll apply that in the future.

In your follow-up post, I would inject a healthy dose of humility but I would also tell you to balance that by telling you to stick with what you believe in too. No one wants to see a "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" post where you essentially back off everything you wrote. Turn the whole thing around on everyone and tell us what people of any age can do to show employers that they know what they're doing when it comes to social media. No one, at any age, likes to hear that they're disqualified from doing something simply because of their age. Talk to Dara Torres or Missy Franklin about being told they can't do something because of their age. Give some advice to your generation about the things they can do to bridge the gap in years of experience. The opportunity is there for all of you – YOU are already taking advantage of it. You can write blog posts, engage with professionals on LinkedIn, participate in industry Twitter chats. You can bypass recruiters and job postings entirely and talk directly with VPs and other hiring managers. If they're impressed with your writing and approach they're not going to care that you only have four years of experience instead o five.

Once you write the article, send it to a mentor to review before hitting publish, someone who is knowledgeable and whom you can trust. Whenever I write a post, at a minimum, I always have my wife review it first to tell me if I'm coming off too arrogant, if it flows nicely, if she can understand it, if she's having the reaction I aimed for, etc. Hell, send it to me and I'll take a look at it for you. I'd recommend having at least two people familiar with the whole situation read through it before publishing and then publish it – the sooner the better.

The other thing that I'd recommend to you and I can't say this strongly enough – don't let this incident get you down. When I was building the social media practice at my old firm, one of the first things I told our SVPs was that yes, social media will do a lot of great things for us, but there WILL be mistakes made. We can't stop them but we can mitigate the negative impacts by planning for them. That's what I'd recommend you do as well – don't stop writing. Don't disappear. Continue writing, but develop a plan to back you up in the future. Have someone you trust review every post before publishing. Never post anything before you go offline in case a firestorm erupts. Never publish something without sleeping on it at least once. Develop a mentoring relationship with someone in the industry with a lot of experience and run your ideas by him/her. Before publishing, spend 30 minutes thinking through the potential negative and positive reactions the post may elicit and be prepared with a response.

But most of all, just get back on the horse. This post isn't your legacy. How you react and move on from it will be. Everyone makes mistakes out here. Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. It's the cost of playing this game. Write your follow-up post, put in some processes to help guard against similar issues in the future and continue writing. As Mack Collier says in his post, "another thing about social media and such firestorms is that we all tend to move on quickly.  In another day or so most of us will have moved onto something else and your time in the spotlight will be over." I can't imagine not hiring someone over a single silly post, but I can easily see interviewing someone who wrote a post that caused a firestorm and then recovered from it. Because we're all going to make mistakes – that's a given. I'm more interested in how someone recovers from those mistakes. 

After all, you've already taken the first step and done something. You've also already gone through your first challenge. Now, you just have to react and move on. You'll be fine. In fact, if you do get up, dust yourself off, and continue writing, give me a call – I could use people who have this type of real world experience.

To the people who continue to personally attack Cathryn for this post, use this as an opportunity to empower those in Cathryn's generation to use social media more professionally. We need more people like Cathryn out there using social media now so that they're better equipped when we need to hire them. We can't afford to drive this young talent away by publicly crucifying them for not being experts.

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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I've fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn't because it was mandated  or because I beat it into them (I don't have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively. 

The "Follow Me" statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don't) or because they'll get fired if they don't (they won't), but because they believe it's the right way? 

That's one of the big things I'll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let's not fall into the same trap.
  • It's not about the technology, it's what the technology enables – Something I've said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don't get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients' goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don't try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it's the "next Facebook!" Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don't try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that's what you need to do to get promoted  or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks – If it's been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you're probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks, but don't be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I'll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks. 
  • Don't become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn't the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don't forget that you're a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – "In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court." Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let's not look for "established best practices" for our clients – let's create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don't identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one's ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person's handbook. 
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you're interested in something, I'll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I'll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I'll reply as fast I can.

I'm sure there are many more that I've forgotten here (if you've worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I'll learn along the way. I'm excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time.  Until then, I guess it's time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings 🙂

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