Keep it Consistent

 
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How would your direct reports describe your behavior when under pressure? Many bosses become emotional, controlling, and close-minded — which can have a hugely negative impact on their team’s morale and productivity.

To lead effectively when the pressure is on, think about the team dynamic you want to build over the long term. Then think about whether your stress-driven actions support that dynamic or undermine it.

For example: In normal circumstances you wouldn’t try to motivate people with fear or threats, so don’t do it during stressful times, either.

Instead, talk to your team about why you’re under pressure and what you need from them, and thank them in advance for putting in extra effort.

Another example: Normally you wouldn’t get angry or shut down in tense conversations.

So don’t let stress keep you from listening to others and engaging thoughtfully.

Once this period of stress is over, your team will remember how you led during it — so make sure their memories are positive!

When you mess up, make it clear

 
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Admitting that you’ve made a mistake as a manager can be a hit to your ego. But arguing with or blaming others (or trying to dodge by saying something vague like “Mistakes were made…”) will only make things worse. It’s much better to take responsibility for the situation so that you can clear the air and move on.

Swallow your pride and simply say “I was wrong,” offering a brief explanation without making excuses. If your error had a negative effect on others, acknowledge it.

  • Really listen to their reactions — don’t get defensive or interrupt.

  • Then explain what you’re doing to remedy the mistake, including its substantive impacts (money, time, processes) and relational impacts (feelings, reputation, trust).

  • Finally, be open to feedback about what you’re doing. And tell those affected by your error what you’ve learned about yourself (“I realize I sometimes ignore people I don’t see eye-to-eye with”) and what you’re going to do differently in the future.

Adapted from “What to Do When You Realize You’ve Made a Mistake," by Deborah Grayson Riegel

You can't take it (home) with you

 
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It doesn’t take much for work stress to bleed into your home life, isolating you from the people you care about most.

To disengage and recharge, be deliberate about refocusing your attention at the end of the day.

  • Create a little ritual to help you make the mental transition from work to home. Whatever it is, the ritual should be a tangible reminder that you’re setting aside the day’s stress until tomorrow.

  • It may be useful to make gratitude part of the ritual, since research has shown that feeling grateful for the things in your life can reduce stress.

  • You should also talk to your family members about why you’re stressed out, explaining that they aren’t the cause. Being open about your struggles can build feelings of closeness and help your family understand what you need right now.

  • Find someone to vent to, whether it’s a trusted friend, a colleague, or a coach. The person can be a sounding board and provide valuable advice.

You deserve to take a break at the end of the day. Set a plan to recharge so you can be ready to rock tomorrow!

Delegating = Teaching

 
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Think of Delegating as a Chance to Teach Your Employees.

For many managers, the hardest part of delegating is trusting that a task will be done well. But it becomes easier when you think of it as a chance to train your staff — not just to get rid of some work.

Try this: The next time you need to delegate something, start by determining who on your team is ready to handle more responsibility. Then create simple tasks to help them learn the skills they’ll need.

For example, if you’d like someone to take over running a weekly meeting, have them practice each part of the process:

  • One week, they can create an agenda, which you’ll review.

  • The next, they can watch you run the meeting, with plenty of chances to ask questions.

  • Eventually they’ll be ready to try running the meeting themselves, after which you can offer feedback.

This kind of teaching can be time-consuming, but it will go a long way toward preparing your team for more-complex work. Teach them to take over the tasks so you don’t have to do them.

Adapted from “How to Stop Delegating and Start Teaching," by Art Markman

The Best (Free!) Learning Tool You Already Have

 
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Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful (and free) development tool.

Research shows that when people want to learn a skill, turning to colleagues for help is often the first thing they do.

You can encourage this kind of learning in your organization by setting up a formal program for it:

  1. Start by appointing a facilitator to oversee the program. It’s important to have a neutral party — who is not the team’s manager — to organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, and maintain a positive atmosphere.

  2. Before your first session, create a safe environment so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, experiences, and questions. Setting ground rules around honoring confidentiality and accepting feedback graciously can help.

  3. During sessions, be sure that learning is tied to real-world situations and problems so that participants can apply the skills they’ve learned quickly.

  4. Finally, encourage employees to network, whether online, at networking events, or through another method, so that anyone in the company can get involved.

Adapted from “How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other,” by Kelly Palmer and David Blake

Shift from Gossip to Good Discussion

 
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We all get frustrated with colleagues from time to time. But complaining about a coworker behind their back can be destructive. It erodes trust on the team, risks hurting the person’s feelings, and makes you look bad.

The next time you’re tempted to complain about someone, stop and ask yourself why. If it’s to justify your feelings or to confirm that you’re right, don’t do it.

On the other hand, if you’re having a problem with a coworker and want someone else’s take on the issue, or you want to brainstorm helpful solutions, then talk it out professionally.

Finally, when someone comes to you for a gripe session, pivot the conversation away from complaining and toward problem solving. You can also adopt a “tell them first” policy with your colleagues, meaning you’ll let someone vent to you about a coworker — as long as they’ve already talked to that coworker about the issue.

Adapted from “Stop Complaining About Your Colleagues Behind Their Backs," by Deborah Grayson Riegel

Optimize the Open Office

 
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An open office can be a nightmare when it comes to noise — especially when you’re working on something that requires your undivided attention.

To get the focus you need, talk to your team to sync up expectations about how you can all work optimally. Try these:

  • Develop some ground rules. For example, you all might agree that when one colleague is on the phone, everyone else will only whisper.

  • Invest in noise-canceling headphones. They not only drown out unwanted noise, but also serve as a visual cue that you don’t want to be disturbed.

  • Scout out a private, quiet space — say, an underused conference room — that will allow you to write and think when you truly can’t be interrupted.

  • Finally, if noise is still a problem, ask your manager about moving to a new desk. Don’t lodge complaints about your talkative coworkers; be positive and tell your boss that you’ll be more productive in another space.

How do you optimize the open office plan?