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KF #15. Directs Work Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

935: The Five Steps to Winning Every Week with Demir Bentley

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Demir Bentley reveals the five simple steps to successfully plan and execute vastly more satisfying and productive weeks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why nobody really plans their week—and how to fix it
  2. The master key to getting ahead of your to-do list
  3. How to transform your calendar into a power tool  

About Demir

Demir Bentley is an executive productivity coach, co-founder of Lifehack Method and WSJ Bestselling author of Winning The Week: How To Plan A Successful Week, Every Week.

He teaches hard-hitting efficiency techniques and proven accountability strategies that have helped clients generate millions in revenue while saving thousands of hours.

In the past eight years, he’s helped more than 70,000 professionals, including executives from Facebook, Google, Uber and PepsiCo, to prevent burnout and create more freedom in their lives.

Resources Mentioned

Demir Bentley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Demir, welcome.

Demir Bentley

Good to see you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis

I am so excited to learn all about Winning the Week and your flavor of productive goodness. And I think I’d like to start with your origin story.

Demir Bentley

Like a comic book.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, very much, maybe as a radioactive spider but, in your case…

Demir Bentley

It’s close.

Pete Mockaitis

…you’re working at Wall Street, not loving it so much. Take us into the scene.

Demir Bentley

Like a lot of people, I learned to perform for love when I was really young, and I don’t want to get too deep, but I think a lot of people just realized that they just get a little bit more love and attention if they can get those A’s, and if they can exceed. And so, I figured out young, I was like, “Oh, I can do this stuff. I can perform. I can get grades. I can write papers. I can produce things.” And so, I became one of those insecure overachievers who’s really developed a strong juicy core of, “I’m only valuable by what I can do and what I can produce.”

So, obviously, I ended up on Wall Street because that’s where all of the insecure overachievers, the most insecure overachievers go when they really want to prove to themselves that they are somebody. And I really was that “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere” dreamer. I really felt, “If I could hack it in finance, then maybe that deep hole inside of me would finally truly be filled and I would be somebody.

No, I jest a little bit, but, seriously, there was that juicy core of, “I’ve got to make it in finance.” And I did, I got to a really high level of finance but I did it by working 80 to 100 hours. And my secret sort of sin, or my secret, like, hidden behind-the-scenes was that I was actually really massively unproductive. I just masked that lack of productivity with brute force work and just the deep guilt and shame that kept me coming back to the trough.

And so, I remember thinking, there was an episode where I remember thinking that I was so proud that my boss had come in on the weekend and had seen me there all alone, there was nobody else on the floor, and I was just there. And right after that weekend, he called me, and he said, “You know, this is actually not a good thing. Everybody else can get their work done in 40-50 hours, and you seem to be needing 80 to 90 hours of work to produce what other people are producing in 40-50 hours.”

So, that was my big wakeup call of, like, “Oh, I’ve been wearing this like a badge of pride, like a badge of honor,” the busy badge, I call it. I’ve been awarding myself the busy badge, thinking that I’m just inherently, intrinsically more valuable than other people because I have this ability and this desire to outwork everybody else and come in on nights and weekends, and just realizing that, “Actually, other people saw that as sad and pathetic.”

That didn’t stop me. I wish I could’ve said that that was the moment when I stopped but, actually, I had a health implosion. I was overweight, I was overstressed, I wasn’t sleeping, and I got, like, a mystery illness. After much testing and three surgeries, I was diagnosed with something called salary man sudden death syndrome. It’s not very common in the United States but it’s extremely common in Asia where, otherwise, healthy young person dies from extreme overworking.

And so, although there was no definitive, “You’ve got this condition,” there was a general recognition among my three doctors that if I kept working this hard, I would probably, at some point in the future, die, and that I needed to immediately cut my hours down to 40 hours a week. Now, mind you, I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water, working 80-100 hours a week, and they’re telling me, “As of next week, you need to bring it down to 40 hours a week.”

And so, that weekend, I talk about a lot in our book, that weekend was this like crisis moment. I felt like my whole world was crashing in. I thought I was going to have to quit my work or I’d certainly get fired. It just felt like there’s just no way that it’s going to happen.

And, yet, there was a series of events that happened over the course of that weekend. I walked in next week, I worked 40 hours, I got everything done in 40 hours, and that was the beginning of this sort of rebirth, this, like, religious awakening that I had, realizing that I suck at this productivity thing, and I realized that so much more was possible. And that was the beginning of my journey in my personal productivity work, and also the beginning of my journey as, ultimately, which is hilariously becoming a productivity coach for other people and showing other people how to have that same transition.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, this is powerful. You have a chat about productivity, you don’t think it’s going to be life or death but, for you, it literally was.

Demir Bentley

It actually was.

Pete Mockaitis

“Become more productive or die or lose your job.” Like, high stakes stuff. So, I want to dig deep for a moment. You mentioned deep shame there. What were you ashamed of?

Demir Bentley

So, like many people who are unproductive, I’m a very emotional worker. And emotional worker isn’t defined by crying in the corner. That’s not what I’m talking about. Emotional workers are the kind of people that, if they’re feeling it, they can show up in two incredible acts of productivity, incredible feats of productivity, but they can also have incredibly long periods where they can’t motivate themselves, and they’re not feeling it. And in those periods, they can barely bring themselves to lift a pencil. And in those moments, they just feel incredible self-lacerating shame and unworthiness. And they know and think that somebody is going to find them out.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Demir, lay it on us the way. What were the initial steps you took when you were in the I-can’t-lift-a-pencil mode? And, ultimately, how did you survive by doubling your output per hour, I guess, like cutting your hours in half?

Demir Bentley

The funny thing is what really solved my first tranche of the problem was something that everybody thinks that they know that they should be doing. And I’m going to come back to the word “thinks that they know.” And it’s just planning your week. The problem with this is there’s nothing more dangerous than somebody who thinks that they know something because, then, they approach it with zero curiosity, zero sense that they have anything to learn or anything that they might be doing wrong, and way too much confidence.

And so, we actually ran a survey of 5,000 people, and the survey was only people who manage between five and 50 people, so managers, people who are already very successful, earning a lot. We asked them, “What are the top five things that you can do to be highly productive?” And almost everybody in the top three put, somewhere in the top three put planning their week. So, duh, that’s a duh moment. Almost everybody knows it. Out of 5,000 people, it is common knowledge that you should plan your week.

Then we followed up with the same 5,000 respondents. We said, “Have you planned the last, the four out of the last four weeks?” And out of 5,000 people who had said very confidently, these were people who manage between five and 50 people, making over $100,000, out of those people who confidently said, “Yes, you have to plan your week,” less than 1% of the people had planned their week in the last four weeks.

So, there’s something odd about planning your week. It is something we all know that we should be doing, and less than 1% of us have a consistent practice in doing it. That kicked us off on a sort of curious exploration around why that is. But let me just say, coming back to my story, that borne out of sheer desperation, I looked at my calendar and I did what I call the first planning session of my life, the first real planning session where I took all 40 hours, and I took every task that I needed to get done, and I allocated it a spot in that 40 hours.

And every single 30-minute increment had to fight for its life to be on my calendar. That was the very first real planning session I had. And, lo, and behold, it went from spinning my wheels at 80 hours a week to actually getting everything done 40 hours a week. And so, I will say that my rebirth, my sort of aha moment came a lot earlier than the framework that I built around it. I think I spent a lot of years trying to understand, “What happened to me? What went right? What was the difference? What changed?”

When I finally got that through the course of my coaching, I was able to sort of boil it down into the winning-week method. And now we have a framework where we can explain to people. But, at the time I realized that it was just me being desperate. And in my desperation, I realized “I’ve only got so much time. I need to be excellent with that time.”

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so then, you were putting individual tasks onto specific pieces of time, like, “Thursday 4:00 p.m., I answer my emails,” or whatever the thing is. So, it went there, scheduled, appointment style.

Demir Bentley

It’s called calendarization. It’s the idea that you take all of your tasks and actually put it on the calendar. And most people stop short of this. I almost say it, like, calendarization is when Pinocchio becomes a real boy, that’s the magic moment. If you’ve done all of your planning, meaning you’ve reviewed your calendar, and looked at your priorities, and looked at your task list, but you do not take your task and put them in a specific slot in the calendar, what’s happened is you’ve done all of the necessary work but Pinocchio cannot become a real boy now.

It is when you take your tasks and put them on your calendar that you truly become a plan because, now you’re actually allocating. By stopping short, we stay in the realm of wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is sort of we’ve got all of the things that I want to do over here in this bucket, and I’ve got my available time in this bucket, and I’m just sort of vaguely in a wishful thinking way, hoping that by the end of the week they’ll match up.

But by not actualizing them, by not marrying those two markets together, then we never really meet base reality. And this is where a lot of people’s plans fail, and that’s why a lot of people say, “Oh, planning doesn’t work for me,” and that’s why a lot of people stop planning after initial tentative events to plan. It’s because, the truth is, is that the way most people plan doesn’t result in a holy-crap moment where they just kill it in their week, and so they stop doing it because they didn’t feel that magic, they didn’t feel the lift.

You know, the moment in the Tesla when somebody hits the accelerator, and your face sort of gets plastered to the back, and you go, “Oh, that’s power.” That’s what you want to feel in a productivity technique when you try it, to be like, “Oh, this works.”

Pete Mockaitis

I love that, the planning gives you a holy-crap moment, like, “Whoa, this works.” And I feel that way about most interventions that I assess. It’s like, “Hey, is that supplement doing anything for you?” “Well, I mean, I think it might potentially be making a little bit of a difference.” More and more, I don’t really want to mess with much of that in my life. It’s like I want to be like, “Holy schmokes, I feel the difference with fish oil and saffron.” And the rest, I’m like, “Meh, maybe.”

And so, that’s that. Likewise, I think it was Taylor Jacobson, shoutout to Taylor, over at Focusmate.com, which is awesome, who put us in touch, and that’s how I felt about that tool, which is online accountability partners on demand. Very cool. It’s like, “Holy crap, this is making it happen. Wow!” And there’s no maybe squinting about it.

And you’re telling me we can have that experience from the act of planning our week, and if we haven’t felt it, we ain’t been doing it right. Is that fair to say, Demir?

Demir Bentley

Absolutely. People say, “How do you know you’re in love?” It’s like, you know because it hits you like a sledgehammer. “How do I know that my planning worked?” You know because it hits you like a sledgehammer. You have no doubt in your mind that that week, out of 100,000 variations of that week, different alternate realities, imagine 100,000 different realities of the last past week where there were 100,000 versions of you playing out the same scenario, you can look at yourself in the mirror, and say, “That was the best that I could’ve done. In any alternate reality, this one was the best that I could’ve done. I met my challenges with as much resourcefulness and willpower and ingenuity and leverage as I possibly could,” and you just know it.

Pete Mockaitis

Love it. I love it. All right. Well, Demir, lay it on us, calendarization is important. How do we pull this off? How do we, in fact, win the week?

Demir Bentley

So, I’m just going to start with just a tiny bit of setup, which is that a lot of people assume, and I think I totally understand why they would, that if you’re doing a technique right, that it’s going to feel good. Let me just start by foregrounding this that when you’re doing planning right, there is a base amount of fear, anxiety, and stress that is just table stakes.

If you’re doing any planning, and you’re feeling fear, stress, anxiety, you’re doing it right because the essence of planning is pulling forward all of the unmade decisions, worries, potential things that could go wrong in the next seven or 30 days, and you’re pulling that into a 30-minute moment. How do you think that 30 minutes is going to feel? Not amazing.

So, first, let’s let go when we’re going into planning, this idea that it needs to feel good, or that, “I’m doing it wrong if I’m feeling fear, stress, or anxiety.” No, that is the tradeoff. You’re taking a slap in the face on Friday instead of a punch in the teeth on Wednesday.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, Demir, it’s not going to be one of those Instagram-worthy situations where I’ve got my latte and my multicolored Post-Its, and I’m crafting a beautiful visual of what’s going to happen in my week or month. That’s not what it’s like?

Demir Bentley

So, what we did was we condensed it down into five simple steps. So, step one, actually, I’ll get a little clever. In our book, we talk about step zero. The reason we called it step zero, not to annoy people, is because you only have to do this step once and you’ll never have to do it again. And that is create an environment for your planning that is a reward in and of itself.

My wife and I, we go to a little brunch place, a little like French café experience. It’s like our date. Call us a nerd if you want because we probably deserve it, but this is like our date afternoon. We have babysitting, we go down to this French café, we spend 30 minutes planning, and then we’ll spend the rest of the time, two and a half hours, just connecting because there’s no better way to connect with your spouse than to get resolution on the unresolved things in your relationship.

So, step zero, do this once, you’ll never have to do it again.

On Friday night, go to a wine bar. Saturday morning, go to a café. Create an environment for your planning that you actually look forward to, that’s a reward in and of itself, and that will have help tamp down on that avoidance that people get around planning because you’ll think to yourself, “Oh, this is a treat. I’m making it a treat for myself.” Okay, that’s step zero.

Step one, and this is something you do every single week, learn a lesson from the past week, five minutes. Take five minutes, don’t learn five lessons, not 500 lessons, just skim the cherry right off the top of the cake, “If I had to find one lesson that I could derive from the past week, something that I did really well, something that I didn’t do well, what would that be?” And fold that into the next week, “How can I apply that in the next week?”

This is what we call a learning loop, and this is how people get better, whether it comes to flying an airplane, or playing sports, or playing music. They all have positive learning loops built into their practice where they’re not just practicing, they’re doing what we call positive intentional practice, where they’re focused on, “What did I do well?” or, “What did I do wrong? And how can I use that to get better?” And just five minutes, that’s it. Not 50, not two hours.

Take five minutes and just observe to yourself, one thing you did right that you want to keep doing, that you should do more this week; one thing that you did wrong that you should maybe correct and learn from this week, and then move on, and roll that into your planning. And that might sound small but do that 100 times, 200 times, and, all of a sudden, you’re getting 1% better in an accumulated sort of exponential way.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, the learning could be anything from, “Hey, when I worked in the morning, I felt very energized. Maybe I should try that again.” Like, that kind of a thing?

Demir Bentley

Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis

So, that’s our first step. What’s number two?

Demir Bentley

Step two, choose a leveraged priority, because the number one mistake people make is they’ll either choose too many priorities, which is an oxymoron because the word priority literally means the one thing above all other things. So, when somebody says to you, “I have five priorities.” It’s like you’re misunderstanding what the word priority means. Priority means the order: one, two, three, four, five. So, people tend to conflate multiple priorities instead of having one. Or, they choose a priority that has no leverage in it.

So, I just want to talk about that for a moment. When we choose something that has no leverage, it means that we have to expend a lot of effort to do that thing but it is no easier to do it the next time that we do it. And when we apply leverage to something, we’re doing it in such a way that every time we come back to do that thing, we have made it at least 1% easier to do it the next time, sometimes 50%, sometimes 80%.

And so, leverage is just walking through your world in such a way as you can say, “How do I choose a priority such that the thing that I do this week does not just benefit me this week but it makes every week in the future easier?” This comes from the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, that rings a bell.

Demir Bentley

Yeah, shoutout to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I’ve read that book 12 times. It’s a productivity bible for me. If you haven’t read it, and you’re out there listening, it’s a must read.

Pete Mockaitis

It is amazing. Jay has been on the show, and it’s one of my all-time faves.

Demir Bentley

It’s the ultimate. So, ultimately, it’s really just about as you’re going through your planning, let’s choose a leveraged priority for the week, because, ultimately, you don’t have to be perfect. I know this sounds crazy, people think, “I can only be great at productivity if I’m perfect.” No, if you are in there doing things with leverage every single week, everybody else is going linear and you’re going exponential.

And all it takes, and I’ve seen those with clients again and again and again, is when I get them doing that for six weeks, there’s something magic that happens between week four and week six, where the cumulative effect of four weeks of doing something that makes the future easy, by the time they get to week four, five, or six, they start seeing that loop coming back around, and start saying, “Wow, there’s something different about my life now. Things are feeling easier.”

Pete Mockaitis

And can you give us a couple examples of the sorts of things that have reverberating echoing effects for many weeks to come?

Demir Bentley

Yes, so it could be really anything but I’ll just give you a stupid example. So, when we first had our first kid, I had one of those overly-fancy coffee machines where it took, like, 30 minutes to make a cup of coffee, but now we have a newborn, and I just realized, “This is crazy. It’s taking me 30 minutes to make a cup of coffee. If I make two cups of coffee a day, that’s effectively an hour a day that I’m losing to simply getting caffeine into my system.”

So, I basically said, like, “No matter how much I love this coffee, it’s not worth an hour of my day.” I went ahead and created the simplest coffee station. I consolidated everything down. That whole moment, that aha moment, took me 15 minutes. Now, today, it takes me 10 minutes from the moment I walk into the kitchen, to the moment I walk out, it’s 10 minutes to make a cup of coffee. So, what does that mean?

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now, Demir, if I may. What are we talking? Are we talking about a drip? Are we talking about an AeroPress? How was this done?

Demir Bentley

It’s just a button. Slide the thing in.

Pete Mockaitis

Coffee maker button?

Demir Bentley

Like a Nespresso.

Pete Mockaitis

All right, a Nespresso machine.

Demir Bentley

An espresso, slide in the pod, hit the button. There’s a little time for warmup, I’ve got the coffee foamer, and it’s just 10 minutes, in and out, and I’ve got a delicious-tasting coffee that’s 90% as good as the one I made in half an hour but it comes out in 10 minutes or less. And I’m talking about I could really, if I was rushing to it in five or seven minutes, but I’m being generous saying it was 10.

So, think about this in terms of leverage. I did something once that cost me 15 minutes to do in terms of setup. Then every single day now, instead of spending an hour, I’m spending 20 minutes. That means there’s 40 minutes a day, ad infinitum, that I get back into my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. So, we have steps one and two. What’s three?

Demir Bentley

So, three is interrogate your calendar. Have you ever heard the term review your calendar? “Oh, do a calendar review.” I find that to be so gutless and passive. Review, like, “Oh, okay, I glanced at it, right?” The truth is your calendar is a slippery bastard. There’s so much in there that could screw you up but it doesn’t jump out at you, and say, “Hey, give me a watchout for this, a watchout for this.” It’s there but it’s just sort of buried.

So, I like to think about your calendar, you need to put on the witness stand, and, like one of those procedural shows, or a witness in a movie, you got to sweat your calendar. You got to get in there. You got to hit it from the left, hit it from the right, try to trick it, try to catch it. And so, a lot of people will do a passive calendar review and there are still a lot of landmines hidden in their calendar. It could be that meeting that got rescheduled from noon to 9:00 and you just missed it, but now it’s going to blow you up next week, you’re going to forget it, it’s going to make you look bad.

It could be that you volunteer to take your kids and drive your kids and their friends to a volleyball game, but you forgot about it, you didn’t put in your calendar, another landmine. And when these landmines blow up, it costs us huge amounts of stress and anxiety, you lose social credibility and capital, and you end paying a higher price in terms of your cognitive energy and your actual time to try to fix it in the moment. That’s what I call a landmine.

So, you need to get into your calendar and sweat out those landmines. You need to pour it out and really find them. And the reason why is you need a calendar that you trust more than your instinct. To me, when I look at my calendar now, a lot of people will say, “Well, Demir, you’re supposed to be here next week.” I’m like, “I don’t think so.” And they’ll say, “Your calendar says so.” And I’ll say, “Then you’re absolutely right,” because that’s the kind of effort and attention I give to my calendar. I want my calendar to be the single source of truth in my life when it comes to my time availability and my time supply.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Noted.

Pete Mockaitis

So, when we interrogate it, we’re really looking at each thing and ensuring that it’s true, that it’s accurate, it belongs there, and it’s worth the time that you have put for it to be there. That’s what you mean by interrogate?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, I have a series of like nine questions, “What should be there that isn’t? What’s there that shouldn’t be?” because a lot of times people will decide they’re not going to go to that party but they don’t get it off their calendar. It’s like, “Get it off your calendar.” If it’s not actually going to happen, get it off. They also forget the things around the calendar appointment, like if you’re going to go to the dentist, you need to get out the door, get prepared, drive, anticipate traffic. Then you need to get back.

So, typically, people’s calendar is more of a sketch of their time supply than it is a detailed accounting of exactly where their time is going to need to get allocated. I’m not saying there’s no place for blanks in your calendar. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go next when we actually look at our task list, that’s our time demands. So, once we do this, you should end with a calendar that still has some open spots but you feel very confident, “These are the hard-edge commitments that I have in my calendar, and here’s the time that I have available.” This is what I call your time supply.

If you’re running a basic business, if you don’t have a really good sense of supply and demand, like, “How much inventory do I have to sell this week?” If you don’t know how much inventory, you’re liable to oversell your inventory, which is what people do all the time with their time. They commit to too many things and think that they’ve got more time to get thing done, which means they overcommit to doing to many things, which means that they’re either going to have to work nights or weekends to get it all done, or they’re going to suffer a loss of credibility when they invariably have to come back to people, and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that for you.”

Pete Mockaitis

Understood.

Demir Bentley

Got it. So, time supply and time demand. So, we just took care of time supply. Go over to the demands. Where do your time-demands live? Look at your task list. And that was weird, like when I call your calendar your time supply, and I call your task list time demands, people have to sort of scratch their head, and be like, “Oh, yeah, I guess I’ve never really thought about it that way.”

Your calendar is not just your calendar. It is a tool to help you understand your supply of time, and your task list is really there to help you understand the demands on your time. These are the bids for your time. And the problem is you don’t have enough supply to meet all the demand. So, what you’re really doing when you’re going with your task list is you’re saying, “What are the best highest quality bids?”

So, if I was selling truffles, I used this example in my book, if you’re selling truffles, there’s always fewer truffles in the world than there are demand for truffles. There’s only the small finite supply. And so, this is really elaborate system for allocating truffles in a way where the highest bidder always gets the truffle. And so, that’s what we need to see our time as, as this highly perishable, incredibly finite thing that needs to go only to the highest bidder. And if you don’t send it to the highest bidder, what’s happening is you’re leaving money on the table and under-utilizing that precious resource.

So, we go to your task list for five minutes, and what I really want you to do is the same thing that you did on your calendar, get rid of the stupid stuff. Come on now. Let’s get rid of all that stuff that you know doesn’t really need to happen. Let’s identify that really high-value leveraged stuff. Let’s get into places where something might be urgent but not important, and let’s start to put it in an order where it’s going from the order of most leverage to least leverage, or at least most urgent to least urgent so that we can really understand and look at that top 20% which is our highest-value bids for our time.

I’ll say one more thing here, if I can plug it in. The nature of the modern world is that you will never, from now on to the day that you die, ever finish the weekend that we can get everything done that you planned for the week. I defy you to have a week, because human nature is that, even if you had one week where you got it all done, next week you would increase the amount that you thought you could get done, and you would, thereby, get back into the cycle.

We are greedy and lusty for life. We want more. We want to do more. We want to live more. We want to be more. It’s great. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you need to understand that the definition of winning your week is not that everything got done this week. The definition of winning your week is that, “I did the right things at the right time in the order of leverage and the right level of completion.” That, my friends, is what David Allen calls the martial art of getting things done.

Let me say it one more time because I said it really quick. It’s doing the right thing at the right time to the right level of completion with the right degree of leverage. If you can get those things right, you can look back and say to that bottom 80% of your task list that didn’t get done, “I’m fine with that. I can live with it because I know I did the right things in the right order to the right level of completion.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. And the next step?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, and that’s the final step, which is marry the two together. You’ve got this beautiful market, you’ve got time supply, you’ve got time demands, but if you don’t actually marry them together on your calendar, you’ve stopped before Pinocchio becomes a real boy. So, the idea now is to take that top 20% on your task list and actually take it over onto your calendar and give everything a specific time that you’re going to do it. Does that mean it’s written in stone, like the tablets from Moses of old, and God Himself cannot change it? No, it’s just an initial sketch of a plan.

But here’s what happens, and here’s what’s so beautiful. When you start pulling things over, I don’t have one client who will not come back to me after pulling things over and calendarizing, and saying, “Wow, I really don’t have as much time as I thought I had.” But we tend to live in this world of wishful thinking, and there’s nothing that will banish wishful thinking around your calendar and around your capabilities quicker than actually saying, like, “How much of this will fit?” Right?

My grandma used to have a saying, a very religious woman, very pious, so this is the only cussing she ever did, she said, “It’s like 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.” She had this analogy, “That’s like 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.” And what I thought was funny of that was this idea that it’s just you’re trying to put more in here than can possibly fit, and it’s just exploding out. And this is the case with a lot of people’s week, is that by not marrying the two together, they have this idea that they’re going to fit more in than they can. And what ends up happening is that they got a lot of you-know-what sitting all over the place.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s graphic, and it makes the point because you are. You’re going to have a big old mess on your hands and it will be…and something is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s your credibility, maybe it’s your sleep, maybe it is your patience with your loved ones. Something is going to get damaged when you have too much stuff that just doesn’t fit with your time supply available.

Demir Bentley

We’re in a crisis right now of commitment debt. This is something people don’t think about. We know about financial debt. We know about the crisis of financial where people are borrowing against their credit card, they’re not really living within their means, but it’s happening so slowly and so insidiously that it’s just building and building, and for a while they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and everything is fine, until it’s not fine.

And we’re actually experiencing the same thing with commitment debt, meaning every week for 10 years, we’re just overcommitting a little bit, and we’re just taking what we didn’t do this week, and we’re trying to push it into next week, and we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we’re shifting things around and trying to, oh, apologize here and come up late with some miraculous productivity here.

But you run that for a decade or two decades and there’s a point at which you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul anymore, the whole Ponzi scheme comes falling down, and you realize, “I am way overcommitted,” and that comes from not being clearly anchored in living within your means. And it’s not just that you can live within your means financially, you can live within your means from a commitment perspective, “Am I actually making commitments that I have enough or more than enough time to satisfy?” And I would tell you most of my clients come to me and they’re in severe amounts of commitment debt.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Understood. And what’s our next step?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, that’s it. You allocate time supply to time demand, and you meet those two together. Now you’ve got a plan for the week that actually matches base reality. And I can tell you, do that the first week, you’re going to experience something different. And it’s not because there’s anything so amazing or magical about our coaching. It’s just because you’ve covered every single important base.

You have looked at your time supply, you’ve looked at your time demand, you’ve understood where your leveraged priority is, so you have what I call the holy trinity of planning your week. Look at your time supply, your time demand, and your priorities. You’ve covered off on each of those bases, that is better than 99.9% of people do. Most people don’t plan the week at all. The people who do plan the week, they’ll do maybe one of those of three, two of those three. It’s incredibly rare that you’ll see somebody do all three of those and make sure that it fits into the allocated time in the calendar.

The funny thing is it feels magical when you do it. It feels like one of those aha moments where it becomes advanced common sense where once you do it, you’re like, “Well, I can’t really unthink this, I can’t really unlearn this because it has to be like this. It just makes sense.” But then you look back, and say, “Yeah, well, it can’t have made that much sense because I wasn’t doing it for years.” So, it’s just a simple way to cover off on every base.

When most people can actually just plan their week correctly in the right way, they’re going to see that they’re winning more weeks.

And just like investing, you don’t have to win on every investment. You just have to win more investments than you lose to make money. Well, you don’t have to win every week. You just have to win more than you lose with leverage to see yourself in a much better position next year than you are this year.

Pete Mockaitis

And winning, so we do the planning, what is winning, just like executing most of the plan, or how do we define winning?

Demir Bentley

Well, that’s why I defined the leveraged priority. To me, winning is if I can achieve my leveraged priority, I have won for the week, and most of the time, I can do that by Tuesday. So, if I can do something every single week that has leverage on it, I’ve won because I’ve done something this week that makes next week and every week thereafter easier.

Now, that’s probably 5% of my time. Five percent of my working hours is my leveraged priority, not even close to the majority. Again, perfection not needed, not required here. You don’t need to spend 50% of your time working on a leveraged priority. If you could just allocate 5% of your working hours to do something that has a little bit of leverage in it, that means that you’re planting a seed every single week that’s going to benefit all the weeks thereafter.

So, that, to me, is the definition of winning. If I can get my leveraged priority done every week, I’ve won. And then, thereafter, I’m just scoring extra credit bonus points.

To win the week is not, “I’ve got everything done.” Win the week is, “I’ve got the big thing done and I made the biggest possible dent I could in the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Demir, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Demir Bentley

I would just say that I wrote the book Winning the Week because I think that we need to be more humane in our conception of how we treat ourselves in the productivity world. There’s a strong undercurrent right now of, like, “Be more disciplined. Be more excellent. Get up at 4:00. Do all of the things. Do the perfect habits. Do everything right. Don’t lose a day.”

And I just feel like that doesn’t match up with the thousands and thousands and thousands of clients I’ve had. Human beings have good days, we have bad days. It’s a mix. Every day in every week, we’re sort of meeting ourselves at a different level. Sometimes we wake up, we’ve got more energy, more desire to do something. Sometimes a little bit less.

The thing I love about playing the game in a week-long increment is you can have a bad day or two and still win the week. And this is sort of the message I want to get out to people. You can feel that you got your butt kicked five days out of the week, and yet still look back and look at what you did that week, and realize that you won the week.

So, I don’t want people trying to connect themselves to this idea that, “I need to be perfect every day. I need to crush it every day.” Actually, no, you can get your butt kicked five days out of the week. And if you did it with the right level of intention, and you chose the right leveraged points, you can actually look back on a week that you really felt like took you to the cleaners, and realize that you won the week.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Well, now can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Demir Bentley

We came up with The ONE Thing when we were talking earlier. I think that book is a productivity bible. There are so many quotes and amazing things from that book. So, although I don’t have a quote, I’ll put in everything in the book The ONE Thing. That book is just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Demir Bentley

I think the best one, his name is Czechoslovakian. It’s so hard. It’s Czecemensky or Zemensky or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

Demir Bentley

There we go. Thank you, yeah. He did a study that, basically, said, it proved that when we walk away from a task that’s incomplete, our brain continues trying to problem-solve around it, unless, and this was the important part of the study that really intrigued me, unless you actually gave yourself a breadcrumb trail to come back to it. So, that when we actually terminated something midway, meaning we hadn’t completed it, if we actually created a specific plan for when we were going to come back to it, and what we were going to do when we came back to it, they found that your brain actually didn’t spin around it.

I think the reason I love that so much is because the truth is that we still have to live as human beings in the midst of our productivity journey. There’s always going to be moments where you’re deep in the middle of something, you’re knee-deep in it, and you need to step away, whether that’s the weekend where we all have to step away every five days, or whether it’s a crisis in your personal life and you need to step away from something.

I think there’s something so beautiful about being able to sort of recognize, “If I don’t give myself a specific time and plan when I’m going to come back to this, I’m going to be spinning on it and burning a lot of cognitive energy that’s going to keep me from enjoying my weekend, that’s going to keep me from being present in this moment where I need to be present. But if I actually just say, ‘This is the plan, and this is where I’m coming back to it,’ I can actually put it down and know that my brain isn’t burning and losing cognitive energy as I’m facing this thing that I need to face in my personal life.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And a favorite tool?

Demir Bentley

I think my favorite tool is Asana. And the reason my favorite tool is Asana, or choose your flavor, it could be Monday.com, is because I think it represents a paradigm shift in how we think about productivity and communication, and that’s a different podcast. But I think Asana is more than a technology. I think it’s a paradigm shift.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Demir Bentley

I say all the time, I say perfection not required.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, check us out at WinningTheWeek.com or you can check us out at LifeHackMethod.com. That points to over our different socials, and we’re everywhere. We’re on Insta, and we’re on YouTube. It’s got some cool trainings. So, if you want to sample a little of the goods, we’ve got a lot of free trainings on YouTube and different places you can check us out.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Demir Bentley

Yeah, I’ll just say do less than you think. Just like working out, people think, “I got to get in the gym. I’ve got to become this warrior. I’m going to lose all this weight.” And, really, what you should be doing is getting out and getting up to 10,000 steps. The difference between 7,000 steps and 10,000 steps is huge when it comes to your health. And the difference between planning your week for 30 minutes versus not is tremendous in your productivity.

So, stop trying to be a weekend warrior, and get in there, and be Rambo, and just blow the competition away, and start thinking about really, really small things that can have huge disproportion effects for your productivity.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. Demir, this is awesome. I wish you much winning of many weeks.

Demir Bentley

Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure, man.

929: Ending Overwhelm by Delegating Masterfully with Kelli Thompson

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Kelli Thompson reveals how to beat the cycle of overwhelm through smarter delegation.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you seem less capable when you don’t delegate
  2. The four mindsets that hinder effective delegation
  3. How to ensure others don’t screw up delegated tasks 

About Kelli

Kelli Thompson is a women’s leadership coach and speaker who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She has coached and trained thousands of women to trust themselves, lead with more confidence, and create a career they love. She is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women’s Leadership Program, and a Stevie Award winner for Women in Business—Coach of the Year. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck.

Resources Mentioned

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Kelli Thompson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Kelli, welcome back.

Kelli Thompson

Oh, I’m so excited to talk to you again.

Pete Mockaitis

Me, too. Well, you’ve been talking a lot about shifting from a doer to a leader lately. Tell us, why, of all the topics you could research you’ve chosen this one?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. Well, I think the things that we need most in our lives, what we’re most guilty of, sometimes become our most common topics. I mean, I don’t know, tell me where I’m wrong. But I just found myself always, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, Pete, in corporate America, I think a lot of times we promote the best doers. And I remember seeing this not only as a leader, I remember experiencing this myself, I remember I experienced this as an HR person. I think we say, “Okay, Pete is the best we have at producing these widgets. He’s amazing. He’s so fast. We should make him a manager.”

And so, I think sometimes what happens in this, we promote this person and we think this magic transformation is going to happen overnight, that tonight you’re going to bed, and tomorrow you’re going to wake up, and go, “Ooh, my new title, my new salary, I’m going to be comfortable delegating, coaching, having hard conversations, and really stop doing all the doing,” when I think, we don’t realize how payoff we get from doing.

Doing feels good. You can check a box. You get a gold star. We were raised our entire lives doing, “Oh, we’re so fast at this,” “You’re so quick,” etc. and it just feels good. And I think, even as a parent, I really have struggled with this, asking myself, “How much am I doing for my child?” So, I don’t think this has leadership implications or work implications. I think, as parents, we see this, too. We see somebody do something that that’s not how we would do it. They do it slower than us. It’s, like, really painful for us to watch. And so, we jump in and we do.

And even now, running my own business, it’s been really hard for me to let go of all the doing. But the problem is my business can’t grow if I’m doing all the doing. And so, I’ve had to hire a lot of help in the last 18 months, and so this topic has never been more important to me, or more relevant to me, in raising a teenager who’s gone off to college, but then also really learning the hard work of letting someone else take care of things for you and do it in their own way.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really resonant. And as I’m thinking about my kids who are four and six, and then one super young, but it’s like they are capable of cleaning, and yet it is so much harder to ask them 20 times, sometimes literally 20 times, to pick up sort of maybe three key items. It might require 20 requests because they get distracted and they have imaginative play fun, which is adorable, and I sort of hate to put a kabash on that too much but sometimes it’s just not that quick.

And so, it’s like if I actually want the place clean fast, doing it myself is so much faster and less aggravating than asking many, many, many times, as opposed to asking them repeatedly. And so, yes, I could see from an emotional payoff perspective there’s a wide array of tasks in the world of work that would probably feel a whole lot better to just do yourself than to delegate and coach and to feedback-refine through other people to get done.

Kelli Thompson

Absolutely. And you really hit on something important because these are the things that I hear with leaders today, especially folks who are moving into kind of that first jump of leadership. So, they’re moving into team lead, maybe a manager, senior manager, director, is they say things, like, “Kelli, I don’t have time to delegate. I don’t have time to explain this to anyone.” They might say things like, “Kelli, I can’t delegate because people just make too many high-impact mistakes. I have company coming, and so we cannot make any mistakes in this presentation.”

The other thing that I hear a lot is when leaders say, and I remember feeling this, too, and even as a parent, “It makes me feel guilty. I feel guilty that I am delegating this.” It’s almost like I feel like I’m shirking work. But one of the things that I like to remind folks and offer them to consider is that people will make mistakes, expect them. Yes, it is normal to feel all sorts of uncomfortable feelings when you’re delegating because society has told us that our worth oftentimes is tied to our productivity, and, yes, people don’t do things the way that we would do them, and, yes, it can take some time.

But those things are going to be exacerbated when you are delegating and you’re waiting to delegate when the stakes are too high. So, I just want to talk about the overwhelm cycle. So, like, what tends to happen is, let’s just say, we are working on a project, we get more projects put on our plate, and we want to say to all the things because maybe we are in this belief that, “If I say yes to everything, I look capable and confident.” Well, then we get overwhelmed.

And so then, we delegate sometimes out of panic. Even as parents, right, it’s like we hoard and we hoard and we hoard, and, “Oh, my gosh, company is coming in an hour, and I’m delegating out of panic.” And so, when we delegate out of panic, lots of times we’re delegating when the stakes are way too high, when mistakes can’t be made, when it will take a long time to explain something to someone because the project that you’re trying to delegate is just huge.

And so, what happens is the stakes are high, we’re panicked, we delegate, and people make mistakes. Of course, they make mistakes because that’s what we do the first time we try something. And then when people make mistakes, as leaders and as parents, we get frustrated that people make mistakes, and we say, “See, I can’t delegate. I have to take this back. I have to jump in and fix it.” And so, we jump in, and we fix it, and tell ourselves a story, “See, I can’t delegate because nobody can do things as good as I can,” and the whole overwhelm cycle starts again.

So, one of the things I’d offer leaders and parents is to start delegating while the stakes are low. So, I can think of a time where I delegated out a presentation that needed to go to senior leadership, way, way, way too high of stakes because the people made mistakes. They didn’t put the slides together the way I would’ve done it. And so, what did I do? I took it back. And so, I had to learn to say, “Wait a minute. You don’t delegate out a whole presentation. You delegate out one slide. One slide that perhaps the person has expertise or experience in, and you coach them on the delivery of that one slide.”

And we should just hope that people make mistakes because if you’re delegating when the stakes are low, there’s low impact. In fact, those mistakes can be used for learning. When there’s a mistake in that single slide, we can have a coaching moment about it, we can start to talk about it, we can start to talk about delivery and presentation and those sorts of things.

And so, my challenge for you is to really think about, “How can I start to delegate when the stakes are low?” And if you are panicked about someone making a mistake, mistakes are still too high, let’s cut in half. Because here’s the thing, we’ve all learned through making mistakes, and that uncomfortable learning and growth moment, and I think lots of times we feel guilty that we’re dumping or shirking work when, in fact, the opposite is true.

And Gallup research shows us that one of the number-one things that keeps people engaged is the ability to learn and grow on the job. And so, if you’re hoarding all that work, you are not allowing people to learn and grow. And so, how can we create those safe spaces for people to learn and grow, and that’s what’s very low-stakes delegation, so that they can build their rep and confidence? So, when the stakes are high, we’ve got some reps under our belt.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, Kelli, can you tell me, really, what’s at stake for someone who’s an emerging leader who has done a smidge of delegating and coaching, and it’s like, “Nah, this isn’t working so well for me,” so they haven’t really embraced it, and they are continuing to do a lot, maybe 80% plus of what they were doing before? They started taking on the leadership responsibilities as well. Like, just how bad is it to keep on rolling that way if it’s comfortable, and you know you’re awesome at your job?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah, honestly, that, I think is the biggest hurdle is you are, you got promoted because you are awesome at your job. And so, when you get promoted into leadership, guess what? Because you’re awesome at your job you get more projects because they hope that you continue to be awesome at your job. But now, you not only have doing responsibilities, especially if you’re a working manager, but now you also have to hold team meetings, coach your team, develop your team, think strategically, plan for the future.

And so, what I see happen sometimes, and I think what the consequences are of this, is these leaders keep saying yes to these things. And then they often get told, “Well, you’re not being strategic.” “Well, because I haven’t left any time to be strategic because I’m still doing all of the doing.” The other thing that I see happen is burnout. More than ever with my own clients, lots of times they’re coming to me because they are so burnt out.

And when we do a little bit of a calendar audit, one of the things that we see is they are still holding onto and attending meetings that their team members are in. They should’ve stopped attending that meeting six months ago. They’re still hanging on to work projects that are no longer a development opportunity for them. They still just keep doing them because it feels good and they get the rewards and the accolades but they’re exhausted because they’re still doing all the doing, they’re still saying yes to all the things, and they haven’t delegated down.

The real impact, though, and where I see this, especially with the clients that I coach, because they’re coming to me wanting to accelerate in the organization but, unfortunately, it becomes really hard to accelerate in the organization when you continue to hang on to old projects. So, let me just kind of give you an example of what happens. So, they hang on to projects because they are the expert in what they do. And lots of times, that first promotion into leadership, we are managing people in which we have also done the work.

And so, you know what that means, it’s so easy to jump in and do and help and all the things, but as you promote, want to get promoted into leadership, guess what’s going to happen? You are going to start to inherit teams in which you have never done the work. And we see that with senior leaders all the time. They manage teams in which they’ve never done the work. And so, lots of times there’s a crisis of confidence that happens because, before, they got all their confidence and leadership expertise because they knew the work. But now they’re managing teams in which they don’t know the work.

And so, they have to learn how to lead in a whole different way, and that’s why delegation becomes so important. One, because you’re going to need to learn how to expand your leadership team to coaching people in which you’ve never done the work, so you can’t do anymore, but now your job is to coach, to motivate, to inspire, and you can’t do that if you are still hanging on to all those pieces of work that you know how to do, and you can jump in and do it better, faster. It becomes a real kind of skill and confidence crisis as people want to accelerate in the organization. And lots of times, it can really keep them stuck if they’re unwilling to start to delegate when those stakes are low, and test and trust people.

Pete Mockaitis

Kelli, that’s powerful and what a compelling case there. So, when you’re doing the stuff that you need not to be doing, you’re going to burn out, you’re not developing. It might feel good in the moment but developing also feels really good. So, you can just trade it for another source of work pleasure if you’re doing the stuff that is development-y instead of not development-y. And then, ultimately, you’re going to capped in terms of your career progression. It’s like, “Oh, I guess you just don’t have the capability to lead folks doing work that you have not done before because you’re not sort of inching in that direction.”

Okay. So, I’m also curious, could you tell us a hopeful story of someone who was struggling with these very common sorts of challenges and then did some things differently and saw some cool results?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah, so I’ll just throw myself under the bus here. So, I remember early on in my career, I went to my leader, and I said, “Hey, I want to develop my executive presentation skills.” I was that leader who was managing a team that I hadn’t done the work but I had gotten a few other teams, and so I’m thinking big picture, “I want to develop these presentation skills so I can continue to accelerate,” all the things.

And my leader, she was awesome, she goes, “Oh, that sounds great.” She goes, “You know what, all those slides that I have you prepare that I present to the C-suite every month for the month review, I’m gonnahave you come and you just present them.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds great.”

So, I go ahead and I prepare my slides, like I’ve always done, and we go to the top floor of our building, and I’m meeting with the CEO of the company, my boss, my boss’ boss, I think the CFO was there too, and I start presenting, and so far, so good. They’re asking me questions; I know the answers.

Well, what I didn’t know was she had prepped them ahead of time to let them know that I wanted this development opportunity, and I did not know this at the time. But they started to have a little fun with me, I think, and they started to ask me questions that, quite frankly, I didn’t know the answers to. Now, these questions were next-level questions that the senior leaders should be able to know and answer about sales, and revenues, and ratios, and all that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

“Kelli, how is this going to drive long-term scaleable synergies and keep going on?”

Kelli Thompson
Yeah, it was like that. And so, if you’ve ever been in a meeting like that, like let’s just pause and picture. Like, I’m stammering, my neck is red, I’m pitting out, I’m feeling like a complete idiot. It is so uncomfortable. But I know we’ve all been in meetings like that. And I don’t know who it’s worse for, the person, like me that’s sitting and stammering, or my boss, who is watching the train wreck go down in action.

And I think all of us watching the train wreck, and I know I’ve done this as a leader, have jumped in, interjected, saved the day, answered the questions, but she didn’t. She just sat there silently and gave me space to struggle through and answer the questions. She only answered questions when they were directed at her directly.

And so, the meeting finished, and we get in the elevator and we ride all 40 flights down, and she looked at me, and she said, “So, how do you think that went?” And I’m like, “Oh, my God, it went terrible,” and all the things. She goes, “You know what, Kelli, I prepped them a little bit. They were having a little fun at the end.” She goes, “But those questions are things that you’re going to have to learn how to answer.”

So, she goes, “I have a question for you. Who do you know that always seems to present well in front of senior leadership with those types of high-level questions?” And I actually named off a few people who I really admired. She said, “Great. I want you to go to them, and I want you to find out how they prep. And I want you to incorporate some of those methods so that you can do this again next month when I ask you to do it again.” And I was, like, “Oh, my gosh.”

So, I think we learn a couple of things from that. One, had my manager jumped in to save me, all I would’ve learned was that I only need to prep to a certain amount because, at any point, if this gets too uncomfortable for me or her, she’ll jump in and save. And so, when we do that to people, I know I’ve done that to people, they’re like, “Eh, I only got to do about this much. My manager will come in and take the rest,” and that really limits someone’s development and their learning because we never allow people that uncomfortable space for growth. So, one, she did not jump in and save me.

Number two, she did not tell me what to do. She just said, “How do you think that went? How do you want it to go? Who else do you know that does this well?” Well, she gave me my problem back, she’s like, “You go talk to them, you go figure out new ways, and then let me know how you’re going to present differently the next time.”

And so, she really let me own that discomfort and that struggle. And while it didn’t feel good, she still provided a lot of empathy, “Hey, we’ve all done this the first time. This is totally normal. They were testing you a little bit, so you can relax. You didn’t kill your career.” There’s lots of empathy and compassion but there was also this, “Hey, you have a new problem to solve, and how are you going to go about that for your own personal development?”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s beautiful. Thank you, Kelli. Well, now can you share with us what are perhaps the mindsets we need to adopt in order to pull this off effectively? And I think the answer to that is mistakes is to be expected, but you have more.

Kelli Thompson

There is. And so, maybe you can ask yourself these questions. I have found in my own life and in all of the hundreds of clients that I’ve worked with, there are four mindsets that keep us saying yes instead of saying no. And when I say, say yes, it’s doing all the doing, saying yes to all the things. Mindset number one is kind of a capability mindset. It’s this belief that, “Oh, if I don’t say yes, people are going to think I’m not capable.”

Then there’s sometimes a people-pleasing mindset, and it’s this, “Oh, gosh, if I don’t say yes, people are really going to be disappointed in me. They’re going to be really unhappy.” We say yes to keep people happy. Then there’s mindset number three. These are our responsible-caretaker mindset folks, where they’re like, “I have to say yes so that I look responsible and people know that I support them.” And then the fourth mindset that I often see is of, like, a perfectionist mindset, “I have to say yes so that I look perfect, and then I’m going to stall and stall and stall in this until it is perfect.”

And so, I think, sometimes, just by recognizing what’s happening in that moment can bring a little bit of self-aware so you can pause, in that way when your leader comes to you, and says, “Hey, can you take on this massive project?” or when you think about continuing to do the things instead of delegating, it’s like, “Wait a minute. Why am I hanging onto this project? Why do I feel that I’m the only one that can do this?”

I know for me, personally, capability mindset was a big thing, “If I delegate this and I delegate all this work, people are going to think I’m not capable, and that’s going to show up in my performance review, and my manager is going to be upset, and then I’m going to get fired,” we go down the whole spiral. So, maybe just really think about what is that mindset that keeps you saying yes, and then ask yourself, “Could the opposite actually be just as true?”

I know one of the things that I learned in my own life, and I know my clients have learned, is that sometimes when I say yes to too much, people actually start to question my capability. Why? Because I’ve said yes to too much. My quality suffers. I turn stuff in late. I don’t get back to people when I promised them. And so, now all my fears of looking incapable have come true.

And so, I think that would be the first place that I would really start is just to go, and we’re going to be like, “Why am I keeping this? Why am I taking this on? Why am I saying yes when I should be delegating and coaching others?” And so, something to take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s powerful. And it’s funny, when you said when you say yes too much, people’s perception of your capability declines. And where I thought you were going to go with is if there’s a restaurant that has everything in the buffet, like, “Oh, we got pizza, and French fries, and, oh, burgers, and sushi, and Lomi,” it’s like, “Hmm, yeah, I don’t know if you’re actually capable of making all these items well. I actually sort of have less faith in this restaurant as being able to do that.”

So, is that also a phenomenon that happens in the human work perception of each other’s skills domain? I imagine it would. What’s your experience?

Kelli Thompson

Oh, absolutely. So, I often call this rust-out. It’s a type of burnout. And so, you’re right. What can happen? “Because I’m people-pleasing, or I want people to see that I’m capable and responsible so I’m going to say yes to all the things. And now, all of a sudden, I’m running a project, and I’m quasi-managing a sales ops team, and, oh, yeah, why don’t you add in a little bit of training team to that or HR,” right? You have all of these things on the buffet. So, you’re just very mediocre at all of them.

And one of the things that I’ve noticed, and I even notice this for me, personally, especially in running my business because you kind of have to do the buffet of all the things, is those create a ton of energy leaks because my hunch is, and I work on this with my clients, there’s something that probably just totally ignites your energy.

Same with you, Pete, right? You probably do a podcast because you geek out, and it’s exciting, and people know you for it, and every time you come, you’re like, “Yes, this is going to be so fun. We’re going to have a great conversation.” That’s the type of energy that you want to bring into your work because it builds your brand as a leader, is you become known for something.

And so, when you start saying yes to all of these things that are outside your genius zone, at least in my own experience, I face a lot of what I call energy leaks. I was spending my time and energy on things that absolutely drained my energy. And that sort of energy drain creates rust-out. And I call rust-out as not using your talents. You feel rusty, you feel tired, and it’s actually a type of burnout.

And so, I love that you brought up this restaurant that offers too many things on the menu because they’re not known for anything, they’re not doing that one thing that they can do in their genius zone and offer excellently so they become known all over town as the place to go for that thing. And I don’t think leaders are any different. I think it’s so important to find that genius zone. What is it that you’ve been put on this Earth to do? Where do you make the biggest impact for your organization, drive their most revenue, save the most money? And how do you delegate everything that isn’t that?

Because my hunch is, if you’re doing work that’s not in your genius zone, you are robbing the people around you and below you of doing work in their genius zone. I can’t work in a pivot table. But you know what, I’ve got somebody on my team that excel in pivot tables, and numbers is their genius zone. Why would I rob them of that and do it in a mediocre way that just burns me out at the end of the day?

Pete Mockaitis

That is beautiful. And it’s so true in terms of, I think, we can all think of tasks that, really, we’re fired up to do, and tasks that we really, really, really dread doing, and then afterwards we just feel not great.

I also like what you had to say with regards to when you delegate, mistakes are to be expected. And this brings me back to one of my favorite conversations, Episode 528 with Aaron Levy, is that we have an expectation of iteration on certain things, and other things we don’t, and that’s really intriguing. It’s that if you look at that where you have it.

And it’s funny, I’ve been working with a composer to redo the music here – Shoutout to Breakmaster Cylinder – and it’s been really cool how we’ve been going through a lot of iterations, and I don’t mind. I actually really appreciate Breakmaster Cylinder for going through that with me, I appreciate that patience, they’re like, “Hey, here’s the eighth version. Tell me what you think about these things.”

And yet there are other times in which if it doesn’t come back perfect the first time, I’m really annoyed and irritated, and so I’m like, “What’s that about?” I think it has more to do with me than the person who is sending me something. And I think that’s just an intriguing area to explore within our own psyches, is, “Where do we expect mistakes and iterations? And where do we not? And why? And is it fair?” Can you help us sift through a little bit of this mess, Kelli?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. So, I learned this lesson the hard way, as all hard things are learned. First, when I switched jobs, when I switched careers, and switched industries. And the second time I learned it was when I launched my own business. And so, I remember switching, I moved from banking and I went into, like, a healthcare tech startup.

And in my first 90 days, and I see this a lot with my clients, too, I think there’s this expectation, like, “I’m going to go in, and I’m going to knock their socks off, and I’m going to do all the things and achieve all the results in 90 days or less,” and it doesn’t happen that way. And, in fact, a lot of times you kind of push people the wrong way. People are like, “Gosh, who’s this person coming in and pushing their agenda?”

I had to learn a different way. I had to learn that, actually, your first 90 days should be about learning, “How much can you learn? How much can you ask? How curious can you be?” And when I was working for that tech startup, I had a gift that I didn’t I was going to give me a reading The Lean Startup.

Pete Mockaitis

So good. Eric Ries. Shoutout in the show notes. Link it.

Kelli Thompson

It’s so good. And if you don’t have time to read it, just watch the YouTube summary. You’re going to get everything you need. When I started my own business, I totally had a, “If I’m going to launch this, it better give me all the results I want.” But, thank goodness, I had read that book because I had to change my mindset, that when we try something, when we test something, when we delegate something, our goal should not be results. Our goal should not always be revenue, or perfection, or excellence. Our goal should be learning.

Because if we can go in with that curious, iterative, experimenter’s mindset, Pete, it’s the only reason I’m still in business five years from today, and I haven’t totally burnt myself out, or had unrealistic expectations. But it’s just way more fun. It is just so much more fun to be, like, “I’m going to just test this and just see what happens, see how the world responds to it.” Like, when your only job is curiosity and learning, it is so much more fun. It is so much more freeing.

Like, I know so many people who beat themselves up and it does, it causes depression, burnout when they launch something, and they expect it’s going to be perfect on that first iteration. Like, what a pressure to put yourself under as a leader, and what pressure to put people under us. So, I just find, personally, it is way more fun, and it is so much easier to be a leader for the long game, or be in a business like mine for the long game, when you are just thinking about iterating, and testing, and learning, and just seeing what the world gives back to you.

Pete Mockaitis

It’s so true. And I recently did a keynote speech to a bunch of creators, and it was really fun. And I sort of shared, “Hey, here’s ten of my creations, from books to podcast, to whatever, and you’re going to vote in advance. Was it a hit or was it a dud? And then I will tell you afterwards, and then what lessons I learned.” And so, it’s kind of a fun format we did.

And it was intriguing that, as I took this stroll through memory lane, the majority of the things I created were a dud, particularly the first time around, and then I took some iteration, or you scrap it, like you learn something. And one of the biggest lessons learned is just about sort of validating a concept before you build it. There’s some more Lean Startup action for you.

But what was really cool, some of the audience – shoutout to Jonathan Blevins – said, “You know, this was so encouraging because I’m embarking on this thing, and I put all this pressure on myself, like, this really has to succeed, it really has to succeed. But, no, it could fail and that can be fine.” And it really can.

And so, I loved what you said, in that world of delegating, is you want to give people those opportunities where they can fail and it can be fine because you’ve got some buffer in the deadline, you got a review step before it reaches the super CEO, or the clients who have a huge account with you, or whatever. Like, one way or another, it’s okay to fail, and, in fact, it might even be enjoyable, in so far as you come up with some new learnings and insights and aha-s along the way.

Can you give us some more practical tactical approaches for setting up that kind of safe delegating environmental vibe?

Kelli Thompson

Yeah. So, let me do it from two sides here. Side number one, I just want to continue to reiterate, delegate when the stakes are low. Okay, so let me give you an example from my own life. I didn’t go out and write my book, Closing the Confidence Gap, because it was the first time I’d ever talked about those concepts. Like, “No, we’re not going to go and put that out in a book.”

That book came from years of conversations, curiosity, asking questions, talking to people, and, quite frankly, putting information out. Like, I love sharing content on LinkedIn. I think it’s fun. It’s a good place to iterate and test, “I’m going to share this idea and see if people react to it.” And you know what, the more kind of people engage and react, I’m like, “Okay, I might be onto something. I can expand this and grow it.”

And sometimes, I’ll put stuff out and it is a dud. And so then, I have to ask myself, “Okay, was it tone? Was it too much? Was it too long? Is this idea not resonating right?” It’s really like a lab. And so, I wrote the book through lots and lots and lots of iteration and testing in low-stakes environments. Like, LinkedIn is a low-stakes environment to test ideas. But then we refine those ideas with people and with audiences, and I might share them with a small group, and then it gets into a book.

So, I want you to think about that at work, how we are constantly testing low-stakes environment where we can learn and it feels fun to learn, but I want to flip this and I want to put it also from the person who’s, like, “But, Kelli, I am not a manager. I’m awesome at my job. And because I’m awesome at my job, guess what, everybody wants me to do all the things.”

I want to share with you a tactic that actually my business manager did to me just about a month ago, because, as leaders, I just want to normalize, sometimes we get really excited about things. We read things, and we’re like, “Oh, I’m going to have my team work on this right away,” and we forget everything that we delegated to them the last three months.

So, that was me. I got all jazzed about an idea. I think it was some sort of competitive analysis, and I emailed my business manager, I said, “Hey, Kristen, I just thought about this, and we should do this this week.” And she so beautifully said, “Kelli, here are the three priorities that you gave me in the last month to work on for the business. Would you like me to stop one of these priorities so that you can focus on this one that you came up with today?” And, of course, she was very nice, she was very tactical, and I laughed, I was like, “Well, she’s read my book, and she used my technique on me.”

Because I think, sometimes, we forget, as leaders, what we’ve told people, what people are working on that maybe we forgot to tell them to stop doing, we’re like, “Oh, I forgot to tell them that’s not a priority anymore.” So, I think if you’re an individual contributor who’s awesome at your job, and you don’t want to be burnt out, just have a very intelligent conversation with your leader, and say, “I love that idea. Here’s the three things I’m working on this week because you said they were a priority, and they’re due by the 15th of the month. Is this still the case? Is this still a priority? Or, would you want me to pull one of these off the list so that I can put that one on?”

Like, let’s just have a priorities conversation because, that way, we’re not getting overworked, we’re not getting overloaded. And for somebody who has no one to delegate to, I think it’s a good way to manage up some of those delegation opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. And tell me, when you’re engaged in some of the coaching, the follow-up, the accountability, the hard conversations, do you have any top do’s or don’ts or favorite scripts you like to use in the course of these conversations?

Kelli Thompson

I like to think of the four P’s. So, when you’re delegating something, talk about the purpose, “Why are we doing this? Why am I asking you to do this? Like, what is the bigger picture?” The second thing that I want folks to focus on is the second P, which is people, “Who is involved?” And when you think about people, “Who are the decision-makers? Who needs to be consulted in your work? And who just needs to be informed?”

And so, that’s a really good conversation to have when you’re delegating something because, then, you can say, “Who is the decision-maker here? Is it you, Pete? Or, is it still me? Do you still need to bring things to me? Or, are you capable of making all the decisions about this project? Who do you need to consult? What stakeholders do you need to talk to before you move forward on any progress? And then when you made these decisions, or you’re doing this work, who do you need to keep informed?”

The third thing is the process. So, I think this is a good conversation to have to say, “Okay, here is where, perhaps, you need to follow some standardized processes.” I used to work in banking, so there were just some rules we had to follow, like, “Hey, here are some rules you have to follow here to get this done, but here’s where you can have leeway.” I think it’s great. Instead of just saying, “Hey, do whatever you want.” I think that can cause a lot of panic in folks. So, let’s communicate what processes or systems do we need to follow here but where you can have a little bit of creativity.

And then the last P is performance. I see people miss this one all the time. I struggle with this one. But be specific about what great outcomes look like, meaning, “What does success look like in this project? Are there ratios we’re trying to achieve? Is there a certain revenue number we’re trying to achieve? Is it a certain number of signups, or money saved, or risks reduced?” Whatever that is, but be specific so that you can communicate to this person.

And I think about, like in my own team, when I’m talking, my business manager helped me implement a customer relationship management system. And so, when I delegated that to her, I said, “We will know we have been successful in choosing the right system because it will do, A, B, and C.” Like, be clear about that so that people aren’t just assuming that they know what the results look like, but we actually have a conversation about what looks like success.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s lovely. Well, Kelli, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kelli Thompson

I would say, in terms of delegations, I think sometimes, we do, we feel it’s hard. We feel uncomfortable Sometimes we feel guilty. It’s hard sometimes watching other people struggle. It truly is because it evokes feelings in them and in us because sitting in discomfort is not something that we, as humans, enjoy.

But I would really just encourage you just to pause one moment longer. When you’re watching somebody struggle, when you’re watching your child try to clean the living room or use the vacuum, before you jump in, can you pause just one moment longer to allow them to work through that discomfort because that’s where all the learning happens?

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kelli Thompson

Because I love to play the long game. I’ve been really reciting this quote back to myself, which is, “Consistency isn’t sexy but it works. Just showing up every day, playing the long game keeps you from burning out.”

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kelli Thompson

So, every year, I love the McKinsey and LeanIn Women in the Workplace Report. It comes out every year, usually November-ish of every year. And the one I’ve especially been focusing on is this, is that first promotion that happens. And so, what they find is that the talent pipeline breaks down because, for every 100 men that are promoted, 87 women are promoted. And as those job roles continue to accelerate in the organization to the C-suite, it gets less and less and less and less.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite book?

Kelli Thompson

My favorite fiction book I read in the last year was Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. It is fiction but it does read like nonfiction when it talks about, again, women’s role in the workplace in which it takes place. But the book I waited way too long to read was, Never Split the Difference by Chriss Voss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, we had him on the show.

Kelli Thompson

Yes. And so, I won’t give too many spoilers but I will say that that is not a negotiation book. It is an emotional intelligence and empathy book, and I highly recommend all leaders read it.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Kelli Thompson

I don’t know what I’d do without Calendly. It makes everything so easy, so much less back-and-forth.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite habit?

Kelli Thompson

My favorite habit is to lift weights almost every morning.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a key nugget you share, something that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Kelli Thompson

“Confidence is a side effect of taking action.” I think, all too often, we wait until we feel confident to take action, but it’s after we take the action that we actually feel the confidence.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kelli Thompson

You can go to my website, www.KelliRaeThompson.com. I’m Kelli with an I, and then R-A-E. The two places I hang out on social are LinkedIn. So, find me at Kelli Thompson, or Instagram @kelliraethompson.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kelli Thompson
I would say find that one thing, one tiny thing, even if it you don’t manage people, I bet you can do it in your personal life. What’s one low-stakes item that is draining your energy that you can delegate, either to your children, to an outside company, or to somebody on your team?

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, thank you, Kelli. I wish you many successful delegations.

Kelli Thompson

Awesome. Thank you.

834: How to End Micromanagement Once and For All with Lia Garvin

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Lia Garvin discusses how employees and managers can work together to put an end to micromanaging.

You’ll Learn

  1. The three telltale signs of micromanaging
  2. How micromanaging makes everyone less effective
  3. How to expertly respond to a micromanager

About Lia
Lia Garvin is the bestselling author of Unstuck, TEDx speaker and workplace strategist with experience leading team operations across Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Bank of America. As the Founder of the The Workplace Reframe organizational strategy firm, she equips innovative organizations of any size and industry with the tools to cultivate inclusive, motivated, high performing teams resulting in higher retention, more efficiency, and better business results. She is a sought after expert in the media, featured across Inc, FastCompany, ABC News, CNN Business, US News & World Report, HBR, and more.

Resources Mentioned in the Show

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Lia Garvin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lia, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much for having me. So excited to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into what you’ve been up to lately, and I understand, in particular, you have developed a fascination with the topic of micromanagement. What’s the scoop here?

Lia Garvin
Yes, with micromanagement and how to end it once and for all, I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, lay it on us, what’s the story?

Lia Garvin
Yeah. Since we last met, I actually ended up leaving my corporate job and launching an organizational consulting business really dedicated to bringing out the best in teams. And since we’ve all heard people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, diving in and really making sure managers are equipped with the tools they need to be effective and empower their teams, that was one of the first places that I wanted to start. And then micromanaging was one of the biggest sorts of acute problems in that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’ve heard it many a time. So, maybe to kick it off, could you precisely define what is micromanagement? Because some folks will say, “Oh, no, no, that’s just management,” like if there’s a gray zone. Is there a bright dividing line between, “This is when you’ve gone too far, buddy”?

Lia Garvin
So, I think a lot does depend on the kind of job and the industry, so I’ll say that. I don’t think there are the hard and fast answer that applies to every situation, and I think that’s where it can get tricky because if we’re used to something in one environment, we may be bringing that to the next environment. Let’s say we’re in a sort of job where instructions need to be followed exactly one specific way. And if you deviate from that, it’s a real problem, maybe a safety issue.

Let’s say we bring that into a job that’s more about ideas and many paths to success, then you’re going to be in a real complex. So, I think the first thing to do before we dive into how to recognize if you’re micromanaging is if you’re a manager, to being open to adjusting, and saying, “Hey, what’s the right way to interact with my teams depending on what kind of the working norms are in this team?”

So, as I thought about it a lot, reflected on my own personal experience with many, many managers over the years and feedback that I heard from other colleagues, I think there was three real tells that I landed on around how to know when you’re a micromanager. And the first one is you are spending every waking moment in meetings.

So, this is a big problem that I think has gotten even worse with COVID and remote work and everything we do with a video conference but this is not an excuse to not reflect and say, “Hey, am I in the right meetings?” So, when a manager is in every single meeting, it’s a sign that they’re too far in the weeds, they’re too much in the details. And if you are finding yourself where you have no time to drink a glass of water, go to the bathroom, or eat lunch, there’s an opportunity to let your team members step up.

And so, I would suggest in that situation to take a look at your calendar and see, “Which meetings am I absolutely critical, critical to be at? Am I a decider? Am I approver?” And all the rest, which one of those could you delegate to somebody else to drive?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what are the other two tells?

Lia Garvin
Number two is everybody’s coming to you for every single little decision, nobody is actually taking action, it’s always coming back to you. This is a sign that people either don’t feel empowered to make decisions, or they think that you want to be involved in making all the decisions. So, if you’re finding yourself where every single kind of question decision comes to you, this is a moment to have a conversation with your teams around what decisions you want to be and should be involved in, and which they’re empowered to run with on their own.

So, I think sometimes one thing I’ve suggested to managers is to classify the kinds of decisions, “Which ones are this category where they need leadership, discussion, and buy-in? And which ones can they push on the organization?” Because if everyone is coming to you, that means they’re responding to a signal you’ve probably sent them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And number three?

Lia Garvin
So, the third thing is when people are continually coming to you and saying, “Hey, I have bandwidth. I want to take on more responsibilities,” or, “What can I help with?” and you’re not necessarily taking them up on it. And this is a sign that people are recognizing that you may be spread really thin as a manager, you’re not noticing it, or you’re holding on to too many things. And when people are actually asking you to let go, that’s a real moment to listen to them and think about that.

And if you’re finding that situation, it’s a moment where you can think about, “Well, what are all the tasks on my plate? What’s everything I have this week or this month? And what are the things I can let go of that are actually worthy for someone else to take on?” Delegating isn’t about giving people all the list of stuff you didn’t want to do, that nobody wants to do.

It’s about finding, “What are the high-impact activities that someone else can do that’s going to be worthwhile because it gives them visibility or development opportunity, or something in line with where they want to go in their career?” So, if we’re finding ourselves in those three places, too meetings, too much control over decision-making, and people are asking for more, that’s a sign, “Oops, I’m in too deep. Got to take a step back and let go a little bit.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s how we know when we’re there. And I’m curious, could we maybe zoom out a little bit on the macro scale, do you have any sense for just what’s the cost of micromanagement? And I don’t know if there’s a study, like billions of dollars, or attrition rates, or percentage of people who say they suffer it. What’s kind of the scope of things here?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, there’s a lot of data coming out of the Gallup organization around employee engagement going down. And one of the big reasons that’s cited is a micromanager, or feeling your manager either doesn’t have the right sort to skills, is not invested in you, or is not managing effectively. And I think the cost of someone being a micromanager is pretty widespread.

So, first, for the manager themselves, they are so much more likely to reach a state of burnout because they are taking on too much. And so, I think if only it affected the managers, this is already really an expensive cost because people are getting burned out. They’re feeling like, “Okay, I can’t scale right now. Folks are having to do more with less, with layoffs and cutbacks.”

And so, it ends up putting so much more work on someone’s plate and creating more single points of failure. But it’s really detrimental to the broader team because when people can’t step up and own more, they often feel kind of disillusioned with the work. They start losing motivation. I think this is a real contributing factor to quiet quitting, people feeling like, “Well, I’m kind of giving it bare minimum and that’s about it because I’m not really empowered to do more.”

And, also, what can lead to so many people leaving the workforce because they’re not given the space to really grow, to demonstrate their strengths, to solve problems in their own way. So, micromanagement, I think, can really light the spark that starts to have someone questioning, “Do I have a future here on this team?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Lia, so we’re talking micromanagement. We’ve also had some guests speak about the concept of undermanagement, they’re kind of managers sort of checked out, not paying attention, not really aware of the stuff that folks are working on. Do you have a sense for which is more dangerous?

Lia Garvin
Ooh, I love that. I think it goes back to depending on the situation and, potentially, the level of seniority that you’re managing, the level of complexity of the work. But undermanaging is a serious issue especially for folks that are newer, if there’s no onboarding, if you kind of get hired, you’re working out a year, bedroom, you haven’t seen anybody in person, and you’re trying to figure out how to navigate life in a new company, and your manager said, “Okay, figure it out.”

This can drive that same sense of disconnection with the work and with the company than having someone with all the details because you feel like you’re left on an island and you have no idea what to do. So, I think they both have serious consequences but they both kind of have the same, I would say the issues at its core, of a manager not having potentially the right confidence or the right skillset around how to actually manage effectively.

So, there’s a real skill gap, and that’s what I love to dive in with teams, is just figuring out, “Well, here’s the sharing, the fundamental skills that will help bridge that gap, how someone can feel more comfortable assigning responsibilities, or reining it in a little bit, but finding that balance, finding your own authentic style, and then where to deploy these different tools and different situations.”

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a sense for, given the state of management these days, roughly what proportion of managers are micromanaging, managing about right, versus undermanaging? It may vary wildly by industry, by geography, but what’s your sense on the ground?

Lia Garvin
I got to say I think a lower number are managing just right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Lia Garvin
I don’t know, I would say, the under and over. I think I know less about, like, the percentages-wise. I think what I would guess is they come as a pair. Micromanaging can often look like that helicopter managing, which you know we’ve all heard of helicopter parenting, where you’re really, really in it and you’re kind of out on the sidelines where I think it can look like both.

And for different people, I think, doing micromanaging and then being absent, that’s a reaction to needing a sense of control, or feeling stressed, or feeling overwhelmed. People sort of fall onto these different patterns. So, I think it could both be a personality type and situational, which is your tendency as a manager when you have this skill gap. But I think, like I said, the lowest, and I got to say I think the lowest percentage would be people that found that balance and are doing it just right.

And that is because, again in this Gallup data, most managers are in the position of a people manager because they’ve been in the company a long time, or they were a really, really strong individual contributor, or they have really strong technical skills, so they’re given a team, and it’s like, “Go for it.” And there are some stuff that’s got to happen between getting a team and leading a team effectively that, I think, not enough companies are investing in.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, let’s say we see some of ourselves in that description, we’ll go both sides, as the manager and the managee, or the person working with the manager, if we are the manager and we’re doing some micromanaging, how can we cut it out?

Lia Garvin
So, I think the biggest thing that managers can do is switch from problem solving to coaching because when managers take on the responsibility of, “A team member brought this up, so I need to solve it for them,” they are never going to teach that person how to fish, so to speak. They’re always going to be needed to solve that problem again and again.

And so, talking to your team members using a coaching mindset, using open-ended questions when someone comes to you, saying, “Hey, I can’t solve this problem,” you’re saying, “Here’s how I would’ve done it.” You jump right in with a solution. That person hears that and maybe they go in, take that solution, and they don’t deploy it exactly as you would, and then they’re still stuck. Or, they take the solution and they deploy it, and it works out well, but then that happens again. Now, they come back to you for another solution.

So, I think when folks come to us with a problem, one of the easiest reframes a manager can do is to ask some open-ended questions, “What do you think went wrong? What are some of the other factors we can consider here? What did you learn here that you want to try next time?” So, these different kinds of open-ended questions allow the problem to be kept in the sort of problem-bringer’s court so that they’re working through the solution.

There’s absolutely opportunity to course-correct, and say, “No, no, no, here are some of the things that I’ve seen go wrong in that situation,” or offer more support, but really keeping that in the other person’s court helps ensure that you’re not holding on to too much control over a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anything else?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think I mentioned the strategies of making sure you’re checking in with yourself continually. I think for managers, when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed or burned out, or you’re in too many things, to just check in. So, maybe you start and put in the calendar, “Every Friday, I’m going to do a gut track. What does my calendar look like?”

“What kind of questions did people bring me this week? Where does my delegating look like?” so that you’re not letting it get too far where it’s been six months and you realize, “Oh, gosh, I’m in it and I think people are starting to quit, and I didn’t even realize it.” So, I’d say, to really have a routine where you check in on those three tip-offs of being really too far in the weeds so that you can course-correct before it gets worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if we are the one being micromanaged, how do we speak up effectively? That could be tricky, that managing up discomfort.

Lia Garvin
Oh, it can be really tricky. And this is why I think sometimes we take the route of just quitting, and going, “Well, I’m going to look for someone because I don’t want to deal with it.” I think a lot of folks struggle with doing that managing up, as you call it out, and giving that feedback.

And so, I think a couple things that I’ve tried in my career, I’ve seen folks find in order to deal with this, are, first, have a conversation with your manager around skills and things that you want to develop so that, at least, you’ve put it out there on, “Hey, here are some projects I’m interested in taking on this year. Here are some different things that I want to be building. Here are some things I’m interested in.”

So, you, first, feel like, “Okay, I’ve done the first step of having the conversation, putting it out there,” to the extent that you feel comfortable. If you’re in a situation where your manager, let’s say, dives in and starts, like, line-editing an email you sent, or telling you who to add to all the invites to a meeting, or whatever is happening that feels a little bit heavy-handed, saying something like, “I’m really excited to take the lead on this and to try and demonstrate that I kind of got this and I’ve figured it out, so I’d love the opportunity to take the first step and then come back to you for feedback.”

I’ve tried this, something along those lines, and it’s been well-received because you’re not saying in an accusatory way. You’re framing it around the way that you’re wanting to learn, and a good manager wants you to be wanting to learn, so it’s a little bit of a win-win there, and you’re still offering them an opportunity to give feedback.

So, you’re not saying, “Get out of here. I got this,” but you’re saying, “Hey, I’d like to try this. And can we check in once I’ve done the first round of it so that I can learn and then you still have an opportunity to give feedback?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, Lia, could you give us some really juicy stories of micromanagement and the uncomfortable details folks are living with and, hopefully, some happy endings for how they resolved those issues?

Lia Garvin
Yes, absolutely. So, one of the examples that comes up a lot is with writing and communication. I mentioned line-editing emails, and I worked with folks that have shared they’ve had managers where they had to…let’s say they had to send out an email that’s going to the whole team, maybe a couple hundred people, and the manager wants to read the draft of the email, give inputs, they have 95 iterations.

Then it goes from structure into word choices, then you have a really robust in the Google comments on the side, a discussion of “Do we even want to send this? Is this the right word?” you’re getting grammatical suggestions, you’re getting all sorts of things, another person is added to the chain, that person is removed, we go back to thinking, “Do we want to do this email?” when you’re just supposed to write one email that was going to not really be a big deal. It’s announcing, like, a lunch that’s happening next Friday.

And so, I think this is the kind of thing that happens, is someone either they’re feeling out of control and so they go in and they just go to town on you. Imagining if you’re that person, “I was just trying to send this email out,” and the amount of kind of time and energy being spent on picking apart your little insignificant trivial email, it starts to really feel yucky for that employee.

Pete Mockaitis
It does, indeed. And so then, in that world, do we do just the things you mentioned? How might we say that? Like, “Hey, I’d love to show you I got this. I’d love to demonstrate my skills. I’d like to take the first crack at it.” It sounds like there are multiple cracks taken in this story.

Lia Garvin
Right. Which of the cracks are we…? Well, I think in that situation I might ask, and again it always depends on the relationship with our manager. I want to caveat that because I know some people listening might say, “Well, I can’t say that to my manager.”

So, let’s say if you have a dialogue where you feel like you could say something on the lines of, “It’s looking like we’re spending a lot of time on this email, and I want to better understand which of the situations where we really want to roll up our sleeves and dive in with this level of involvement? Or, which are the ones I can kind of run with to just be done with and get off our list?”

So, I think it can sort of flag, like, “Hey, this is a little bit much,” and also giving opportunity for feedback by asking an open-ended question that doesn’t sound defensive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Could you give us some examples of these questions or key verbiage, sentences you love that can be really handy here?

Lia Garvin
Yes. So, I think a little phrase that’s really useful is “I want to better understand.” Another could be, “So we can all be successful, I’m eager to learn and give this a try on my own, to build up my own skills here.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “I want to better understand” is way better than “So, what’s your deal, dude?”

Lia Garvin
“What the hell, man?” Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, and that really does help you out because that’s, I think, what’s frustrating with the micromanaging situation, is that that’s how I felt, it’s like, “Am I missing something here because it seems like this isn’t that big of a deal? You know, the time and effort and iterations you’re putting on this would make it seem like it is a big deal. So, seriously, help me, like, genuinely, help me understand. Isn’t this just a fun lunch that we’re announcing? Does it matter if everyone goes or doesn’t go?”

And then maybe, sometimes you’ll get a great answer, it’s like, “Well, actually, the issues being discussed at this lunch are very sensitive from a legal and liability perspective, so it’s very important that we don’t say anything that, in the course of a discovery, should we be sued, is going to put…” It’s like, “Oh, I had no idea.”

Lia Garvin
“Well, now I know.” Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, thank you, that makes a lot of sense why we’re getting into it.” Or, maybe they’ll just chill out, it’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly, yeah. And the key here, I think, a couple things, is really it could be frustrating when you’re in that moment, it’s like, “Oh, my God, literally, what’s going on?” When you’re under the micromanagement wrath, it can be very frustrating. But to take a step back, to sort of let that subside, to remove the frustration from the way you’re communicating, and to not come across as defensive, offensive, whatever, whichever one is more appropriate, like to not come forward with that.

Because I think when someone on the counterpart feels accused, it just makes it…it throws the whole thing off, and that’s going to be, I think, someone could say, “Well, of course, it’s important.” Especially, if they had a real big reason, they could think, “How do you not know that? Are you not taking care in time?” So, I think really having the conversation when you’re not feeling defensive or frustrated, really having an open, with curiosity, “I’m genuinely curious around this level of oversight and involvement, I’d love to learn more, I’d love to better understand.”

And so, this might mean it should not be written in an email or a chat. Like, I think there’s so much open for misinterpretation in written communication that just walking up to your…if you’re in person, walking down to your boss’ desk, and saying, “Hey, got a second? I want to better understand,” or asking to have a quick five-minute meeting over video conference, I just think it’s going to spare so much further miscommunication to actually talk face to face or over the phone if needed.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I think about the times I’ve been micromanaged, it’s funny, I think sometimes it’s my own fault and it’s necessary, it’s like, “Hey, Pete, there were several errors last time that were problematic, so we’re going to take some time to make sure we go through those.” And, in a way, that really was coaching.

But it felt like, “You’re all up in my business and I don’t like it,” but the older, wiser Pete recognizes it was necessary at that time and that season and that piece of work in that context for them to be up in my business, even though it was unpleasant and I didn’t like it. So, I think those were kind of my takeaway.

Lia, is it fair to say, sometimes, like the boy who cried wolf, the colleague who cried micromanagement, it may, in fact, just be appropriate management that just is uncomfortable and unpleasant in the moment?

Lia Garvin
Absolutely. And so, this is why one of the core programs and workshops that I offer for teams is how to give feedback effectively because, I think, feedback given ineffectively can feel like micromanagement. When you don’t have a strong relationship with your team, it can feel like micromanagement but, actually, we should be able to give feedback.

And I don’t want any manager listening to this to go, “Well, I can’t say anything to my team members.” It’s not that. It’s about, I think we said in the beginning of the conversation, getting to understand the style of communication that’s really the norm in the organization, in the company, in the team, and then meeting that, and if you’re really finding yourself hitting those kinds of tip-offs.

And that’s why the tip-offs weren’t people coming to you and saying, “Stop micromanaging.” It’s like, “What are the external signals that I’m too much in the weeds?” And so, that’s the difference there, is if we’re finding, then it’s a moment to check in. But giving feedback is critically important, and it’s one of the most important things you can do as a manager. And receiving feedback effectively is one of the most important things you can do as a non-manager because this is how you’re going to grow and develop.

So, I think feedback and micromanaging is very different. I typically see micromanaging as level of involvement, I think, in your direct reports or in your management chain beneath your business affairs day to day. And then if your level of involvement sort of could feel like you may think it’s feedback if it’s around some kind of deliverable.

But feedback, let’s say, on an email or on a presentation is reviewing it at a certain point maybe later on, not every second, and then giving some specific tips and waiting for someone to come back to you, as opposed to rolling up the sleeves and thinking you’re going to sit side by side and finish banging out the email together.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that expectation alignment is huge because, like, when it comes to decision rights or how that unfolds. I’m thinking other times I felt micromanaged, both of them I was like planning social stuff, and so I thought, “Okay, this is just for the kids,” if you will, the folks on the team who are in larger numbers, and there are relatively fewer sort of managers, directors above.

And, one, it was to say, “Okay, so what are going to do for the office-wide fun time?” And so, I did the survey, I put it out there, and I said, “Hey, what do you know, sailing is the thing they like the most out of the options. That is kind of cool.” And so, this director just kept digging into it, like, “Well, I’m curious if we really segment that data, my hypothesis is there’s a small subsegment of folks who are strongly in favor of this sailing, and many others…”

And it was like, “Okay, that is pretty convoluted, and, well, no, we could slice the data survey another way,” which we had, which is kind of ridiculous for a survey about the social stuff, it’s like, “Well, no, it still looks like this.” And then so what my takeaway was, “All right, dude, you just don’t want us to go sailing. It’d be nice if there were options that were totally unacceptable to you that you just let us know in advance, like, ‘For whatever reason, hey, sailing sounds really cool and fun but we can’t do that because of X, Y, Z. that’s going to be problematic for a large swath in our office who are seasick.’”

I was like, “Okay, fair enough. All right, you know what, we won’t even put it on the survey, and it’s good to know that upfront,” as opposed to, “We’re all stoned out sailing and then…”

Lia Garvin
And he said no, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then to approve for these not great reasons in terms of, like, if we squint and sliced the data in such a way we can get there. And other times, there’s just a team event, like, “Hey, let’s go let’s do laser tag.” And I guess the manager who was in the room, and there was a lot of enthusiasm for that, like, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it,” and he’s like, “You know, I don’t recall seeing a survey collecting the team input regarding the team activity.” I was like, “Oh, sorry. Well, we just got to talk about a few things, and this one was, by far, had the most energy and enthusiasm.”

And so, it was just sort of like…and then I was sort of shamed for inappropriately gathering incomplete feedback. It’s like I would just respect them so much, it’s like, “Dude, just say, ‘Hey, I want to participate, too. I know this is like for the kids or ‘whatever’ and I hate laser tag, and so I’d really appreciate it if you could find something else to include me.’” I guess maybe that’s too humble and vulnerable, or I don’t know, for them.

Lia Garvin
No, but I think that and then the example around the previous, where we’re talking about the email, what you’re saying is it’s transparency and context. Like, if there was a reason, say it upfront.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, yeah.

Lia Garvin
Yeah. And I think you mentioned director in that, and that stood out to me as I think that’s a real…the level of seniority and the level of depth should match. And I think that’s another thing that can be frustrating, is when you have a VP or SVP or director that’s very in the details around planning something or orchestrating something that it just doesn’t feel like an appropriate match.

I think a senior leader, it’s really critically important to demonstrate interest and support for the team, this kind of stuff, but is it really necessary to be providing inputs on activity level beyond setting some expectations and constraints? Not really. Because what happens is that person, whether they mean to or not, will have veto power because they have the highest level of hierarchy, and then it throws off the whole dynamic.

So, I think for any senior leaders listening to this, I’d say recognize your own position in a company or a team, and think, “Hey, do I need to be in this conversation? Am I actually inadvertently throwing it off? Am I sharing my opinion and it’s carrying more weight because of my hierarchy, when it really shouldn’t?” and then taking a step back.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And just expectation, alignment, I guess I was thinking, like, “Hey, the senior leaders…” I guess the way I view the activities were, “These are primarily for us, because, one, we outnumber you, and, two, you make gobs of money, and then this is part of the recognition and appreciation for that.” So, anyway, maybe that’s an unfair view or characterization or expectation for the social activities. Wow, this is really…

Lia Garvin
Well, that’s interesting because I had that same observation working on my roles in tech or around team operations and establishing team process. And I always found that the recipients of process were actually very open to it. It was like other people that would say, “Oh, I don’t know about this,” other team operations or other managers, never the recipients of that thing.

And I think I understand what you’re saying because, like you said, the people that want it, they were going to engage in the activity, they’re all like downed with the laser and with the sailing. And so, that’s another question maybe to think about when you’re maybe shutting down an idea or giving feedback. When I talk about feedback, I always think I encourage people to ask, “Am I the right person to give that feedback?”

And so, in your situation, like, “Am I the right person?” is, “Am I even attending this event? Do I really care? And what’s my stake in this situation?” And I think, for the leaders in your situation, it’s like, “You know, I’m best suited just to support the activity, to pay the bill, and show up and welcome everybody, and like leave it at that.” So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And then, again, if they had a differing expectation, it’s totally cool to share that, it’s like, “Hey, you know what, this is a cool opportunity we have to really just flatten the hierarchy, in which the managers, directors, VPs, whatever, get to be silly and ridiculous right alongside, and it’s so stressful dealing with blah, blah, blah.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly. So, it’s setting that context up front.

Pete Mockaitis
“So, I know it might seem silly but we want to play, too.” And I would find that endearing, it’s like, “Okay, okay, director. Thank you. I understand. That’s cute. Let’s do this thing you like, too.”

Lia Garvin
Exactly. And so, like you said, it’s setting the context. I think with these team-related activities, there’s a lot of…I think it’s really important to be inclusive, make sure everybody can actually participate in the activities, that there’s not overtly focused on alcohol, or in they’re in the right times of day where people can participate if they have to be doing caretaking and pickup.

So, like there’s a lot of constraints, and I think sometimes, so it’s really important for leaders to set that context for folks so that they can then plan something that’s inclusive and appealing to everybody. So, there’s a lot to navigate, and it can be a trap for micromanagement, so a little bit of both.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it really can because I think it’s funny because, it’s like, “All right, let’s let the junior employees run with something.” It’s like, “This isn’t that important so you can just own it, but you don’t own it.”

Lia Garvin
Yeah, “But you don’t really own it.” And so, this is something when I talk about delegating that is so critically important, is there’s a lot of ways in delegating but saying, “What is the task? What does success look like? And then what is my expectation of involvement?” I think that’s the one thing that managers don’t always talk about.

They say, “Okay. Here, go run with this. This is what success looks like. We’re all good.” And then the manager is like, “Well, where we at with that?” And they want it to be regularly updated, they want to be in the loop, they want to know what’s going on at these different time periods. That goes in the conversation upfront.

So, if we say, “I want you to take on this status report that goes out every Friday,” if you really want a preview of that status report on Wednesday, you’re going to say that, not just show up Wednesday, like, “I need to see this today,” because someone thought they had till Friday, and then they’re going to feel like, “Oh, gosh, I had no idea that was coming.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Lia, tell me, anything else you want to make sure before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think there are so much opportunity right now with so much change in the workplace to really get right how teams are operating. And I think a lot of that comes down to, as we talked about today, really making sure our managers are set up for success, both for themselves so they’re not burning out, and for their team members so that they’re staying motivated, engaged, and enabled to do their work best.

So, I love working with teams, that is my focus, diving into figure out what’s really getting in the way of teams operating their best. So, if you want to learn more about that work or how to support your team, reach out at LiaGarvin.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lia Garvin
Ooh, favorite quote. Oh, man, I’ve got to think about this in a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. No problem.

Lia Garvin
Oh, man. Ooh, okay. So, something that I’ve been finding inspiring is the quote, “Make the why bigger than the fear.” And this is something, I think, for any of us to think about that are doing something new. So, this was really motivating for me as I launched my own business and left the corporate world, was the thing that’s really fueling you to do it, let that be bigger than all the reasons that are telling you to stop and go back and keep it safe.

And I think, for teams, right now where there’s a lot going on, it’s really uncertain, people are cutting back, and so remembering, “Why are we here? What are we trying to create?” I think that can really help, especially if you’re a manager. Create a sense of certainty even when there’s so much uncertainty happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, my favorite study, I’d say, year over year, is the Lean In and McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report. It’s a wealth of information around people’s experiences. They’ve added in the recent years the intersection of gender and race, and really deeply understanding the experiences of women, why women are leaving the corporate world in higher rates than ever.

This year, a lot of the information talked about lack of recognition and visibility. This is something that managers have so much control over, making sure people feel seen, like their work matters, making sure it’s getting the right level of visibility. So, that’s a study I go back to every single year as they put it out to really inform where I focus and some of the things that I can highlight for the teams I work with.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Lia Garvin
So, a book that I read over the holidays was Lead to Win by Carla Harris. And Carla Harris has these series of books around her pearls of wisdom. She was vice chairman at Morgan Stanley and has a ton of great insights around career, sponsorship, how to really build up your skills as a leader.

And this one specifically dives into how to build great teams, how to drive inclusion on teams, really kind of a playbook for managers trying to break through the next level. So, that’s something I’ve been really loving reading.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Lia Garvin
Tool, yes. Otter.ai, I believe, it’s called. It’s an app where you…it’s a voice notes app, but it does AI transcription, so it’s pretty flawless transcription. And whenever I have to write an email, now this is great if you’re, like, writing a cautious response to maybe some passive-aggressive behavior, or you’re trying to get your ideas out. I will speak out this email into the voice app, and then I have a great thing to copy and paste into my email.

I think a lot of times when we’re writing, we can get stuck on having the perfect wording. So, if I’m writing a bio for something, or, like I said, a difficult email, or something I’m just getting stuck on, grabbing the app, talking it out into there, and then copying and pasting, and taking the good parts, and having that be the written form is just a huge shortcut.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lia Garvin
Favorite habit, I guess it’s called multitasking, but I have a walking desk, and I do work while I’m walking on the desk. So, I like to do two things at once that allow me to get two things done at the same time. Some call it multitasking. I would call it layering two activities.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Lia Garvin
Yes. When you’re feeling stuck, or you encounter rejection or failure, it’s not you. It’s your approach. And when you change your approach, you will change your outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, so I would say connect with me on LinkedIn. Wait, let me do that again. Sorry. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from folks, especially what resonated from this episode, or reach out on my website at LiaGarvin.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lia Garvin
Yeah, I think for folks, giving yourself a little bit of permission to be figuring it out right now. Right now, it’s a really, really hard time in the workplace. There’s so much uncertainty. And figuring out what do you need to be able to face every day feeling more optimistic or more supported. So, if that’s taking a walk, doing a meditation, whatever, making your favorite coffee, whatever it is, figuring what that thing is and building that into your routine so that you have a sense of, “I’m doing something for myself every day.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lia, thanks. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and little micromanagement.

Lia Garvin
Thank you so much.

825: The Six Steps of Masterful Delegation with Aaron Schmookler

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Aaron Schmookler shares practical, hard-won wisdom on how to delegate wisely to minimize time, and frustration.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get over the resistance to delegate
  2. What you need to do before delegating anything 
  3. The simple trick to ensuring follow through 

 

About Aaron

For nearly 30 years, Aaron has helped people find their intrinsic motivation, their capacity to collaborate, and the fulfillment that comes from harnessing their creativity. As the co-founder and CEO of The Yes Works, he specializes in supporting business leaders who believe that people are their greatest asset to create environments that bring out their best. 

Aaron and The Yes Works serve clients across the country and across industries including Microsoft, MOD Pizza, DiscoverOrg, Burkhart Dental Supply, SOG Knives, 9th Gear, and Textainer to make work good for people and people good for work. 

Resources Mentioned

Aaron Schmookler Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Aaron, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Aaron Schmookler
Thank you for having me, Pete. It’s exciting to be talking to you again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited too. And I was taking a gander at our last conversation. Fun fact, in the transcript of Episode 497, the phrase “Tell me more about that” appeared 13 times.

Aaron Schmookler
Oh, fun that you counted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I could just do Control-F find. It’s funny because I think we’re both such fanatical fans of the phrase and how useful it is for a variety of purposes. And, listeners, I recommend you check that out. It may transform your lexicon forever. But I’d love to hear, over the last three years, have there been any interesting stories or discoveries or saves of that day that have emerged with you trying out our favorite phrase?

Aaron Schmookler
Boy, I’m sure that there have been countless times that that has come up. I had already experienced the time when somebody called me a jerk or some other less kind, less family-friendly term, and I said something to the effect of, “Well, clearly, I’ve rubbed you the wrong way. Tell me more about that.” And that turned the relationship around.

Since then, I’m sure it’s helped with the health of my marriage and with my daughter. I’m sure, also, that it’s helped with my business partners and with my clients. It’s such a natural and consistent part of my lexicon now that I don’t think that I have the dramatic stories that I might’ve had when I first started to employ that phrase as a tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, it has continued to serve me well also, particularly when I just need a beat to think, to orient, to, “What the heck is going on right now?” as well as, “I genuinely don’t understand what you said,” and it’s much more friendly than, like, “What the heck are you blathering on about now?”

Aaron Schmookler
“What? That doesn’t make any sense,” is what I’m often tempted to say.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, good to know. So, now, I’d love to chat with you about delegation. You sent me a beautiful proposal. Thank you for that. And I thought that’s exactly something that we should talk about, so let’s do it. Can you kick us off with any particularly surprising or fascinating or extra counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about delegation in your 30 years of working with different folks?

Aaron Schmookler
Well, I’ll skip to the end and say I love the book Who Not How. And I’m trying now to remember the name of the author, but “Who Not How,” the premise or the thesis of the book is, essentially, “Stop trying to figure out how to do it. Somebody already knows and they can do it better than you. So, figure out who should be doing this instead of how you are going to do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
I love that so much that I was frantically Googling in the background. It is Dan Sullivan. I believe that’s the strategic coach Dan Sullivan.

Aaron Schmookler
That’s the guy, yeah. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Who’s got a wealth of goodies that I’ve enjoyed.
Who Not How
, I think that really holds true. And I am astounded at how people can often do things so much better than me. Maybe I shouldn’t be astounded. I should just expect that by now, having learned it so many times. Where I thought, I’ve got a rental property in Chicago, and I thought, “Okay, I’ve checked out the BiggerPockets podcast, okay, I’ve got a little bit of sensibility associated with finding a bargain and renting it out and making it look okay.”

And then I get a property manager who just, like, ran circles around me in terms of, “Oh, yeah. Well, that’s actually a two-car garage so you just got to paint a really good line in there.” I was like, “Oh, but it’s kind of tight.” He’s like, “Welcome to every parking space in Chicago. Also, here’s how we can make them pay for their own water.” It’s like, “Whoa, you should be doing this and not me.”

Aaron Schmookler
One of the things that’s coming to the top of my mind as you’re sharing that story, as a counterintuitive truth about delegation, when I’m training managers to delegate effectively, one of the questions that I ask them in kind of preparing before we got to the “What are our six-step model looks like?” is I ask them, “What holds you back from delegating?”

And, very often, I get responses like, “I don’t want to give people things that I wouldn’t want to do. I don’t want to just push the scut work off onto somebody else.” And the remarkable truth is all the stuff that I hate doing, somebody else loves.

Pete Mockaitis
It is remarkable and true. Hence, a remarkable truth.

Aaron Schmookler
Right. I thank God every day for inventing accountants, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. You’re speaking my language, and I love accountants too. I hope I haven’t been harsh on them just because I dislike doing accounting work so much, but if it’s in the realm of bookkeeping or compliance-y things, today, we had to find a title for a car in order to renew a thing, I was like, “What? Is a paper I was supposed to have received in a mail and then held on to for a year? That’s really pushing my capability.”

Aaron Schmookler
As my friend Dave would say, “I resemble that remark.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so that’s cool. So, it’s who not how, and Dan Sullivan wrote a great book called just that, which is nifty. And some things we sure dislike doing, other people love doing. That’s cool and a blessing. So, then lay it on us, is there, maybe, a particularly inspiring story to tee this up and get us going, “Oh, yeah, I’m fired up to delegate”? Maybe there’s someone who’s overwhelmed and transformed their effectiveness and their stress levels with delegation. No pressure, Aaron.

Aaron Schmookler
I’ll tell a story from my own history. I don’t know if we talked before, Pete, about the fact that I come from a theater background, and my primary training there was as a director, but on the way, I was also a technical director. And one of the things that the technical director is responsible for is, at the end of the show, the very night that the last audience sees the show, as soon as the audience is out the door and those doors are closed, at that very moment begins what’s called strike and they start tearing down the set.

A lot of it goes, ridiculous amounts of the set goes into the trash, all the lights are removed, those that aren’t part of the regular repertory in the theater. And the technical director’s job at strike is, essentially, to make sure that it goes and that it goes off without a hitch. And the first time that I ever led strike, I remember standing on the stage, I’ve got my tools in my hands, I’m spending a fair amount of time working on the materials myself, and pointing and telling people, “Okay, go do this,” and giving them a single task to do, and people would be flocking to me.

I, eventually, had to put my tools down, and it was just so much work for me to try to direct 23, or something like that, people to go and do this task and then this task, and then this task, and then this task. I was so exhausted at the end of that night that I might as well have done the strike myself in order to have gotten that exhausted, and it wasn’t very effective. And we were there much longer than we should’ve been, and we made much less progress than we should’ve been.

So, I called up the last tech director that I remembered working for and really enjoyed, and I said, “What did I do wrong? What do I need to do better?” And he said, “Okay. Well, tell me about what you did.” So, I told him the story of the night, he said, “You are assigning things task by task. And then he said, “You got to break things down into objectives, what’s the result that you want to see, and put somebody in charge of that result.”

“And when somebody comes to you and says, ‘What do I do next?’ you say, ‘Go join Mary over there,’ or, ‘Go join John over there. He’s got this project and he’ll put you to work.’” And so, by delegating objectives, I was able to create mini-teams of my team. And the next time, we got more done than we had anticipated. We got out earlier than we had anticipated.

And so, just that one shift from delegating or assigning tasks, and this is a distinction that I was expecting to talk to you about by the end of our conversation, this distinction between assigning tasks and delegating end results, delegating outcomes, was tremendously powerful for me in an instant.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, and it really does resonate. I am thinking about events. When you talked about striking the stage, like, “Oh, I did some theater stuff back in the day.” And some events, like putting on these, it was called HOBY, Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership, sophomore leadership seminars for high school students, as well as my wedding. Like, one of my favorite things to do was carve out zones of responsibility for people.

And sometimes, I even like to make up new names. It’s like, “Okay, Michelle, you’re fantastic and I’m going to trust you to be the person who answers all of the guests’ questions that they would like answered when me and my bride would rather not be tied to our phones on our wedding day.”

Aaron Schmookler
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I’ve been on both sides of that equation in terms of, “Oh, I’ve got some questions but it’s not quite clear. Like, where do I go? What do I do? Can I do this at the wedding? I don’t want to bother the bride and groom but I kind of like to know.” And so, I was like, “Michelle, you are the director of guest experience. That’s your role. And we’re letting all the guests know, ‘If you have any questions, you call Michelle.” And so, that was really cool.

And for HOBY, we got someone who’s talented with design things but she didn’t want to be in charge of the whole programming thing, so we said, “You are the artistic director. If there’s any sort of color or logo or design or image that goes on a T-shirt or a booklet or a nametag or a door decoration, you are the master of that.” And she’s like, “Oh, sweet.” I knew it was fun for both of us because it decimates ambiguity, it was like, “Oh, that’s me.” It’s like, “Oh, lights? You say lights, Aaron, that’s me.” “Oh, did you say the huge backdrop? Oh, that’s me.” And you get to feel good when you own that thing.

Aaron Schmookler
That’s right. That’s right. And I’ve created an event recently that we called “I’m not participating in this recession.” And it was an event for C-suite folks to come to. I had a CEO, who had been the CEO of SOG Knives, to come because he had taken his company through some recessions. And one of the things that he shared with our attendees was that he likes to make people the CEO of their realm within his company because it just creates so much leverage for him to be able to say, “You handle this.”

And one of the things that I advise, when people are contemplating, “Can I delegate this?” is that if somebody can do a job up to 75% as well as you can, 75% is a good marker to say to them, “You, go take care of this.” Because if you can delegate to three people 75% of what you could accomplish, well, the leverage of all that multiplicity is tremendous.

Aaron Schmookler
Seventy-five percent of three things is much better than 100% of one.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. And I think it’s really useful to note, “The thing that you’re delegating, is it super crazy mission-critical?” Like, there are very few things in this world, although there are some, in which if you do it a hair better, the rewards are huge. I’m thinking about maybe direct-response copywriting. I’m thinking about Google search engine optimization. I’m thinking about Olympic swimming. Hundredth of a second, like, gold versus nothing.

Aaron Schmookler
Yes, that’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
But almost everything else is, “You can do this 75% as well? Well, then have at it, and away we go.”

Aaron Schmookler
Especially within our companies, part of the time and effort that we put in our companies is on the core competency of our company, “This is what we do. This is what we do different from other people. This is what we do better than other people. This is what you have come to us for. Everything else in our company is not that.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Bookkeeping, you didn’t come here. Or, invoicing. Yeah, that’s good. All right. Well, lovely concepts. Now, you actually have a pretty precise five or six, depending on how we’re counting, steps for effective delegation. Can you walk us through these?

Aaron Schmookler
Sure. And you’ve hinted at the idea that this is a six-step model with five steps, in a way, because step zero, I’m considering step zero because, though this is the first step in delegating, it is just you, all by yourself, getting yourself ready to go and do the delegation. And there are some questions for you to answer before you go and do that.

One, “What is the desired outcome? What do you want? What is the end state that you need to have accomplished?” In the military, they call this commander’s intent, “What’s the commander’s intent?” It sounds simple but it’s often very hard, and one way to get there is to think about, “Why do I want this done?” That will help you to conceive what is the end result look like.

So, then when you’ve got your end result mapped out, you also need to answer the question, “When do I need to have this result in hand? And, therefore, what’s a decent margin for failing?” So, if I’m going to delegate something to you, Pete, that I need on Friday by 3:00, if I asked you to deliver it to me by Friday at 3:00, I’ve set us both up to be in real trouble. Better that I should ask you for it by Thursday at noon so that we’ve got time to look it over, make some adjustments, figure out that we’ve got problems, resolve them before I need the thing.

The next question to ask yourself, and we’re still in step zero, is, “Who will be served by taking on this responsibility? And who is able to serve the purpose?” That’s kind of a two-part question. So, who is the right person because they’re going to be served by this? Maybe they really enjoy this kind of work. Or, when I have somebody working for me, I ask them, “Where do you want your career to end up? Where do you want your career to be a year, five years down the line? Okay, what skills and talents are you going to need to get there? Oh, well, this project is going to serve you developing that. So, that is a good reason to give this to you, also, because you’re going to be capable of serving the purpose.”

And then the last question to ask yourself, but still in prep, is, “What are they going to need to succeed? What’s the information that they’re going to need? What resources are they going to need?” And do not skip this one, “What authority, what decision-making authority are they going to need in order to succeed?” That’s step zero before you even begin to delegate, preparing yourself to be ready.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, I’m wondering, for those who have a hard time letting go, delegating, they might say, “Well, nobody is sufficiently qualified or able to handle this.” How do we respond to that?

Aaron Schmookler
Two things. One is, “Are you sure?” We talked already about that 75% rule. If somebody is going to be able to deliver 75%, then maybe it’s time to reassess what nobody looks like. The second thought that I have is Dennis Bakke wrote a book called Joy at Work in which he suggests that you push decision-making down. And in delegating, he says, “You can set parameters. Without withdrawing the authority to make decisions, you can set parameters.”

So, if I delegate to you, Pete, and I think you don’t have the judgment yet, I might say, “I want you to talk to Betty and Bob about everything that you’re considering before you make the decision. At the end of the day, the decision is yours, and I want you to have the benefit of their insights before you make the final decision.” So, that’s another way of cranking up people’s capability while leaving their decision-making authority intact.

And I’ve actually thought of a third thing to share, which is, “If they can’t do the whole thing, what parts of it can they do? What parts of it can you delegate and then maybe you retain the rest?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. All right. I like that notion of the parameters. So, one of it could be, “If it’s you get the input from these people, another one could be if it’s over X thousand dollars or whatever, then you check in with me,” or, “If it’s concerning super client A, B, or C, I want to know about it. If it’s any dozens of other clients, have at it.”

Cool. So, we’ve got the parameters, so it’s not a sort of 100% carte blanche, “It’s all yours,” but rather, “Okay, here’s a slice of it,” and it may very well still be the vast majority, which is cool. All right, so that’s step zero. What’s our step one?

Aaron Schmookler
Step one, and this one is a little bit counterintuitive, is to ask somebody, to give them something to do without giving them any details. And this is counterintuitive on a couple of levels. When we’re training managers, some people push back on the idea that they should ask anybody anything instead of just simply telling them, “Hey, here’s what you’re going to do.”

And then the other reason that they push back is they say, “What do you mean with no details?” So, here’s what I mean, “Hey, Pete, can I get your help with something?” “Pete, may I give you a project?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny, like, when you asked me that, you’ve galvanized my attention but maybe in an anxious kind of a way, it’s like, “Ahh, what do you have in mind exactly, Aaron?” And maybe…

Aaron Schmookler
So, the maybe is important because the maybe is correct, and we’ll get to that in a moment. The galvanizing your attention is the biggest part of this. One is I’m treating with respect by asking for permission. And then I can’t count the number of times, somebody will poke their head into my office and simply start to ask me questions, and my attention is on whatever I’m doing, and I have no idea what they’ve said, it goes in one ear and out the other.

And with my attention deficit disorder, and I’m very much like this, and even neurotypical people are like this as well, we all need a basket to put things in. So, when you say, “Can I get your help with something? Can I give you a project? Can I give you a new responsibility?” I now have a basket to put all of the details that you’re going to give me in and create order for my brain, and that’s going to serve everybody.

And with respect to the anxiety that I’ve created, largely that’s because you and I don’t have a relationship where we’re doing this, where you know what’s going to come next. So, one of the things that I recommend to any manager or anybody who’s in a position to be delegating is to tell people in advance, “Hey, when I delegate to you, here’s what it’s going to look like. I’m going to go through these six steps.”

“And what this step I’m going to do before I even get to you, then I’m going to come and I’m going to ask you, ‘Can I get your help with something?’ I’m going to ask you, ‘Can I give you a new responsibility?’” And no is a perfectly good answer, and here are the other steps that I’m going to go through so that that anxiety is alleviated in advance by your knowing, “Okay, this is just step one in a five-step process.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then I think you say no is the acceptable answer to, “Can I get your help with something?” I guess, also, maybe any number of context-sharing things, like, “Well, I feel wildly overwhelmed by this crazy important task that’s due in two hours, but what did you have in mind?”

Aaron Schmookler
Right. And if you tell me you have a crazy important task that’s due in two hours, I’m going to say, either, “Thank you for telling me, Pete, you’re not the right person,” or, “Oh, well, this is not pressing. Why don’t I come to you three hours from now to give you a chance to get that turned in and catch your breath?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Aaron Schmookler
So, that takes us to step two, which is now we’re going to lay out the details of who does what by when, what is it that I’m asking you for. And there’s another podcast called Manager Tools, and one of the things that they suggest at this point in any delegation is that instead of delegating the task be done, delegate the reporting that it is done.

And I think that is just a brilliant insight to say, instead of, “Hey, Pete, will you do this?” to say, “Hey, Pete, please tell me by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday that this is complete,” or, “Please send me an email with the file of this report by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday.” So, you’re delegating the reporting because if I don’t know it’s done, it has no value to me.

So, delegate the reporting, “Tell me as soon as this is complete. Here’s the outcome I’m looking for,” the manager’s intent, what is the end state, rather than all of the meticulous details, “Here’s the deadline and here are some resources, here are some considerations, here’s the authority that you have.” When I say consideration, that might be you might be tempted. If I’m asking you to rent us a truck, I might say, “The last time we went to U-Hall, we had these problems, so consider looking at Penske and Budget before you go talking to U-Hall.” So, that’s step two, is to lay out what it is that I’m asking for.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So you’re elaborating, so who does what, by when, to what standard, for what reason, with what resources. Can you elaborate a little bit on the standard? Like, how can we go about unpacking and delineating what is good optimal acceptable versus what is not?

Aaron Schmookler
So, you’re going to want to ask yourself the question of, “What do I need to see?” So, the standard for a truck might include it needs those rails on the wall that you can latch things to. The standard might include the budget. The standard might include the size of the truck. If I’m asking you to create a report, the standard might include margins for error.

Or, if I’m asking you to design something, the standard might be, “I want this to look opulent.” What are the ways that you can describe what it should look like, what it should feel like, what it should be like? And what are the questions that you’re going to be asking when you assess its success?

Aaron Schmookler
In other words, how do we know if you’ve succeeded at the end? Are there no grammatical errors? Are there no spelling errors? Does that matter? And perfectionism, when we talk about perfectionism, perfectionism is somebody insisting that they go beyond the standard, which wastes time, effort, and peace of mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Cool. Well, now, can you share with us the step three, negotiate?

Aaron Schmookler
Yeah. So, step three, as you said, is to negotiate, “I asked you if I could give you something. You said yes. And you said yes sight unseen, or maybe you said it depends, so you don’t know what…you didn’t know until now what I was asking for.” So, at this point, the negotiation includes asking the questions, “Okay, now that you know what I’m asking for, Pete, are you still in? Does this still work for you? Do you have what you need?”

“I’ve told you about these resources, I’ve told you about that authority, I’ve given you these tools. Is there anything else that you need that I haven’t thought of? Do you need help? Do you need people? People are some of the resources that you might need. And if you’re tempted to say no, and/or if you’re not sure how to meet the rest of your obligations, then we may be reallocating your other priorities and your other responsibilities.”

“I don’t have time to do that because I’ve got this.” “Oh, well, let’s delay the deadline on that,” or, “Okay, let me take back this thing that I was trying to delegate to you because, clearly, this isn’t going to fit on your plate,” or, “Let’s take this other thing off your plate and give it to somebody else so that you have the bandwidth to handle this.” So, the negotiation is, “Okay, what will it take to make this work if, in fact, it does?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then step four?
Aaron Schmookler
So, step four is to keep in touch, and this is very often an overlooked step because people say, “Okay, go do this. I’ll see you at the end.” Tools for this include if you’re a manager having weekly one-on-ones where you’re checking in with your direct report, or the weekly one-on-one is focused on your relationship in general where you keep touch, “How is this going?”

Or, if this is a longer-term project, you set, “Here’s the final deadline,” that there are benchmarks along the way, “Here’s how we know we’re on track. This is going to be accomplished three weeks away from the deadline,” “This is going to be accomplished four weeks away from the deadline,” “This is going to be accomplished five weeks away from the deadline.” So, you’re keeping touch of, “Are we on track at each of those benchmark locations?” And you’re checking in on the standards at those times as well.

So, you create a channel for reporting and keep in touch at least weekly, at least briefly. So, that’s step four, is to make sure that you’re keeping in touch.

Pete Mockaitis
At least weekly, that’s handy. And then you mentioned that fine is not a status report in terms of, “Hey, how are things going?” “Fine.” What more precisely are we looking to hear when we’re keeping in touch?

Aaron Schmookler
Here’s where the benchmarks come in, “Oh, well, I’m two days behind on this benchmark,” or, “I’m two days ahead. I’ve reached this benchmark even though it’s not actually due until two days from now.” So, that’s one thing. Or, a status report is, “We’re on track and, in terms of we’ve hit all the benchmarks, up until now. And there’s an obstacle emerging that I didn’t anticipate. Let’s talk about how I might get around this obstacle. Can I have your insight?” Or, “I’m going to need a $100 or $1,000 to level this obstacle that’s come up.” “The price of lumber has changed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then step five, debrief?

Aaron Schmookler
Step five is after the fact. So, arguably, this isn’t part of a delegation model. It’s part of a checking in, and I think it needs to be there because I don’t consider it complete until we’ve learned what there is to learn from the process that we just went through, “What worked and what didn’t? What worked in terms of how our communication went? What worked in terms of my execution of what you delegated to me? What worked in terms of did our standard actually meet the need?”

“I delivered this entirely on standard. This is exactly what we designed and it still didn’t solve the problem that this project was intended to solve. So, what needs to change?” So, a few questions to ask here, “What do we need to keep? What do we need to stop, to just get rid of this entirely? This was completely extraneous. What do we need to add? What wasn’t there that needs to be there? And what do we need to adjust? We got the blue one, it was the wrong blue. Or, we got these but, instead of five, we need seven.”

So, what do we need to keep, what do we need to stop, what do we need to add, what do we need to adjust. And that takes us, Pete, through six steps if you include step zero to prepare yourself for the delegation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then maybe zooming out or cutting across all these steps, what are some of the top things that make all the difference for preventing disasters, disappointments, oopsies, and stressful moments?

Aaron Schmookler
So, I’ll start with perhaps the answer that people are going to like the least. I remember when I took my first advanced level biology class in college was a genetics class. And I sat down for the first exam, and I looked at the cover sheet of the exam, and what it said was, “This is one test in one class, in one part of your schooling, which is just one part of your life. Your performance on this exam, while it may be important right now, is not critical to the outcome of your life, so don’t fret.” That was the cover page of this exam.

And then I opened up the exam, and the first question was, “For ten points, what color is a Golden Retriever? Hint: Look at its name.” So, that story is intended, Pete, to illustrate that part of how you can prevent disasters is by chilling out, both because the things that you’re thinking of as disasters are probably not as disastrous as you think they are, and because fearing disaster makes disaster more likely. And so, one illustration that I love about this, I used to be a hang glider pilot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Aaron Schmookler
And when you land a hand glider, generally, you’re looking for a big open field to land the hang glider in. And what happens more often than you would imagine is that there’s a big open field with one tree in the middle, and the hang glider pilot hits the tree in the middle. There’s lots of open space, and the hang glider pilot flies right into the tree.

And the reason is that in the fear and anxiety of not wanting to hit the tree, the pilot looks at the tree. And your brain is designed to take you where you’re looking. Millions of years of evolution have made our brains direct where we go to where we’re looking. So, if you’re looking for a disaster, you are much more likely to steer into it. Look instead for the clear open field, and you think, “Open field. Open field. Okay, there’s the tree, that’s where I don’t want to go,” and then you spend the bulk of your time and attention on, “Here’s where I do want to go. Here’s where I do want to go.”

Another part of the answer to your question, Pete, is to consider those benchmarks, and to really not get lazy about checking in with those benchmarks, and assessing along the way, as part of your keep in touch step, “Do these benchmarks still make sense or do they need to be reassessed? Are we still on target to meet the deadline? Are we still on standard? Are we getting further and further? If we start to fall behind, are we getting further and further behind, or are we finding that, over time, we’re catching up?” So, those are a few of the thoughts that I have about that question.

[39:21]

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then when it comes to micromanaging, I think folks don’t like being micromanaged, and, on the flipside, managers are scared to be micromanaging. How do we make sure we strike this balance appropriately?

Aaron Schmookler
Micromanaging is about backseat driving. It’s about checking in so regularly that people can’t get into a flow. Micromanaging is about making decisions that other people could make. It is not about the frequency of your check-in, provided you’re allowing people to accomplish stuff and get into a flow state before your next check-in. People are so afraid of micromanaging in my experience. The tyranny of micromanagement is the fear of micromanaging far more often than the tyranny of micromanagement is actual micromanagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s reassuring and comforting. So, then any maybe pro tips or indicators, like, “Oh, you might be getting close to that line”?

Aaron Schmookler
Of micromanagement?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Aaron Schmookler
If you are tempted to take back the project that you’ve given to somebody, think twice. Taking back the delegation is often a piece of micromanagement. If you are trying to get marginal improvement by changing the decisions that they have made, you’re very likely micromanaging. And it’s important to think about… micromanagers are very often, what they’re trying to do is risk management, “I don’t want this to go badly. I want this to go as well as it possibly could. I want the outcome to be 100%.”

The risk there, the risk that you actually attain is demoralizing people, is losing the leverage that you have as somebody who can delegate, to get more than one thing done at a time. And so, if you are wasting human capital, if you are wasting people’s potential and fulfillment in pursuit of marginal accomplishment, you are a micromanager. It’s time to rethink your priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, Aaron, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Aaron Schmookler
I’m glad you brought up micromanagement because that probably would’ve been how I would’ve answered that question. I think I’m ready for favorite things.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Aaron Schmookler
This quote is often attributed to Goethe and it, evidently, is not his, and it’s not known where it came from. So, it is, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Aaron Schmookler
there’s an experiment around something called enclothed cognition.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Aaron Schmookler
And enclothed cognition is, essentially, enclothed, meaning the clothes that you are wearing, cognition, meaning thought. And so, this experiment took people and put them in a smock, like a painter’s smock, and asked them to do accounting work, like work on a spreadsheet, the kind of stuff that you and I were talking about we don’t really like.

And wearing a smock, they were worse than if they were just wearing their normal clothes at doing that task. And wearing a lab coat, they were better than they were at doing that task than if they were just wearing their normal street clothes. And by contrast, if they were asked to do something creative, like create a painting, then they were better wearing the smock than they were in their normal street clothes. And if you put them in a lab coat, they were worse at being creative and original and interesting in creating their art than they were…worse in a lab coat than they were in their street clothes. Fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Aaron Schmookler
Today, I’m going to name Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. A very compelling book about negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job.

Aaron Schmookler
I love Calendly. I’m not that great at tracking administrative details, so being able to give somebody either a link to go and book time on my calendar, or Calendly gives you this one-off meeting thing where I can tell you, “Here are a bunch of times. Click one and you’ll appear instantly on my calendar.” Very, very useful for me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Aaron Schmookler
“One more” is my favorite habit right now. There’s a lot to do in my life, as there is in all or our lives. And I might go to the sink that’s maybe full of the day’s dishes and start to wash the dishes and start to be tempted to go, “I’m feeling hungry. I want to go dirty another dish.” And I just say, “One more.” And one more will often get me all the way through all the dishes, or all the phone calls that I need to make, or any of those things. So, I have a habit right now of saying, “One more,” when I start to feel like, “I’ve got to move on from this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Aaron Schmookler
I’ve mentioned some of the manager training that we’ve been doing lately, and this is something that hits all managers, I think, where they live. I’ve had CEOs audibly kind of get hit, they sound like they’ve just been punched in the stomach when I say, “If there’s no consequence for consistently missing a job requirement, then that thing is not actually a job requirement. It’s something that you’ve put on your wish list and it’s a resentment-builder.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Aaron Schmookler
You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m the only Aaron Schmookler on LinkedIn. And you can find me on all the work that we’re doing at TheYesWorks.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Aaron Schmookler
Yeah, I’ll stay in keeping with the theme of the day – delegate. Go delegate. Are you not good at it? Delegate it. Are you not interested in it? Delegate it. You don’t have time? Delegate it. Delegate it. Go delegate. There’s almost nobody that I know who delegates too much, but there are lots of people that I know who delegate too little. Myself included, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aaron, this has been a treat. I wish much luck and fun in all your delegations.

Aaron Schmookler
Well, thank you. Likewise, right back at you.

799: The Unspoken Rules of High Performers and High Potentials with Gorick Ng

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

 

Gorick Ng lays out the unspoken rules and expectations of managers that explain why top performers get ahead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions everyone is asking about you 
  2. The A+ way to ask for help
  3. The mentality that keeps professionals from progressing 

About Gorick

Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, a book published by Harvard Business Review Press. It is a guide to help professionals, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, take control of their careers, based on 500+ interviews with professionals across geographies, industries, and job types. Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), investment banking at Credit Suisse, and research with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School. He has been featured in The Today ShowThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalBuzzFeedNew York PostFast Company, and CNBC. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022. Gorick, a first-generation college student, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

 Resources Mentioned

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Gorick Ng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gorick, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. Excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to chat with you and hear some insights from your book The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, but I think we also need to hear a little about your other career as a magician.

Gorick Ng
Well, I have the perfect storm of being awkward, shy, and introverted. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was in elementary and middle school, I picked up magic tricks after seeing David Copperfield levitate on stage on TV.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I watched that too and was sad that I couldn’t fly. My mom had to break the news to me, like, “No, it’s just an illusion. It’s not actually flying.”

Gorick Ng
I had to temper my expectations after realizing that magic tricks start off with playing cards and coins, not necessarily levitating in front of a big audience. So, it took some getting used to but I ended up spending summers upon summers at the local magic shop where I ended up interacting with strangers and often folks who were double my age, triple my age sometimes, and, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me because I got out of my shell.

I forced myself in a way that I actually wanted to force myself, to put myself out there, talk to strangers, and be vulnerable. I was deathly afraid of having folks see behind the tricks and know the secret. So, if you’re talking about putting yourself out there in front of an audience and having the imposter syndrome, I guess magicians face it all the time. I certainly did.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’re quite literally an imposter because you’re not actually doing the things that…

Gorick Ng
Exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
…you’re purporting to do. Well, tell me, was there a particular crowd favorite trick or illusion? I’m thinking of Gob from “Arrested Development” now. Was there a particular crowd-pleasing bit that you did frequently?

Gorick Ng
I would take a dollar bill and turn it into a 10-dollar bill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Gorick Ng
And it’s actually one that my mom still tells people about when she pulls aside family members. She’ll say, “Well, what about that trick you showed us ten years ago?” and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, mom, let’s talk about this some other time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Are you still able to pull it off?

Gorick Ng
I’m a little rusty, I have to say. It’s been a while since I’ve picked it up but I still actually have a big cabinet full of equipment at home that I just haven’t been able to get myself to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear that. Okay. Well, now let’s talk about increasing the value you can offer an employer or a business or nonprofit, etc. You have written a book, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right and so I’m excited to get into some of those rules which I imagine will not be applicable only to people fresh in their careers but these rules probably apply, is it fair to say, to most professionals?

Gorick Ng
Definitely. Actually, it was a big, not debate, not argument, more of just a longstanding discussion between me and my publisher Harvard Business Review around what the subtitle of the book should even be. We had a Google Doc going, containing 20, 30, maybe 40, 50 different potential subtitles, one of which is “How to be a High Performer and High Potential at Work.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but we decided to hone in on the early-career audience.

But what I’ve realized since engaging with companies large and small, and becoming a consultant speaker at companies like GE, IBM, etc. is that what is a must for some is good for all. So, my audience now, yes, it consists of early-career professionals, but those who find my message to resonate most are actually in their mid-careers and above.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, lay it on us, to start, is there a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you made while doing all these interviews to put together this book?

Gorick Ng
The biggest takeaway for me is actually a framework that I call the 3Cs, which stand for competence, commitment, and compatibility. And the idea is the minute you show up, whether it’s at a coffee chat, a client meeting, a one-on-one with your manager, etc., the people around you are sizing you up, and they’re asking themselves three questions.

Question one is, “Can you do this job well?” which is the question of, “Are you competent?” Question two is, “Are you excited to be here and to grow with us?” and that’s the question of “Are you committed?” And the third question, the final one, is, “Do we get along?” which is the question of “Are we compatible?” So, “Are you competent?” “Are you committed?” and “Are we compatible?” the 3Cs.

Your job, and frankly all of our jobs, and this includes the CEO, is to convince the people around us to answer yes to all three questions all the time. Demonstrate these 3Cs and you’ll build trust, you’ll unlock opportunity, and you’ll get closer to reaching your career goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that makes sense in terms of segmenting that into three handy categories. So, how do we go about demonstrating these things?

Gorick Ng
Well, the first thing is to look left, look right, and to understand the unspoken expectations around how people demonstrate these 3Cs, and it depends on the workplace. So, I’ll give you a few examples here. When it comes to demonstrating competence, for example, what I realized is there’s actually a certain song and dance that you’re expected to do in many workplaces when you have a question.

So, the C+ plus way of approaching an ambiguous situation is to, well, do what I did, which is to put my head down, put some extra effort into it, and just hope it’ll work itself out and not ask questions because I’m worried about coming across as incompetent or lazy. The B+ approach is to go to your manager or a coworker and to say, “I’m stuck. What do I do next?” which is an open-ended question.

An A+ approach is to say, “Pete, I’m struggling with this. I tried looking here and here. I couldn’t quite find the answer, so I approached my colleague Sally, and we couldn’t quite sort it out either. Shall I be taking approach A, approach B, or approach C? I’m leaning towards approach B but let me know if I’m not thinking about this the right way.”

So, what are you doing? You’re actually demonstrating a few unspoken rules, one of which is to bundle and escalate, so to do your own homework before approaching others. The next is to give others something to react to. So, instead of opening the conversation with a big broad question, you’re giving people options.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And I remember, geez, I might’ve been in like fifth grade when I was a really judgmental fifth-grader. You’re bringing me back to my youth, Gorick, this conversation. And I remember, sometimes when they would ask the teacher for help, they just say, “I don’t get it,” and I can tell the teachers were frustrated by that too, even though teachers are often paragons of patience and they’re accustomed to having to go through something multiple times.

And I remember thinking, “You know, it just doesn’t seem like the best way to ask for help.” It feels a little bit like, I don’t know if I would use these words at the time, but almost like an abdication of responsibility. Like, “You, you fix this because it’s not working for me,” as opposed to getting a little bit more specific. It’s like, “I understand that…” I don’t even know what we’re learning in fifth grade. Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks maybe, that’s what comes to mind.

“But what really is the difference between sedimentary and igneous?” the geologists are appalled right now, and I’m saying, “Because it would seem that they’re almost the same in that A, B, and C,” and say, ahh, that gives you a whole lot more direction, like, “Oh, yes, I can see where you’re coming from there, and I’m better able to help you given that context. And here’s the precise prescription for what your knowledge needs to be augmented with,” as opposed to, “Well, I guess I’ll just maybe say everything I said before again.”

Gorick Ng
Hundred percent. And it brings me back to a conversation that my manager had with me early on in my career. This was after I did exactly the C+ approach, which was put my head down and hide away for weeks and not show my face at all, only to come back and do the wrong work. My manager said, and I mean for those listening who…well, everyone has had that experience of going from school to work, and realizing that what we learned in school doesn’t exactly align with what we’re expected to know in the workplace.

And so, it’s part of this right of passage, my manager pulled me aside, actually slammed the conference room door behind him…

Pete Mockaitis
Dramatic.

Gorick Ng
…and said, “Look, we hired you to think. If we just hired you to blindly follow a set of instructions, your job could’ve been automated by now. There’s a reason why we hired a human being, a living breathing human being with a brain. It’s because you can solve problems. It’s because you can think critically, so think.”

It was a scary conversation. I’m chuckling at that in retrospect but it really did make a lot of sense, and it reminded me of this side of our brain that just gets turned off by school because, in school, we just have been conditioned to think that textbook has all the answers, there’s a right or wrong to everything, that professor knows best, and that just isn’t the case in the workplace where there’s very rarely a right or wrong answer. More often, there’s just a difference in values and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. All right. Well, that’s a great approach right there from the get-go in terms of the A+ way of asking for help, bundle and escalate, make it clear. You tried some things, you have some options in mind, as opposed to, “I don’t get it. Fix this,” or toil away and hope that it hits the right thing. That’s high risk because it may very well not be the right thing. So, lay it on us some more unspoken rules and best practices for following them well.

Gorick Ng
A big one is to understand what matters to those who matter. So, put yourself in the shoes of the higher-ups in your team, in your department, in your organization, and ask yourself, “What goals are they trying to reach? And what pains are they trying to alleviate? What’s causing them stress? What’s wasting them time?” And look left, look right, find a swim lane. So, find something that hasn’t been done before, and occupy that swim lane because the more you understand what matters to those who matter, the more you’ll do work that matters. And the more that you do work that matters, the more you will matter.

And I have a story here, if I may, of someone who unexpectedly did this. And this is actually an individual who’s hired into a staffing company as an administrative assistant. So, the staffing company has a business model where they would place nurses into hospital jobs, and this individual was hired on a six-month contract, and her job was to simply process paperwork. And just like the dozens of people who had come before her, she would work for six months and she’d be off to something else.

She took a very different approach, and just approached her job with a different mindset, which was, “Wait a second. I didn’t just get hired to process paperwork. I got hired to help this company achieve its goals.” So, one day, after doing her work fully, accurately, and promptly, which is really the basis of competence and to show that you’re reliable, she found herself overhearing a conversation between some higher-ups, and they were complaining about how they couldn’t find enough nurses to place into these hospital jobs, at which point she thought, “Well, duh.”

This is a story from the Philippines, by the way, “The company I’m working at is relying on the telephone, on antiquated websites to hire people, when all of my friends are relying on social media to find their next jobs.” And so, she opened up her smartphone, went on to a few of these Facebook pages, and she discovered that actually many of her company’s competitors were quietly lurking in these groups, posting job opportunities, getting the word out.

And she then approached her managers and said, “Hey, maybe this is something you’ve already thought about, but I couldn’t help but notice that, actually, a lot of my friends who were coming out of nursing school are actually finding about job opportunities on social media, something that it doesn’t seem like we’re trying right now. Is this something we’ve considered?”

At which point, her manager thought, “No, this didn’t even occur to us at all. Well, why don’t you go ahead and lurk a little bit.” Fast-forward several months, and she ended up creating a social media presence for her company, ended up providing market intelligence to senior leaders, multiple layers up in the organization.

And so, one day, her manager’s manager came up to her, and said, “I know your contract is due to end. I hope you’re not going anywhere because we want you to lead marketing for our company.” And, just like that, she ended up becoming the youngest manager in her company, leading a division that hadn’t even existed before. And that was all from just seeing her job as more than just a set of tasks but rather as a set of goals to be achieved for the broader team.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it’s so easy to let those opportunities just float away. Like, you overhear a conversation, and you’re like, “Not my problem.” You just move along, or you just say, “Duh,” and you don’t say anything, or you feel kind of nervous, it’s like, “You know, I got an idea here but I don’t know if it’s my place to say. I’m just an administrative assistant. This is a temporary contract. I’m sure they probably thought of it before.” And you can just talk yourself out of it in seconds instead of pursuing an opportunity which can be game-changing.

Gorick Ng
Oh, yeah. It’s like we’re all walking down an art gallery on a daily basis in our lives, and we’re looking at the same painting but coming to different conclusions around what this painting depicts. So, someone else in this very same situation might look at the scenario that this individual was in, and think, “Yeah, this is someone else’s problem. I’m just an administrative assistant,” to your point. But even the slightest tweak in how we see ourselves and how we fit into the big picture can make a big difference.

So, one of the things that I observe a lot, and I’m guilty of this, is I still have to remind myself to not use the word just, “So, I’m just a planning analyst” which is one way of looking at your job. But another way is to think, “Yeah, sure, I’m a planning analyst but my job is really to get stuff to the right place at the right time. And as a result of my broader mandate, I understand market demand at my company better than anybody.”

Or, if you’re working in manufacturing, for example, “I’m just a machine operator,” versus, “I create the product that makes my company’s products the best. And as a result of having this broader mandate, I know what it takes to be more lean, to be less wasteful, and to be more efficient better than anybody, including the CEO because I’m operating this machine on a daily basis.”

Or, finally, “I’m just a quality manager,” versus, “I ensure that our company’s world-class standards are upheld. And as a result of this broader mandate, I know how to identify when something is wrong and how to fix these problems better than anybody, and this, again, includes the CEO because they’re not looking at these problems on a day-to-day basis. They’re not in these spreadsheets day in, day out. I know more about this topic than anybody, and there is something that is trapped inside of my head that deserves the light of day. I’m just not giving myself credit for what I know and what could be useful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really powerful, that notion of “I know this better than anybody” is true of perhaps the majority of workers. Like, there is a domain of knowledge that, because you’ve spent more time on it than anybody else, you’re closer to it, day after day, have thought about it than anybody else. And that creates power and opportunity which is really cool.

Gorick Ng
And it creates something that leaders want, which is an ownership mindset. I’ve spoken to over 500 professionals across geographies, industries, and job types to write this book, and the one word that I hear time and time again from leaders is, “I wish that my employees could be owners, could think like an owner, to have this ownership mindset.”

And everyone is capable of doing this. Of course, it’s a matter of self-help so it’s a matter of reframing the way that we exist in the world, but it’s also about all of us needing to help. So, we need leaders and managers to create spaces where people are rewarded for going above and beyond but it can be super simple.

So, one example that I had heard about but that, unfortunately, didn’t make it into the book because I was 40,000 words over the word limit, is of a customer service representative who worked at a quick service restaurant. So, this person was equivalent to the person who scoops up the guacamole in that assembly line.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, tasty.

Gorick Ng
Indeed. And this individual looked around the store and noticed that it was total mayhem outside because customers didn’t know where to line up. And so, he approached his manager and said, “Hey, maybe you’ve already thought about this but I couldn’t just help but notice that when people walk into the store, they don’t know if they’re supposed to be lining up on the left-hand side or the right-hand side, and so people are bumping into each other and getting confused and frustrated that they can’t seem to find the beginning of the line.”

“Have we thought about maybe hanging up a sign that says, ‘Start here. Pay here,’ and maybe just drawing some lines on the floor so that people know where to go?” And, just like that, the entire operations of this store ended up being improved, and, of course, this person ended up being rewarded as a result as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And you’ve used this phrase a couple times, and it’s really growing on me “Maybe you’ve already thought about this,” which says…it gives you sort of blanket absolution for any potential perception of presumption. That’s a lot of words. But you cover yourself. It’s not like, “I’m not saying you’re an idiot. I noticed this and you may have thought about it, too, and I’m just kind of curious what your thoughts here.” So, I like that.

Gorick Ng
I appreciate you picking that up because it comes back to the 3Cs framework, where it’s not a binary. It’s not a matter of “Are you competent?” versus “Are you not?” It’s actually a spectrum where it’s possible to overshoot and it’s possible to undershoot. So, overshoot this zone of competence and you come across, potentially, as a know-it-all.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I’ve taken the liberty of getting an architectural blueprint set right up for precisely the most optimized flow.” Yeah, you’re right. In a way, it’s like, “Okay, that’s super proactive and ambitious but I’m a little weirded out and think you probably should’ve consulted me before, I don’t know, spending company money on an architect,” for example.

Gorick Ng
That’s exactly right. And one of the phrases I use a lot in my sessions is the importance of stepping up without overstepping. And that really speaks to just how delicate this balance is between showing just the right dose of competence, commitment, and compatibility without overshooting the mark and coming across as threatening or wanting to make others look bad.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, while we’re talking about specific words, and phrases, and verbiage, any other gems you’d like to share?

Gorick Ng
Well, this one will be likely familiar to those especially in the management position or in an HR function, which is the nine-box matrix. And it’s nine boxes, along the bottom are the labels low performance, medium performance, high performance. And along the edge is low potential, medium potential, high potential.

Now, folks are thinking, “Well, that’s not an unspoken rule. That’s a performance-management framework.” What I didn’t appreciate until I started doing these interviews is that it’s actually not common sense that doing your job is only part of your job. The rest is about showing that you can be trusted with more important responsibilities.

So, what does it mean to show high performance? Well, you’re reliable, you’re doing what you say you will do, you are being responsive, you are showing detail orientation, all of these basics. But what people don’t appreciate is that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and hope that someone will give you credit for your hard work. You also need to show that you have potential.

So, you need to show that you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you have to have an answer and a point of view, you have to address issues ideally before they come up, you have to offer ways to make things better, and you have to be seen and heard by leadership. And so, these are the unspoken rules of getting promoted. It’s just that how we’re evaluating employees and how employees think they’re being evaluated are often night and day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, let’s dig into committed, how you show it. And, first, I just want to…we’re talking about commitment, and I’ve just recently been reading a number of articles about quiet quitting, as it’s called, and I guess there’s multiple interpretations or definitions of this. It’s sort of like you haven’t quit but you’re sort of coasting and you’re going to do the bare minimum, and you’ve sort of quit in your heart, if you will.

And so, that’s creating a buzz in some conversations. But I’d love it if we could address the mindset or the attitude in terms of, “Well, okay, yeah, an ownership mindset would be great but I’m not an owner. I don’t have equity or stock options or performance compensation of any kind. So, yeah, I bet you’d like it if I had an ownership mindset but I don’t because I’m, in fact, not an owner, and that even seems potentially unfair for me to go above and beyond when the rewards are not in play.” I just want to let you respond to that kind of attitude or mindset.

Gorick Ng
Well, this is a good example of where leaders and employees are really talking past each other. And, actually, if I may return to the 3Cs framework because the way that we often, at least when I approach the workplace, I thought that it was all about just doing my job. And, actually, I have a quote from someone, an accountant who was new to corporate America and who thought that, “Well, is it my job just a simple matter of showing up, doing my work, and then going home? That’s what a job is, right?”

And I thought to myself, “Well, yeah.” If I think about my single mother who worked in a sewing machine factory, that was her job. You show up, you do your work, you put your head down, and you leave.” But in this increasingly knowledge-based economy in which we live, it’s hard to evaluate your outputs on a daily basis. So, you can’t just walk up to someone and see how many garments they sewed and the quality of the zipper they sewed onto that garment.

So, in the absence of, clearly, discernible outputs, we start relying on inputs. We rely on, “Well, how responsive are you in emails? How confident are you coming across in conversations? How much are you coming to the table with solutions rather than just problems? How much are you showing excitement?” I have a story of someone who worked in a cinema who thought that his job was simply to, well, collect change and give tickets to people. But he was labeled as “not a team player” because, during his breaks, he wasn’t socializing with his colleagues, and that was, in retrospect, dinging this individual’s commitment and compatibility.

And so, while he wanted to make it to be a general manager, folks didn’t see his leadership material. So, I want to come back to this idea of competence and commitment because when I speak to leaders, they care about competence and commitment. Whereas, when I speak to employees, the misnomer is that, “Well, it’s all just about competence. If I’m just doing my work, why am I not getting rewarded?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s a mismatch, folks talking past each other. Understood. So, in a way, there’s simply a misunderstanding on the part of the employee, that commitment is necessary. Whereas, leadership says, “Well, of course, that’s a given to us. We recognize it.” I’m thinking about more about the employees’ attitude or perspective or mindset that, “That’s just not fair or just or right or appropriate.”

Gorick Ng
Yeah, that’s a big one, and this is where we move from self-help to all of us needing to help. So, it’s one thing to lay bare these unspoken rules. It’s another to make sure that you have the structures and incentives in place to make sure that people are actually motivated to perform at this higher level. And so, when it comes to compensation, yeah, it’s hard to ask your employees to go above and beyond if you’re paying below market rates.

It’s hard to ask your sales and marketing team to make more money if all that money is going to the folks high up and they don’t see a penny of it. So, the fairness thing, I think we need to be talking more about because it’s one thing, it’s necessary but not sufficient to have expectations. You also need to make sure that folks feel excited, folks feel supported, and folks feel valued. Those are really the three essential ingredients to motivating your team versus just having a conversation with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, attitude point addressed. Now, share with us, how do we demonstrate that we’re committed?

Gorick Ng
Well, I spoke to the importance, for example, of being responsive. And, here, we rub up against also an area where folks may talk past each other, which is some organizations have this always-on culture, or this hidden expectation that if someone higher-up emails you, no matter what time of day it is, that you’d be jumping at that email and responding right away.

And if you speak to leaders, they’ll say, “Well, yeah, of course. If I asked for something, I expect you to be there.” And then if you talked to employees, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not getting paid at this hour. And just because you want to empty your inbox at 11:00 p.m. doesn’t mean that I want to be up at 11:00 p.m. answering your emails.”

So, here, there is the self-help piece and there’s also the all-of-us-need-to-help piece. So, I interviewed, for example, a superintendent at a school district who had this habit of emptying her inbox on Saturday evenings. And from her perspective, it was, “Well, I’m just trying to empty my inbox, trying to get ahead of the following week,” but in doing so, she had established the unspoken rule in her team that everyone needs to be up at that hour.

So, my message to leaders is to be mindful of your intent which I assume is positive, but, moreover, to be mindful of your impact because you know that your intent is positive but how your actions may be perceived on the other side may not be so positive, in the case of the superintendent.

When it comes to employees, it’s important, and here we come back to this idea of quiet quitting, for example, which is drawing boundaries, to use a synonym here. Often, when I speak to leaders, and why they have these requests and why they tend to micromanage, it’s not because anyone wakes up in the morning, thinking, “How can I be the worst micromanager that has walked the face of the earth?” It’s that they’re nervous. It’s that they’re anxious.

And so, as an employee, you can get ahead of this commitment C if you apply the unspoken rule of why, what, how, by when; where, whenever you’re delegated a task, it’s important to be in alignment with your manager about, “Why is this being asked of me? What’s the broader purpose behind this work? What do I need to do? What’s the deliverable exactly? Is this an email? Is this a presentation? Is this a phone call? How am I supposed to do this? So, am I supposed to find it with my friends? Am I supposed to go on Google? Am I supposed to look at our internal knowledge management system?’

And, moreover, and this is the real one, is by when. So, if my manager asks me to do something by, let’s say…well, actually, let me be clear. Most managers will just say, “Can you please look into this?” So, they won’t even give you a deadline, even though in the back of their heads, they have a deadline of, “Well, I want you to get this done by Friday.”

So, if you don’t ask and your manager doesn’t tell you, you’re going to be on completely different pages about this deadline. So, the first step is to ask, “Hey, when do you need this?” But there’s also a further unspoken rule here, which is that whenever there’s a deadline in the workplace, there’s also an unspoken earlier deadline.

So, even though this is due on Friday, maybe before I hand this deliverable to you, Pete, I need to talk to Jenny, and maybe Jenny is out on Thursday, so I actually have to talk to her on Wednesday. And before I can speak to her, I need to speak to three other people who I can only talk to on Monday. So, the deadline isn’t actually next Friday, it’s this afternoon.

And so, aligning on this ahead of time when you’re delegated an assignment can go a long way in demonstrating that you’re committed and, at the same time, draw those boundaries because you’ve already had this conversation with your manager about, “Hey, I promised to get back to you by this time. It’s not yet that time,” of course you’re not saying this but you’ve gone on to the same page that, “Hey, I will get back to you, so don’t be so nervous, don’t be so anxious about what’s really going on right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think those conversations are so necessary. When you mentioned unspoken rule or expectation of the superintendent doing the Saturday night email, I think that’s one of the most powerful conversations that managers and teams can have, is, “What are our expectations associated with email or Slack messaging, etc.?” because I’ve facilitated workshops where there are just incredible lightbulbs going off, like, “Oh, my gosh, so you don’t need this right away? Like, generally, I can reply within 24 hours, and that’s fine? Wow!”

And then there’s another ball of wax associated with multitasking, switch-tasking, and the horrors it does to our attention and deep work and focus zone, flow stuff. So, that’s a whole another ball of wax. But it can be so transformational when you clear those up, and say, “Oh,” or made you learn, “Actually, yes, I do expect that,” like, “Oh, glad that I know that. I can tell you what I can and cannot do with regard to that.” When you said boundaries, how do you recommend you have those conversations?

Gorick Ng
Well, it’s to approach this as, “How can we best work together?” versus “These are all the things that I demand from you.” And this is a two-way street, this is a conversation that managers can have with their teams, and that team members can have with their managers. So, when you’re meeting your manager for the first time, my advice is to ask, “Hey, what are your biggest goals and priorities over the next week, month, quarter, year? What are the things that you’d like me to be focusing on? What are the top priorities, the have-to-dos versus the nice-to-dos?”

“And how would you like to communicate, day to day, week to week? Would you like me to send you a summary email at the end of every week? Or, would you like me to try and tack on maybe a two-minute conversation after our weekly standups?” To your point, so much of this is about making the unspoken spoken. It’s about reminding ourselves that we can’t read the other person’s mind, and so just because we don’t talk about expectations, doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations.

And we have a choice of either guessing and probably guessing incorrectly, and having that conversation upfront. The style by which you ask is really important. It’s a matter of, “Hey, how can we best work together? How can I save you time and stress?” versus “These are all the things that I expect of you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, or that I don’t do.

Gorick Ng
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t do dishes. I don’t do toilet.” Okay. And so, how about compatibility. How do we demonstrate that?

Gorick Ng
This is the toughest one because bias and discrimination are real. And so, whether we’re talking about age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, vocal pitch, introversion, extroversion, access to transportation if we’re going to a social event after work, internet connectivity, accent.

So, it’s not a level playing field when it comes to the sea of compatibility where some of us, just by who we are and the backgrounds we come from, might show up in an organization and be able to speak like and have the same conversations as those of our coworkers. Versus, someone else who might feel like an outsider and who has to work a lot harder to demonstrate that compatibility.

Let me give you an example of just how tricky and sometimes uncomfortable this sea of compatibility can be with a story that I included in the book of this individual who joined a team that had this ritual of going on pedal bar outings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with pedal bars.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I live near Nashville now. There’s always the Bachelorettes on the strip. They’re going to the bars and they’re pedal…how do I say the word again? Pedal?

Gorick Ng
I think it’s a pedal bar. I have never done it myself.

Pete Mockaitis
P-E-D-A-L. Pedal bar, yes. So, they’re all pedaling on this thing. It’s just like “That cannot be safe.” That’s what I think whenever I see them, it’s like, “You all must have great insurance because I don’t know about this.”

Gorick Ng
Right. Yes. So, this individual found himself in a team where everyone liked going on pedal bar outings while wearing tie dye, actually. So, it’s a tie dye T-shirt pedal bar outing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
And this individual thought, “I don’t like drinking. This whole pedal bar tie dye business, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And so, he didn’t end up showing up at these outings. So, he politely declined every occasion, and then got to a point where he stopped getting invited altogether because his coworkers thought, “Ah, maybe you’re just not interested in hanging out with us.”

Fast-forward to the performance evaluation process, and he, like the individual I interviewed who was seen as not a team player at the cinema, well, this person also got the same feedback, which is that “You’re doing great in your job but you’re just not a team player.” At which point, he thought, “Okay, what you’re really asking me to do is to join you on these outings,” and that’s what he ended up doing.

I’m not saying conform, and we’ll come back to this, but he ended up going on these outings. And, fast-forward to the next review cycle, and his review shot up, and he ended up continuing to put himself out there, get to know his team members, and he ended up getting promoted actually in record time, multiple times, actually, in this company.

Now, we can hear this story and come to multiple conclusions. The first conclusion is, well, conform if you want to “fit in” which is one interpretation. The other interpretation is to do some self-reflection around what you hold sacred, what you’re willing to negotiate, and what you’re indifferent about. And this is a big thing that I uncovered in my research, which is different people are going to have different zones of tolerance when it comes to what they’re willing to give up for their jobs and, specifically, for the purposes of demonstrating compatibility.

So, some people will have, for example, a nontraditional name, at least within a particular context. And some people in that situation will say, “Yeah, give me a nickname. Go ahead.” Others will say, “No, I prefer that you call me by my real name, and I would prefer that you learn how to pronounce it as well.” Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to let go of my entire wardrobe and wear the slacks that you all wear and the blue and white dress shorts from a certain brand that you all wear and the loafers that you all wear.”

Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to conform to a certain degree, so to mesh with maybe your level of business casual but I’m going to show my own flare. I might show off my usual hair or I might show off jewelry that I would like to.” And no one can tell you what is the right answer. It’s really about who you are and what you value, and whether this is even an organization that you want to bend to.

And this also speaks to something else about these so-called unspoken rules, which is when you’re faced with an unspoken rule, you have three options as well. You can either follow the rules, you can either reject the rules, or you can bend the rules. So, in this case, in this particular individual’s situation, he ended up conforming to start getting promoted to management but, in the end, ended up using his managerial and leadership platform to make sure that folks coming into the organization after him didn’t have to conform in the way that he did.

So, he ended up leading diversity and inclusion initiatives, he ended up creating managerial training programs that would instill a different style of leadership in the organization, and that’s what this individual did. Not to say that we should all do it in this way, but this is one example of many of just how tricky this compatibility topic can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that notion of the three choices, and I actually got this question just yesterday. I was speaking at the IMF, and someone said, “What do you do if you feel like you can’t bring your full self to work because there’s a homogenous culture?” I don’t know if this person was referring to the International Monetary Fund workplace in particular or asking for a friend or whatever. So, not to put that on anyone.

And I thought that that’s a fine question, and it really made me think about, “Well, how are you defining what constitutes bringing your full self to work?” And I think you laid that up nicely in terms of, “Do you care about the loafers or the blue and white dress shirts or the pedal bar, or do you not?” And so, you might have a strong view, you might not, and you got your three options associated with reject the rules, conform to the rules, bend the rules.

And I think maybe a pre-step, if you will, the prequel to that three-part choice, is just confirming that’s really a rule because I think, for example, if it’s like we all happen to wear…I’m wearing jeans and a polo right now as we’re chatting. And so, if I was in a workplace where there are four other people wearing jeans and polos, and then a new person shows up, they might get the memo, “Oh, I’m supposed to wear jeans and polo. Like, that’s what we do here.”

And, yet, if you are engaging in those conversations openly, honestly, directly, proactively, you can mention, “Hey, you’re actually totally free to wear whatever you want. If you want to wear a death metal band T-shirt, that is completely fine here. We just all happen to coincidentally like jeans and polos, yeah.”

Gorick Ng
This is so important a conversation to have, and it has to start from the managerial leadership side. Because if we put ourselves in the shoes of, for example, the individual I interviewed, this is the typical experience of a new hire, which is you get hired, you get radio silence, you have no idea what’s expected of you on your first day, sometimes you don’t even know who your manager is, let alone where you’re supposed to show up and what you’re supposed to know.

You show up, you don’t know a soul. You go to a meeting, everyone’s talking over you or not even acknowledging that you’re the newcomer. You have questions but no one is there to help you out. You try to speak up but you have that imposter syndrome. You try again and folks don’t even acknowledge that you exist. You receive an assignment but you don’t know what to do. You have questions and don’t have anyone to go to. And then, all of a sudden, fast-forward to your performance evaluation, and you’re called an underperformer, not a team player, apathetic, not leadership material.

Now, if we just put ourselves in the shoes of the typical experience of an employee, there are just a lot of really basic things that leaders and managers can do to create a more welcoming environment. And it begins with what you just said, which is “What are the things that really matter in this job? And what are the things that we actually don’t really care about?”

But someone from the outside, if an alien from outer space were to swoop into our organization, this alien might interpret our organization as one where everyone has to be up at all hours, everyone has to wear jeans and polos, everyone has to talk a certain way, everyone has to talk about a certain set of sports and a certain set of teams in that sport, and that may not necessarily be the case.

So, being proactive about this conversation is important because that new hire, who is already feeling uncomfortable, is probably not in a position to spark this conversation themselves. You have to be the one to bring it up.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s great stuff, Gorick. Thank you. Any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gorick Ng
As I take a step back from my research, my biggest aha moment is twofold. One, it’s that high performers and high potentials are developed, not born. And the second is that, when it comes to onboarding your employees, developing your employees, engaging your employees, and promoting your employees, all of that begins with speaking the unspoken rules.

These unspoken ways that we do things in this organization, that we might assume to be common sense but that’s often not common sense. And this is often a function of privilege, of where we grew up, of our work experience, of the communities in which we live. And deconstructing what those unspoken rules are for all can level the playing field for all of your employees.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gorick Ng
I wish this were my quote. It’s, unfortunately, not mine but it’s still my favorite, and it’s, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Gorick Ng
I’m a big fan of Erin Meyer’s work on The Culture Map. So, she maps out different working cultures across countries around the world, and then maps them out across eight scales. It helped me gain a better appreciation for this notion of cultural differences and how what may be common sense in one culture, may actually be at odds with how another culture does its work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Gorick Ng
My favorite book is Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. It’s actually a picture book on a caterpillar who discovers his true purpose in life. And it turns out that it’s not what everyone else is pursuing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Gorick Ng
I love Instapaper. It’s a tool that allows me to save articles for offline reading, and I actually have Siri read those articles to me when I’m on runs.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gorick Ng
I can’t say this is a habit yet but I’m definitely trying harder to block off time for the important work so that the mindset of just one more email doesn’t turn into an entire day of emails.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Gorick Ng
The takeaway that folks repeat back to me most often is the idea that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and let your hard work speak for itself. You need to be seen, you need to be heard in order to be remembered. And you need to be remembered in order for you to be promoted.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Gorick Ng
Best place to contact me is at my website, which is Gorick.com, that’s G-O-R-I-C-K.com. I’m also on the various social media networks, so feel free to connect with me.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Gorick Ng
My call to action is to leaders, and it’s to identify one person on your team who may come across as a low-performer, someone who may appear to be apathetic or just not get it, and ask yourself, “What might they not get that I consider to be common sense?” and then reach out to them, and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” and listen. You might be surprised by what they tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gorick, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in sharing and following well the unspoken rules. Keep on rocking.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much, Pete. Appreciate your time.