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Handling Difficult Managers

Many of us work in stressful environments, but work is made easier when we have a great manager. Some of us, however, face stress from our manager! Let’s face it—some people are promoted into managerial roles without the training needed to do the job effectively. If you work for a manager that seems difficult, here is some information to help you stay motivated and positively productive.

  • Is it situational? Even the best managers can become difficult when the stresses of the job become too much. If your manager is difficult sometimes, analyze what’s going on that could be contributing to it and take steps to help mitigate the situation. Maybe you could demonstrate leadership by offering to take some tasks off your manager’s desk. 
  • Are you and your manager from different generations? This is a big reason for conflict. Baby Boomers (born 1943/46-1960) are process oriented. They expect employees to work in the office and invest long hours to achieve results. On the other hand, Generation X (born 1960-1980) and Millennials (born 1980 – 2000) are easier going about where and how long they work as long as they produce results.
  • Is your manager a micromanager? Sometimes a manager micromanages when he or she is new to the job, or you are new to the team. This can be a lack of trust. Some experts recommend staying ahead of a micromanager and providing information and status reports before they are requested. 
  • Is it just you or is your manager difficult with everyone? If the behavior seems focused on you, try to discover why this is happening. You may need a conversation with a trusted friend, mentor, or human resources. If your manager is a challenge for everyone, it might be time for a team meeting with your manager or his/her manager.

Before you take any action about a difficult manager, make sure you are seeing the situation accurately. Be objective and ask yourself if you are contributing to the situation in any way. Check my blog post The Value of Reframing


What makes someone positively productive? Test your knowledge by answering yes or no to each of these questions.

  1. It’s a good idea to respond to e-mails when they arrive in the in-box.
  2. Multi-tasking saves time.
  3. Being productive means getting lots of things done each day.
  4. Putting “Urgent” in a subject line ensures a quick response. 
  5. Delegating takes too much time and doesn’t work.

How many yes answers are there? 

The correct number is zero! That’s right. None of these actions are positively productive.

  1. It’s a good idea to set aside specific times during the day to check e-mails rather than every time one comes in. When you stop what you are doing to check e-mail, it’s an interruption, and it can take up to 20 minutes to re-find your focus. 
  2. Multi-tasking does not save time. When you multi-task, your attention is actually flipping on and off, and it can take longer to perform each task than if you did them sequentially.
  3. Checking off items on a list is less important than checking off the right items. Being productive means getting the right things done each day. Always stay focused and plan your day so you contribute the most to your most important goals. Plan your day to produce the results you need. 
  4. Putting “Urgent” in the subject line will not ensure a quick response. No one pays attention to “Urgent” or exclamation points in e-mails. If it’s urgent, get on the phone and talk to the person about what you need from them and why you need it right away.
  5. Delegating correctly can work. You should not be working on activities that are better handled by someone on your team. It does take time to choose the right person for the task and bring them up to speed, but when a delegation is done correctly, you will save time in the future. 

See my blog posts Three Quick Tips for Improving Productivity and 10 Tips to Be More Positively Productive with E-mail for more information.


What To Do When Your Team Goes Off Track

Things are going along smoothly; your team is delivering quality work on time and within budget. Then, something goes wrong. People are sniping at each other, deadlines are slipping, and so is quality. What happened? What can you do about it?

  • Have you gotten complacent? It’s easy to become complacent as a leader. When things are going well, it is easy to step back and let the team lead itself; however, this is one reason why teams go off track. You have to keep your hand on day-to-day activities and stay in contact with your team. You don’t want to micromanage, but you do need to maintain a leadership presence in the office.
  • Are you relying too heavily on too few people? All of us tend to look to our star players because we know they will always deliver. But those stars fade after a while and begin to feel overwhelmed, and the team members who are passed over will begin to feel overlooked. Spread the work and authority around and cultivate all your team members.
  • Are you forgetting to acknowledge efforts? It can be easy to quickly move from task to task and project to project without taking time out to reward and recognize people. When was the last time you rewarded your team and individual team members? Something as simple as a dessert party in the afternoon can help the team rekindle its spirit.

If your team is no longer performing up to your standards, it may be time to look at yourself and what you can do to turn things around.

See my blog post Motivate Employees for Results for more information. 


Never Do This in the Morning

How you start the day has a lot to do with how positively productive you are throughout the day. Here are five morning habits to break.

  1. Hitting the snooze button over and over. It’s tempting to do this, especially when the days grow shorter and colder, but it is a bad start to the day. Often it leads to your having to rush around to get out the door on time, which makes you feel frazzled and stressed before you even arrive at the office.
  2. Skipping breakfast. Yes, you know it’s the most important meal of the day, but do you know why? It refuels your body when your energy is at its lowest—after a night with no nourishment. Without a good breakfast, you are running on empty! You need food to turn on your engine and keep it going. The key is eating the right food. 
  3. Filling up on fast food. Breakfast on the go is often laden with fat and sugar. Instead of hitting the drive-thru or donut shop, give yourself time for a nutritious meal that will rev your energy and keep it going without a sugar crash. 
  4. Choosing coffee over water. Yes, most of us need that cup of coffee in the morning, but while it’s brewing, take a big drink of fresh water. Water replenishes your dehydrated body and boosts your energy. You may decide you don’t need that coffee after all.
  5. Decide what to wear. Some of us can stand in front of a packed closet for an hour before making a decision about what to wear. Don’t wait until morning to figure it out. The night before set out what you want to wear, choose any accessories, and put everything you need to take to the office in your briefcase or tote. 

See my blog post An Easy Morning Starts the Night Before for more information. 


Getting the Right Things Done

Have you ever gotten to the end of the workweek and discovered that nothing important was accomplished? Despite this, you’re exhausted! Maybe you spent most of the week fighting fires, were stuck in meetings, or were constantly interrupted. Being positively productive requires you to spend time on the right things. Here are some tips for getting the right things done.

  • Prioritize. You can’t get the right things done if you haven’t identified what they are. According to the Pareto Principle, you need to focus on the 20% of your activities that produce 80% of your results. Review your performance plan and job description. What are the deliverables you are responsible for achieving? That’s the 20% you need to move toward. 
  • Plan your time. Nothing important is accomplished without a plan. When U.S. President John Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the century, it took a plan to make it happen. Take out your calendar each week and schedule time to focus on your most important goals. You are more likely to accomplish them than if you leave it to chance. 

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Benjamin Franklin, American statesman.

  • Stop multi-tasking. Study after study has shown that multi-tasking is not productive. In most cases, you aren’t truly multi-tasking; you’re serial tasking. Your attention is switching on and off activities, which can make you less productive! Focus on one task until it is completed, or you have taken it as far as you can. 

Stop being busy and just getting things; get the right things done! See my blog posts Focus to be More Positively Productive and How to Use the Pareto Principle for Productivity at Work.


Five Tips for Better Workplace Relationships

The ability to create authentic relationships with your colleagues and team is a key factor in career advancement. In addition to personal and professional success, having good relationships with others at work gives you a network you can call on for information and help when you need it. Here are five tips for strengthening those relationships.

  1. Get to know people as individuals. It is easier to forge lasting relationships with people when you relate to them as individuals with lives and interests outside work. Take time to get to know people apart from the job. 
  2. Find out how you can help others. Make sure you let people know how you can help them. If you see someone struggling, ask if there is anything you can do for him or her. Be generous with what you know.
  3. Be positive. When you have a positive attitude, people want to be around you and work with you. Even if you’re having a bad day, don’t take it out on someone else. Negativity spreads faster than a cold through an office. See my blog post Enthusiasm Is Contagious.
  4. Be reliable. Having a reputation for doing what you say you will do and meeting deadlines is important for long-term relationships. When others know they can rely on you, you strengthen your ties with them.
  5. Be considerate. Basic business etiquette keeps relationships on solid ground. Use words like please and thank you, make polite requests, and hold on to your temper when you feel like blowing up.

Building and nurturing good workplace relationships can make the job easier and more pleasant. Be your best every day and with everyone, be quick to apologize for mistakes, and even quicker with praise for others. 

Need more information on this important topic? See my blog posts Tips for Building Effective Workplace Networks and Network within Your Own Organization.


Does Your Confidence Need a Boost?

No matter how good we are at our jobs, sometimes we question our ability. This often happens when we are faced with new, difficult tasks. Just characterizing something as “difficult” can harm your self-confidence, so avoid the word. Instead, think of it as a challenge. Here some tips for giving yourself a boost when you need it. 

  • Remember past successes. This seems simple, but it can be hard for some of us. However, taking your attention off what you see as “difficulties” and putting it on what you have handled successfully in the past will boost your confidence. Give yourself credit!
  • Focus on the opportunity. Every new assignment is an opportunity to learn and grow. Take time to figure out what you need to do and what you need to learn, and then take action to get the resources and training you need. 
  • Fake it until you feel it. Put on a show of self-confidence. It can be tempting to huddle down and worry about your ability to succeed, but this leads directly to procrastination. Hold your head up and move ahead. You may not feel confident right away, but faking it will help you feel more confident sooner rather than later.

Confidence comes from facing and meeting challenges. It requires us to stretch and grow and to step out from our comfort zones. Check out my blog post What’s Stopping You? for more information.


Watch Your Language!

How you communicate and the words you use tell people a lot about you. Your language reveals how confident and assertive you are—or aren’t! Power up your communication skills by avoiding these language traps.

  • Weasel words. “I’ll try.” “I’m not sure this will work.” Weasel words show lack of responsibility and accountability. Avoid the word try. It includes the possibility of failure and makes you sound weak and unsure of yourself. Passive voice also makes accountability unclear. Note the difference between “The check will be mailed tomorrow” and “I will mail the check tomorrow.”
  • Slang. “‘Sup? ““Wassup? ““Like?” “Whatever!” “Duh!” There is nothing wrong using slang with your friends, but it’s not appropriate for business communication. It’s too casual, and it will diminish people’s perception of you as a professional.
  • Whining. “Poor me.” “Nothing works for me.” “I just can’t get a break.” Do you like being around whiners? No one does. It diminishes your credibility, and you can lose the respect of others. 
  • Blaming. “It’s not my fault!” “Joe did it.” Blaming turns you into a five-year-old having a tantrum. Don’t do it. Be accountable and responsible.
  • Gossip. “Pssst! Wanna hear something juicy?” It can be tempting to share information with others, but gaining the reputation of a gossip is not good for your career. Don’t spread stories and don’t listen to them.

Language is powerful and your words can say more than what you mean. Speak carefully and thoughtfully. 


10 Tips To Be More Positively Productive with E-mail

Experts estimate that employees receive about 125 e-mails daily although I think most of us would say that number is low! Regardless of how many you get each day, we all spend too much time reading, responding to, and managing e-mail. Here are 10 tips to make it easier.

  1. Sort incoming e-mails by sender and date. Start with the senders whom you know will not waste your time and with the most recent e-mails.
  2. Use “Reply All” only when everyone really needs to see it. Choose who should see it and delete the rest.
  1. Proofread before hitting send! 
  2. Use a meaningful signature that includes contact information, but avoid quotations from poets, playwrights, or religious tracts since they are not considered professional and may even be offensive.
  3. Upload attachments before you write the body of the e-mail since it is too easy to forget them. Double check before sending that it is the correct attachment or version of a document.
  4. Make sure the e-mail is address to the right person. If you have three people whose names are Christian, Christopher, and Christine, make sure you choose the right Chris to address.
  5. Use a greeting. In an informal e-mail, use “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Dear [the person’s first name]”. In a formal greeting, it should be, “Dear [the person’s title and last name]”. 
  6. Don’t write when you are angry since your e-mail will sound angry. It will probably offend the person being addressed and could lead to a flaming match between you.
  7. Never leave a blank subject line unless you never want a response. Use a subject line that helps the recipient understand what the e-mail is about.
  8. Forget using “Urgent” in the subject line or body. No one pays attention to that. If it’s truly urgent, get on the phone.

These 10 tips can help you better manage e-mail. For more information, check out our program, Writing and Managing E-mail


Avoid These Leadership Mistakes

Being a leader is not easy; you are always in the spotlight and are expected to wear the leadership mantle. It can weigh heavy sometimes, and it is easy to slip up. However, too many leadership mistakes can damage your credibility and reputation and ultimately derail your career. Here are three dangerous leadership mistakes to avoid. 

Failing to be accountable. As the leader, the buck really does stop with you. You must hold your staff accountable for their actions; however, your manager, colleagues, and employees hold you accountable also. The mistakes and failures of your team reflect on you, and it is a huge mistake to think otherwise or to finger point when something goes wrong. Instead, accept your accountability and take actions to fix mistakes and ensure they never happen again.

Failing to share the big picture. Many leaders are also managers, responsible for day-to-day work. They can become shortsighted by focusing only on getting the job done. However, as the leader, it’s up to you to ensure your team understands that their efforts matter and make a difference. Take time to praise a job well done and devote time at staff meetings to discuss the big picture of the organization and their role in it.

Failing to motivate each employee. Get to know your team members as individuals. You will discover that one size does not fit all when it comes to motivation. Generally, older employees want recognition in the form of money, promotions, and tangible rewards; younger employees want more freedom, flexibility, and high tech gadgets. Some people want public recognition; others prefer something more low key. Find out what each team member wants and personalize how you motivate and reward each. See my blog post Motivate Employees for Results for more information.