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669: Making More Impact as a Middle Manager with Scott Mautz

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Scott Mautz returns with best practices for leading up, down, and across your organization.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset for middle management success
  2. How to keep progressing with the 50/50 rule
  3. The trick to giving excellent feedback 

About Scott

Scott Mautz is a high-octane speaker expert at igniting peak performance and deep employee engagement, motivation, and inspiration. He’s a Procter & Gamble veteran who successfully ran several of the company’s largest multi-billion dollar businesses, an award-winning/best-selling author, faculty at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business for Executive Education, a former top Inc.com columnist (over 1 million monthly readers), and a frequent national publication and podcast guest. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Mautz Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Scott Mautz
Fantastic to be back. I’m hoping to help you be even awesomer-er, I guess. How many E-Rs is that? Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, Pete. Thanks for having me back, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I certainly think you’ve got the goods to pull that off. And so, you’ve got a new work coming out, it’s a book Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Influence Up, Down, and Across the Organization. Boy, that sounds very necessary. Can you tell us, maybe as you’re putting this together, any real big surprises or counterintuitive discoveries that came to light?

Scott Mautz
Yeah. Well, I have more than I could possibly share with you. I’ll do that by opening it up with a story, if that’s cool with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, please.

Scott Mautz
So, it has to do with why the heck did I write this book to begin with, why focus on middle managers when a lot of the publishing industry is so much more focused on C-suite, or if you just started, you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. What about these middle managers? So, I kind of fell in love with the topic, I have to do this, but based on this particular story.

So, I’m keynoting for a client, and I’m going to disguise the fact, to protect the innocent. Let’s say it was in Minnesota, Upstate Minnesota, I’m keynoting in the company’s headquarters and if you’re any good at keynoting at all, people will come up to you and want to talk to you afterwards. So I’m doing that.

And my handler comes up. He comes up and says, “Hey, Scott, I got to get you to the airport so I’m going to pull you away from the crowd. Come with me.” Okay, I follow him.

He winds me through this office he was taking me through a shortcut to get out the side door where the cab was waiting for me, and he says, “Okay. Oh, by the way, I got to grab one more thing. Just stay right here for a second.” We were right by his desk. And, of course, so what would any person do? I just decide I’m going to snoop while I’m standing there at his desk because, what else, I think he went to get water for me or something for the trip.

And on his desk, there’s literally nothing, Pete. It is blank except for three things: a piece of paper, I’m going to tell you about right now, a picture of a monkey, and the number five. So, when he comes back, I got to ask him about this, I mean, “What? Dude, you got three pieces of paper and no work on your table. What’s going on? Can you explain these things to me?”

So, he hands me the piece of paper, and it’s something I want to share with you now, he said, “This is something that’s been distributed to us that kind of encapsulates the spirit of what it’s like to be a middle manager here. I’m going to read it to you.” Actually, this was what they were handed from higher management in his company which shall not be named. It was directives. It said, Middle Manager Directives, “Lead but keep yourself in the background. Build a close relationship with your staff but keep a suitable distance. Trust your staff but keep an eye on them. Be tolerant but know exactly how you want things to function.” I’ll read just one more, “Do a good job of planning your time but be entirely flexible with your schedule.”

I don’t know how this list, of these things that just didn’t add up, these contradictions, I said, “Okay, so that’s what it’s like to be a middle manager.” He said, “Oh, yeah, there’s no doubt.” And I said, “Okay. Well, wait a minute. What about this number five?” He said, “Oh, that refers to a study that I got from Stanford University.” He handed it to me and I was flipping it through it, he summed it up, and he said, “The study shows, it’s actually a five-year study that’s why the number five, and the study shows that taking a middle manager that’s not very good and replacing them with even an average middle manager is more productive than adding a net new person to the team.”

So, the story reminded him of the value of middle managers on the day when it wasn’t going so well for him. And I said, “Okay, that’s great, dude, I’m getting a flavor of what it’s like to be a middle manager in your company. What about the picture of the monkeys?” We’re all waiting for that, the punchline. So, he hands me another study conducted by some researchers in Manchester, in the University of Liverpool where they were watching monkeys, a family of monkeys, or, actually, I think it was over 600 monkeys in total, across different families of monkeys, to study the hierarchy.

And they would study these monkeys and they would code their behaviors, just like either really, really aggressive, which would include like slapping behaviors and screaming and screeching, or nurturing behaviors like cuddling or picking the bugs out of each other’s hair. And then they collected the fecal matter of these monkeys, which I’ll leave that up to you, Pete. That’s not the job for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Fun job.

Scott Mautz
To measure the fecal matter for stress hormones, and here’s what they found. They found that the monkeys that were right in the middle of the hierarchy in the monkey tree, they weren’t the boss baboon or whatever and they weren’t the youngest little chimpanzee, the middle monkeys were the ones that were the most stressed out and had the poorest physical health by far because they had to manage in their hierarchy up, down, and across. And that really all summed up for me the net of what it means to be a middle manager.

It was surprising to me to learn this, you asked what was surprising, that, in truth, there’s kind of a stigma about it, isn’t it? It’s brought about by shows like The Office, the movie Office Space, the Dilbert cartoon. There’s a stigma to it and I’m surprised to find in my research how many people are yearning for inspiration to say, “Hey, it’s okay for me to be a middle manager,” and pound their chest with pride. That’s why I decided to write the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful, yes, in terms of there’s contradictions, you’re getting pulled in many directions, there’s a lot of stresses associated with it, and then you don’t get respect at times.

Scott Mautz
You don’t get many respects.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what a combo.

Scott Mautz
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then what is to be done?

Scott Mautz
What is to be done? So many things can be done here. The first thing I would say is, to help your listeners understand, and I talk in the book about this acronym SCOPE. It spells out the categories of unique challenges that middle managers face. The S stands for self-identity problems. The C stands for conflict problems. The O stands for omnipotence problems, the expectation of knowing everything. The P and the E are physical and emotional problems associated with being a middle manager.

I’m just going to pick out one of those because the book goes into depth. But, Pete, most people say, “Well, the difficulty would be in middle managers is there’s so much to do. I have so many hats on that I’m exhausted all the time.” That’s the most common answer of why people believe it’s tough to be in the middle, and there’s truth to that. That’s undeniable. But what people may not know, and I was very surprised to find out in my research, is back to the number of hats that we have to wear as middle managers, therein lies the real reason of why it’s so difficult.

And that’s because when you wear so many hats, it creates a self-identity problem and it creates a problem with micro-switching, what neuroscientists call micro-transitions, whereby, because you wear so many hats, you have to transition very quickly from a deferential stance to your boss, to assertive mode with your employees, to collaborative mode with your peers, sometimes all in the same meeting, and you have to jump into the roles you weren’t expecting to play. Your boss shows up and, all of a sudden, “Oh, I got to go into boss-managing mode.” And you move from these high-power roles to low-power roles back and forth all day long, and it is exhausting.

So, I’m going to tell you what you do about that in a second, but isn’t that surprising to you at all? It surprised me that that’s the real core driver of what’s happening, why it’s so difficult here to be a middle manager.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I imagine that is one issue, but what’s intriguing is when you get that clarity and that bullseye, like, “This is the thing,” so that’s hugely valuable to come to in the research. So, how do you deal with them?

Scott Mautz
Yes, so what do you do about it? So, here’s what we found. Our research of over 3,000 successful middle managers, Pete, we found that the most successful middle managers had a mindset for how to deal with all the hats that they have to wear that exhaust them because of all the switching. And what we found is the most successful middle managers, they kind of reframe it. They thought of the micro-transitions that you have to make not as segmented but as integrated into one job that you’re uniquely suited to pursue.

Or, here’s another reframe I heard of that I thought was brilliant, so brilliant I wrote it down and it made it in the book. One successful middle manager said, “God, all those roles I have to play, it’s a privilege. My job is to think like an engineer but feel like an artist.” And I thought, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense,” and he went on to explain this, like, “To be a middle manager and effectively manage up, down, and across, you really have to be skilled at being process-oriented and driven like an engineer with detail and follow through in plans and implementation. At the same time, you have to be able to feel like an artist and have empathy for people, and care, because, in truth, when you’re a middle manager, you’re at the intersection of everything horizontal and vertical in the company. And you have the opportunity to be an empathy engine for the entire company.”

And the best middle managers, that’s exactly what they are. Not only are they the backbone of the organization, something to take pride in, but they’re the centerpiece, the epicenter of empathy for the organization as well. I have other best practices and tips. I know on the show, Pete, that your audience really values best practices. Would that be a good place to go next or you want to go someplace else?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, absolutely. Let’s do it. And I just want to simmer with that a little bit.

Scott Mautz
Please, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Think like an engineer and feel like an artist. It’s beautiful and it rings true as something that is necessary. And the micro-switching, yes, that is tricky. And if you’ve got that mindset, I can see how you can do the switching all the more readily in terms of, “Oh, engineer mode. Oh, artist mode. Engineer mode. Artist mode,” as opposed to just a big mess of, “There’s a bunch of stuff I got to deal with now. How do I…? Oh, engineer mode, artist mode.” And so, I want to hear the best practices, and I imagine some of them have to do with, “Well, how do you identify when is the right moment? And how do you make that switch?”

Scott Mautz
Yeah. So, here’s what I thought I would do today, Pete, for your listeners because there’s so much in the book to share. I thought I’d first give a couple overall tips that just kept popping up over and over and over in the research for the most successful managers, then I’ll just share just my one best tip for managing up to your bosses down to your employees and across to peers, if that works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Scott Mautz
Two quick overall tips that kept popping in the research. Successful middle managers tell me about the importance of the golden question, which is this, to continually ask yourself, “Am I assisting success or avoiding failure?” because those two paths produce very different outcomes and behaviors, and we can forget. We can mean to assist success but fall into avoiding failure behavior.

So, for example, in the case of assisting success, what does that look like, Pete? Well, that looks like you’re helping people past the barriers, you’re removing barriers, you’re coaching them, you’re investing in them, you’re doing whatever it takes to help people succeed. Avoiding failure, that looks like micromanagement, indecision, conservatism, perfectionism.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, CYA.

Scott Mautz
CYA. And when you ask yourself that question of, “Okay, am I assisting success or avoiding failure?” it forces you to be very intentional and self-aware of the types of behaviors you’re engaging in as a manager of others and people have to manage up and across.

Pete Mockaitis
What comes to mind here is the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, about the chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, and he’s got his park coach and his fancy coach. And the park coach where he’s playing the speed chess wants, I don’t know why he’s stuck with me, but he’s sort of like yelling out to him, it’s like, “You’re not playing to win. You’re playing not to lose and it’s not the same thing.”

Scott Mautz
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And it isn’t. And I think it’s quite natural with our human limbic system defense mechanisms to want to protect yourself and avoid a failure and looking like a fool, or getting into trouble, getting yelled at, and often those are the kinds of behaviors that aren’t creating transformational results that are going to make you promoted and have your team love you and have the rest of your team flourish as well.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, I think that’s very, very well said. And sometimes we don’t see it as avoiding failure behavior in the outset even though everybody else sees it that way. We think of it as, “Ah, I’m being smart. I’m being conservative. I’m making sure I have all the data before I move forward,” that’s really not what that behavior is helping along.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear maybe some potential words and phrases that indicate you’re in the avoiding failure mode. One that comes to mind is when you send an email and then you say, “Please advise.” And that’s fine sometimes. Sometimes that is fine, you really do need that input. But sometimes that comes across as, “I’m not going to stick my neck out to make a recommendation here. I’m not going to take ownership or make a decision. I’m going to do a little bit of a buck pass.”

And, again, that’s a broad generalization. Sometimes you absolutely need other people’s inputs on something, and you shouldn’t go full steam ahead before you get it. But sometimes it’s like, “I don’t know. I think you can probably push this a little bit farther before you pass it over to me to do the thinking.”

Scott Mautz
I think that’s exactly right, Pete. A couple other keywords to listen for – parallel path.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Scott Mautz
If you’re using that word, that means you’re creating two ways to approach something which means you’re doubling the amount of resources you’re burning and, frankly, you’re just not making a decision. You’re running a parallel path of, “Should we go route A or route B?” And if you hear the key word of permission, “I’d like to do this, I got to get permission from my boss and see.” Listen, business builders don’t have to ask for permission on everything. Homeowners and homebuilders rather, homebuilders have to ask for permission on everything not business builders so you got to watch out. And you bring up a good point. You got to be really intentional about the language you’re using because that reveals which indications of when you’re engaging and avoiding failure versus assisting success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, please continue.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, here’s another overall tip and then I’ll go into kind of up, down, and across, just one quick best tip. I hear this a lot, and I’m assigning the words to this concept. I never heard these words exactly but this is what a vast chunk of successful middle managers are doing. And, believe me, we’ve talked to well over 3,000 of what companies determine are their very best middle managers in their organization.

And I see them practicing the 50/50 rule, which is this. When things are at their craziest, Pete, when you feel like, “I’m overwhelmed and it’s so busy, I don’t even know where to turn my focus,” you practice a 50/50 rule which happens a lot to middle managers, that kind of busyness. 50/50 rule says, “In those times of chaos, spend 50% of your time on pragmatism, 50% on possibilities.” 50 plus 50, equals 100, which means you have zero percent of your time left for focusing on spiraling down and, “Pity, poor me, I’ve got so much to do.”

And here’s what so powerful about this. When you say, “Out of all my time, only 50% of it is going to be dedicated to pragmatism,” that means you now have a half of a half of your time to prioritize and focus on priorities, right? So, that means you can’t accept other people’s urgent, you can’t take in every single fire alarm that’s going off and put out every fire. Only half of your time now, half of half of your time, in some ways to think about that, could be spent on pragmatic choices.

The other half should be spent on possibilities, looking for the opportunities in the middle of all the chaos and all the input and stimulus that you’re getting, because research shows us, one of the most common traps we fall into in our busiest times is we tend not to focus on the possibilities and the opportunities right in front of us. Why? Because we’re so busy just trying to cross things off our to-do list, just trying to jump from everyone else’s urgent to everyone else’s urgent back and forth. 50/50 rule, does it make sense to you, Pete? Could you see that apply?

Pete Mockaitis
I totally can. And I’m thinking now, we had a guest from FranklinCovey talk about a mantra from an executive who said, he ran some in the hotel bit space, he said, “Hey, if you want to keep your job, just keep things running. You got plenty to do and you’ll stay employed. But if you want to get promoted, bring me an improvement. Like, show me a few points of lift on customer satisfaction or occupancy rates.”

And I think that there’s a lot of wisdom to that. It’s always more urgent to deal with whatever is in your inbox and whatever someone is yelling at you about but it’s less urgent but also important to see, “How are we getting better? How are we producing some results so that we stay relevant and we get to exist as a premiere hotel chain in a world of Airbnb and new disruptors and all that stuff?”

Scott Mautz
Yeah, you’re right, Pete. And if you look back on people that are great successes in their life, there’s a lot of data on this. This isn’t just my opinion and my personal experience, there’s a lot of data that says a core success factor is the ability, in the midst of chaos, to spot opportunity when other people are just running around taking care of their to-do list and answering everyone else’s urgent. So, I think that’s really powerful. The 50/50 rule is a really powerful thing to kind of take into your activities at work.

With your permission, Pete, I’d love to share with you one very quick tip for leading up, down, and across. Would that be good?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Scott Mautz
Let’s do it. So, here’s how I’m going to do it because Leading from the Middle is packed with so many tips. I’m going to focus on the most frequently asked questions to me on this front. And the most frequent question I get with, “How do I manage up to my boss? How do I do that well?” because that’s tricky.

The most important thing I can tell you on that front is to understand what’s asked of you, to get crystal clear on expectations. And I share that, Pete, at the risk of it being too obvious because, despite it being obvious, we’re not so good at it. Check this out. We conducted, we’re almost up to over 300 now, different boss-subordinate pairs that we’ve been interviewing in focused groups and through questionnaires and through all kinds of different datapoints, to find out, “Okay, with this boss-subordinate pairing, did they really understand what one expects from the other?”

And we are finding that, despite up front, those both sets of people, the boss and the employee saying, “Yeah, yeah, we’re clear,” in over 80% of the cases, it turns out there were material breaches in understanding, they’re understanding of the basics of what one expected from the other. That lines up with what Gallup research shows us as well. Gallup shows us that 50% of employees around the globe have no idea what’s really expected of them. So, how do you solve that?

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that’s so fascinating and it rings true. Can we zoom in on some examples of, “Oh, I thought you expected this but, in fact, you expected that?”

Scott Mautz
Oh, yeah. For instance, a perfect example, there was one boss-employee pairing, and the boss said, “Okay,” it was a sales position and he expected his employee to engage in sales leadership in a certain way.

Pete Mockaitis
Sales leadership, okay.

Scott Mautz
Yes, sales leadership, that included…

Pete Mockaitis
You got a few ways.

Scott Mautz
“Okay, I want you to follow this selling process. I want you to teach your fellow salespeople,” because this was the number one salesperson he was working with, “I want you to teach your fellow salespeople how to employ the selling techniques that you’re employing as well.” And, yeah, he listed basic expectations. Then when I asked the employee what was expected of him, none of that stuff was on his radar screen.

He thought his job was to protect the secrets of how he was selling so that he could personally rise up the chain and continue to be the number one person and that his boss would never have expected him to share that knowledge. He thought that the way he had devote selling was the right way to go, and he had totally ignored the company-preferred method, and there was a darn good reason the company wanted him to follow this method, so he was doing his own method.

That turns out was creating some problems on the backend, some customers weren’t so satisfied afterwards given all the things this kid had promised because he wasn’t following the standard procedure. So, in something that’s basic is like, “This is how we expect you to sell at this company,” there was a gap in understanding.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And sales leadership can say, “Okay, got you. I’m going to continue to be a more rock star sales leader, a leader in sales, by selling more by the things that I’m doing that are working so well.” Certainly. So, what are the best practices then to surface those misunderstandings and get them cleared up?

Scott Mautz
Yes, so powerful. It’s to develop what I call a good-to-great grid. Here’s how it works. We’ve all heard that book Jim Collins’ Good to Great. This is a different kind of use of this. So, just picture this, I want your listeners to picture this. Imagine a simple chart and it has three columns in the chart. On the left-hand side of the chart, that column, that’s metrics that are important to you at your job.

So, let’s say you work in company XYZ, and leadership, risk-taking, and taking initiative are three really important things you get measured on. You put that in the left column. The next column is the good column, the next column is the great column. In the good column, you sit down with your boss and you define, let’s pick one metric, let’s use leadership, “Okay, boss, let’s you and I, together, write down on paper what good leadership looks like.” Then in the next column, “Okay, boss, let’s you and I agree to a definition of what great leadership looks like.”

And what happens is that you force your boss and yourself to get crystal clear on what just good is and what great is. And what happens is most often we get lazy when we set expectations and we just assume that everybody knows what our idea of great is and, in fact, they’re delivering good at best. And the person that’s delivering the good, they actually think, “Oh, I’m doing great,” and they’re not clear on what great really looks like, and you can’t get to that without specificity. You need tension. That tension is the difference between good and great, defining the difference between good and great. And when you could do that, it forces specificity and clarity, makes sense that it’s a powerful tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that is nice. And so, could you give us an example of something a boss-subordinate pair might agree to on a good picture of leadership versus a great picture of leadership?

Scott Mautz
Sure. Here’s one of prioritization. This is from an actual good-to-great chart that I developed with a team years ago. So, imagine you got this chart, and on the left-hand side you have prioritization, priority-setting as an important thing. In the good column, what if you wrote this? It’s called Trash Compactor Management, and what that means is, you know what a trash compactor is. It takes trash and it squishes it into a cube. Imagine if you thought of your workload that way, and what good would look like is you say no every once in a while, so your work cube gets a lot smaller. It gets squished down into a smaller, more doable work cube.

Frankly, Pete, a lot of us aren’t even good at that. We’re not even good at saying no to stuff that comes on our table. So, if you could start by saying no, that’s pretty good in priority-setting but that’s not great. Great priority-setting is not Trash Compactor Management; it’s Accordion Management. Accordion is a musical instrument that you play that you kind of move your hands in and out to play the instrument. It puffs wind out and you get different notes.

Imagine your workload was like that now. You contract it like an accordion at times when you know you’ve got a lot going on, you’ve got a big sales call coming up, a big presentation to the CEO, but then you contract it in between so people can breathe. You’re not always adding work and expanding the accordion, you’re contracting it so you can learn from a big meeting, so you can take training, so you can enjoy, so you can celebrate. Then you expand the workload back out again when things get busy. In and out all the time like an accordion. Now, that’s great priority-setting.

And the things is, for your listeners, Pete, I hope they don’t agree with any of those definitions, that they might say, “Well, yeah, yeah, Scott, I hear you. I think good priority-setting is this and great priority-setting is that.” Actually, I hope they don’t agree and that they come up with their own definitions sitting down with their boss because that’s the power there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. It’s funny, as I’m thinking about this and the 80/20 Rule, I’m thinking, “Now, great prioritization is I can name for you the one, two, three things that I fully expect to be 16 times as valuable per hour of my time than the other things.” Like, oh, wow. Okay, that’s what great means. And I love that specificity. What’s coming to mind for me is back in the day, consulting at Bain & Company, there were three things that were important, and it’s probably the same today, and I’d say that Bain frequently does well in the Best Places to Work list, and I think this is one of the reasons.

So, they say, ‘Hey, there’s value addition, there’s client communication, and there’s team. These are the three things that really matter.” But then they break it down in like 20 something competencies. So, under value addition, we have, “Achieves expert status.” And this is what I expect from a consultant within the first six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months that they should be able to do. And on your review, if you look like someone who’s been at the job for 18 months doing those kinds of things at six months, we’re going to go, “Wow, you are frequently exceeding, or consistently outperforming on our expectations.”

And I thought that was pretty cool. It’s like, “Okay, so you achieved expert status in the early days” might mean like, “Oh, I’ve got the Excel sheet and I really know the numbers and what’s in them. And in the latter portion, it’s sort of like, “I understand more about this thing than the client does and I can explain it clearly at the drop of a hat.” And so, you say, “Oh, okay, I see how that’s different.” And one of them is certainly elevated to the other, and that’s powerful.

Scott Mautz
It’s that specificity that sets you free, right, Pete? It forces you to engage in the discussion of what good versus great looks like which is why so many of us are not clear on what good or great looks like because we never had that discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. Well, so that was fun with priority-setting. Let’s hear another one because I think this is so important, and people are like, “Yeah, I know, I know.” But I think there’s maybe another layer of specificity we need to drill into. So, that’s priority-setting. Let’s hear another example.

Scott Mautz
Let’s keep going. Well, this one, maybe it’s too generic or whatever. But it’s one that I hear an awful lot on, “What does good leadership versus great leadership look like?” You and I, Pete, could debate this all day long but this is an example from an actual client of mine who they defined good leadership was doing the right things, always making the right choices on prioritization. Then they said great was, and I thought this was pretty wise, doing the right things at the right time for the right reason.

And the distinction was, if you just say, “Good leadership is doing the right things,” well, that means is that, in your mind, what you think is right in that time, in a tunnel, in a vacuum, in an echo chamber, “Yeah, we’re going to do the right things,” and they didn’t mean like, “Do the right thing morally.” They just meant, “Prioritize well.” But when you add on “at the right time, for the right reason,” that brings two different degrees of specificity to the table.

For the right reason, what they meant was they want leaders to be acting according to the company values and principles. Doing them at the right time meant they don’t want them to get ahead of themselves, they don’t want them to be making ridiculous decisions without the proper data, or they don’t want them to be waiting around forever to jump on an obvious opportunity. So, that’s straight from a client, I thought that was a pretty powerful and simple way to discern the two things.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And as I think about the clarity, it would be awesome to have some particular examples from recent work, like, “Hey, for example, recently you did the right thing associated with this but it was not quite the right time because we were still waiting on this important thing.” And it’s like, “Oh, okay.” And so, then it’s extra crystal clear.

Scott Mautz
And the good news here, Pete, for today, is that I put together, I’ll mention this again at the end, I put together a toolkit for your listeners, and I’ll give the address for the toolkit at the end here when we’re done. But in the toolkit of free tools is going to be a completed good-to-great grid with probably 15 examples on different metrics of what good versus great looks like on leadership, priority-setting, risk taking, vision, you name it, that’ll be available for your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Beautiful. Well, let’s see, we’ve covered some great stuff here. I also like to get your take on when I think about middle managers, when there is that tension, that up, down, sideways, all over the place, like how do you really get something done in a big organization? What are some of the best practices, insights, takeaways, in pulling that off?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, maybe this one will surprise you, maybe it won’t, and it’s tied to…I also wanted to offer up the best tip that I get for leading down in an organization when you have employees, and this is tied to your question. And this is the question I most often get, by far, for people, new managers of others, I bet you can even guess it, Pete, is, “How do I give feedback and do it well?” And we know that also correlates with productivity in an organization because every manager knows they have to give feedback, everybody knows that. When you’re a boss of others, that’s part of the job.

We’re wired to not do it well. And the ability to get things done, if you don’t want to just do it yourself and burn yourself out, it has to come, of course, through others. But if you want to do that well, you have to be able to correct and mold that and do that through feedback. So, the two things are intertwined.

And what I always tell people is, “The rules are pretty simple.” And I go deep into this in Leading from the Middle. But if you want to master feedback, Pete, here’s a couple of simple rules. You got to be specific. My grandpa used to say, “White bread ain’t nutritious.” Feedback is the same way. Meaning if it’s generic and bland, no one is going to get any value from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Take more initiative.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, right. That’s right. Right. If it’s more like whole grain bread, your feedback, if it’s filled with nutrients and it’s specific and granular, people are going to appreciate that and grow from that. Your feedback has to be sincere. If it comes from the heart, it sticks in the mind. It has to be calibrated. When you give people that feedback, if it’s corrective feedback, Pete, they’re going to assume the worst from it if you don’t put it in context.

For example, let’s say, Pete, I’m giving you feedback on your podcast, and I say, “You know, Pete…” I’m making this up, “…your microphone levels are always too low,” which is not true. You have incredible sound but let’s pretend I’m telling you that. Now, I could just leave it there and then you, as a podcaster, what you most likely are going to do, like most human beings, is take that to the worst place possible, “My mic levels are too low, which means I’m a loser, which means no one will listen to my podcast.”

Like, if I don’t calibrate you on that and say something like, “Now, Pete, where you are in your life in podcasting, it’s very normal to have your mic levels too low. Lots of podcasters make that mistake, so just work on getting the mic levels right.” Or, if I really want you to get the message, I got to calibrate you and say, “You know, Pete, you got to understand, if you don’t fix this right away, we’ve talked about this before, you won’t have a podcast show anymore.” Those are two different ways to calibrate the feedback.

And if you don’t provide that context, people will go to the worst possible scenario. Another important rule…

Pete Mockaitis
And to that.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, please. Go, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love it, we’re talking about specificity, it could really be potent if you say, “Hey, man, negative 20 to negative 16 LUFS is the standard. And if someone’s listening to your show, and then another show, they’re going to have to be fiddling with the volume, and that’s not a great listener experience.” And so, I can really see, like, “Oh, who cares? You just crank the volume. It’s all good.” It’s like, “Here’s kind of the implication of what that means, why it matters, and why we are even bothering to talk about it.”

And I think that’s huge too in terms of really, really hitting that. And you’re right, we can take it to the worst place possible, and if we’re not feeling like an artist and solely thinking like an engineer, “Out of specification, hmm, rectify,” then you can totally blow right past that, and now you realize you’ve devastated somebody.

Scott Mautz
That’s exactly right. And even, by the way, the last point on giving feedback, even if you have to give that kind of harsh piece of feedback, it can be devastating, like you say, Pete, if you don’t put the right context around it. You also have to remember, kind of the last straw I’ll share today is being proportionate about it. Research is now showing us very clearly, Pete, that for every one piece of corrective feedback you give somebody, you got to have five pieces of reinforcing and positive feedback.

Now, the exception to the rule is if you’ve been working with somebody forever one-on-one, and you have trust to the gills, filled, and you can say anything to each other, you probably don’t have to follow the five-to-one rule but that’s not most of us. It’s a pretty powerful thing to keep in mind in influencing down.

I have one power tip for leading across. You tell me if you want me to go there next or if you wanted to take a pause.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it, yeah.

Scott Mautz
Okay. So, because I promised I would give your listeners one tip up, down, and across, the final is across. How do you lead from the middle, Pete, when you don’t have authority over people but you want them to do what you want them to do? How do you do that with no formal authority? And to do that, I want to share the golden rule of influence, incredibly powerful. It’s what I branded it, and I first learned about the concept, the general concept from another author by the name of Dan Schwartz, and I took it and ran with it, and I think of it as a golden rule of influence because it’s so important.

And to teach that to your listeners, we’re going to do a little test with you right now, Pete. So, I want you, Pete, to think of somebody in your life that has been very influential, had a ton of influence over you, preferably in the professional range for now, but you didn’t report to them, they weren’t your boss. All right. So, let me know when you have that person roughly in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got him.

Scott Mautz
Okay. Let’s take a test now. Did that person, were they so influential because they did any of these four things? Did they care, listen, give, and teach? How many of those four apply?

Pete Mockaitis
All four, yup.

Scott Mautz
That’s what we find out is usually the case. If you want to have influence over people, over whom you have no formal authority, Pete, you care, you listen, you give them something, you teach them something. I promise you that will be influential to them. And if you serve that, you don’t have to worry about the rule of reciprocity, that they will then give you what you need back, they’ll feel compelled. They’ll want to not on reciprocity, just out of the fact that so few people do those four things for their peers and for their teammates.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful especially in a world where there’s too much to do. And how do you choose? Well, if there’s someone that goes, “Hey, that guy is just awesome to me. They all look the same to me but it’s coming from someone who’s been great to me, I guess I’ll do that first.”

Scott Mautz
That’s well said, Pete. Well said. So, they have an up, down, and across, man. That’s just a few tips to help you lead from the middle.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, let’s hear a few of your favorite things now. How about a favorite quote?

Scott Mautz
Oh, my favorite quote is probably “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Love that from author Charles Swindoll.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Scott Mautz
My favorite book is, I’m not allowed to say my own, or I’m not going to because that’s just kind of ridiculous, but I have to admit I’m still a big fan of Good to Great by Jim Collins. It influenced the creation of the good-to-great grid I was talking about earlier, and I still find that to be a watermark, watershed book.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Scott Mautz
Oh, my favorite habit, by far, is actually killing an old habit, which is it used to be that I would compare, too often, Pete, to make irrelevant comparisons to other human beings. We know that 10% of the human thought goes towards comparisons most often to other people and to irrelevant comparisons that don’t matter that force us to beat ourselves up. So, my favorite habit now is when I catch myself comparing to others, I simply say to myself, “The only comparison that matters is who I was yesterday and whether or not I’m becoming a better version of myself.”

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

Scott Mautz
ScottMautz.com. And I mentioned before that I put together a toolkit for your listeners, Pete, to help them lead from the middle, to help them influence up, down, and across the organization. If they go to ScottMautz.com/freetools, that’s all one word, freetools with no space in between it, they can get that, all that valuable stuff – ScottMautz.com/freetools.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Scott, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for coming on back and good luck with all your leading.

Scott Mautz
Right on. Thanks a lot, Pete. Thanks for what you do. It’s a great show.

275: How to Manage Your Manager with Mary Abbajay

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

Mary Abbajay says: "If you don't know what your boss' priorities are... sit down and have a conversation."

Mary Abbajay shares how to manage up, understand who your boss is, and adapt to different personality types.

You’ll Learn:

  1. One tiny, yet powerful, thing you can do to differentiate yourself from 99% of employees
  2. Obstacles to managing up
  3. Strategies for dealing with difficult bosses

About Mary

Mary Abbajay is the president and co-founder of Careerstone Group, LLC, a woman-owned, full service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to the public and private sectors. She currently serves on the regional Market President’s Board of BB&T Bank. She was Chairman of the Board for Leadership Greater Washington where she led the adult Signature program, the Youth Leadership Program and the Rising Leaders Program.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Mary Abbajay Interview Transcript

Pete Mocakitis
Mary, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Mary Abbajay
Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be on this podcast and to meet you and, hopefully, have a little bit of fun today.

Pete Mocakitis
Oh, yes. Well, I certainly think we will. And speaking of fun, I understand you co-founded and co-owned a fun spot in DC. What’s the Toledo Lounge all about?

Mary Abbajay
Oh, digging up my past, are you, Pete?

Pete Mocakitis
Yeah.

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, it’s my claim to fame. Yeah, you know, it’s funny. My sister and I opened a bar, I want to say, it was in the ‘90s, that shows you how old I am. And it was called the Toledo Lounge because it was our home town was Toledo, Ohio and we’re in Washington, DC and we thought DC was a little too self-important so we’re going to open up a little dive bar. And our little dive bar turned into this huge raging success, packed every night, and we ran it for like 13 years.

But I only worked there for a couple of years. But the best part about it was that a lot of the people that came back then in the ‘90s, the mid to late ‘90s, are now very famous people that you see in TV all the time. And I knew them when they were just young drunk people.

Pete Mocakitis
That’s great. And so what’s the status of the Toledo Lounge today?

Mary Abbajay
We sold it a couple of years ago. So I worked at it for a couple of years, and it’s really, really boring, let me tell you, to own a bar. But we kept it running, my husband’s brother ran it for like 10 or 12 years, and then we sold it. And the people that bought it tried to keep it as the Toledo Lounge but everybody knew, without the sisters there, it wasn’t very good. So they didn’t do well and they had to close it.

But I will tell you, one of the reasons I opened the bar was because I was really tired of having really bad bosses, and I thought, “You know what, I can be my own bad boss.” So actually looking back it was kind of a pivotal moment in my life in terms of what I went on to do afterwards.

Pete Mocakitis
Well, that’s cool, yes. And so, tell us, orienting quickly a bit, what is it you’re doing now afterwards in the world of professional development?

Mary Abbajay
Yes, so what we do, I own a little company. I have about five people in my team, and we do organizational development and professional development trainings. So I like to say we do one or two things. We’re either helping organizations to create environments where people can be really successful, can be engaged, can do great work, or we are helping the people be able to be great workers and bring their full self and be really successful in the work life. So we help people play well together and we help people play well.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. Excellent. And so along those lines you’ve got this book Managing Up, an important topic. What is it all about and why is it important now?

Mary Abbajay
Oh, gosh. So I think it’s very important now for a couple of reasons. Well, first of all, it’s important because managing up is an essential skill for your career, right? You have one career and it’s up to you to manage it. And part of what’s going to help your career is your boss, like your boss actually matters. Your boss has a lot of influence over your career trajectory, a lot of influence over the kind of opportunities that come your way.

So it’s really incumbent on you to really develop that relationship, right? And it’s about what you can do. And the other reason I think it’s important now is I think we’ve gone really far to the employee engagement side which is a great thing. I’m all about that. And I think that we have lost or some of us have lost sort of the understanding that we have to bring our best selves to work as well and that we can’t really wait or expect our leaders and our managers in our organizations to do everything for us. We’re partners in that.

And so Managing Up I think is important, especially the demographics of the workplace change, to remind people that, “Hey, it’s not all on the organization to do everything for you. You have to bring some stuff as well.”

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. And so, then, I think for some who have never managed up, that maybe require a little bit of paradigm shift.

Mary Abbajay
Yeah.

Pete Mocakitis
Like, “Is that even appropriate?” So maybe you can start there in terms of what is the appropriate way in terms of broad mindset and perspective to think about the extent to which we should be managing our bosses and how that works?

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, that’s a great question and it does require a paradigm shift for many people. So the first thing you want to think about is, “Who is your boss? And what are you willing to do to adapt to your boss?” And when we talk of managing up, I want to say a lot of people have a misconception about it. They think it’s about brownnosing or manipulating or sucking up or being a bootlicker or anything like that. And it’s really not that at all.

In fact, if you are doing that, you actually aren’t managing up. You’re just being a manipulative, you know, brownnoser.

What managing up is it’s about building consciously and deliberatively a robust relationship with people who are higher in the food chain with you, and these are people that have different perspectives, probably different priorities, they may have different work styles. So it’s about looking at how your boss likes to work, how you like to work, and assessing that gap and then taking adaptive strategies to really work well with your boss.

And the thing is, Pete, it’s actually about being a really good follower. And in America, we hate the word, the effort, right? We hate the follower word because we love leaders in America, right? Leaders, we teach it, we preach it. It’s a $14 billion with a B industry. But with all those leaders, who’s doing the work, right? Who’s following?

So it’s about really understanding how you can close that gap in power and structure and to build that relationship. It’s about becoming an empowered follower, right? Being adaptive.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. Understood. And so, then, it sounds like you’re suggesting that, in many ways, it’s just about getting the clear understanding of how you work, how boss works, and how that can work well together. So can you maybe give us a bit of an example in terms of, “Hey, here’s something that could be causing a bit of friction and the optimal way to address it”?

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, I mean, it goes from things as simple as understanding what’s important to your boss. Okay, so, for me, and we have a consulting company. So, for me, clients are important. We live and die by our clients. We love our clients. Like I’ll do anything for a client within reason and that’s legal, right? That’ll be helpful.

And one of the things that’s important to me is that they know that we’re there for them. So I really expect my team to, if a client emails us, to get back to them pretty quickly. You don’t have to have their answer but you have to acknowledge their email or their communication.

So if you know that’s important to me, then you need to do that. And so, for example, it’s also important for me, as a boss, that I know that you got my email, and you better say you got it instead of just waiting for weeks and then later saying, “Oh, yeah, I got it.” So it’s those little things like that, like knowing those preferences and what matters and adapting to them.

It could be that to like really big things. Like what are the priorities that your boss wants to accomplish? What are their goals? And how are you aligning your work to achieve their goals? It’s really important that we don’t sit around and wait for the boss that we wish we had. Instead, we have to deal with the boss that we do have.

And while bosses should adapt to you, like a great boss should adapt to you if you are a morning person, they should be a morning person as well. The truth is, only 33% of bosses adapt to their employees. So you might be waiting a long time. We have to say, “Stop waiting for the unicorn and deal with the boss you have.”

And the other thing that’s really important is we have to understand that most organizations, as I’m sure your listeners know, most organizations promote people based on their technical skills and not their managerial skills. So your chances of getting a boss who’s not perfect are pretty high in the workplace. So instead of sitting around and waiting for that boss to be perfect, you want to use adaptive skills and use adaptive strategies because, by the way, you’re going to need those when you’re the boss if you want to be a great boss.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. Well, in a way it seems like these conversations, associated with managing up, are nothing to be feared. In fact, your boss will probably feel delighted, you know, “What a breath of fresh air that you’re proactively asking me things like, ‘Hey, what are your priorities? What are your goals? What are your preferences?’” And so are there any sort of best practice ways to elicit that information or you just ask the question? There it is.

Mary Abbajay
You just go in. And, you know, you’re right about being a breath of fresh air. So we’ve been doing Managing Up workshops for about 10 years and talking with leaders of all sorts and regular people, everybody. And I can literally, Pete, count on one hand the number of leaders or managers that have told me that one of their employees had that conversation with them, on one hand.

And I’ve probably talked about this subject to literally 5,000, 6,000 people. So, yeah, it’s something people don’t do. And it’s so easy to do. So that’s my first tip takeaway, listeners, is if you don’t know what your boss’ priorities are, or you think you do even, sit down and have a conversation. Go for a cup of coffee. Find out what’s important to her. Find out what he likes. Find out what her pet peeves are.

It’s really important to find out and take that in, and then see what you can do to either honor those priorities or avoid those pet peeves.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. So that’s interesting. So, I guess, mathematically speaking, you know, you actually ask the question, “Hey, raise your hand if this has ever happened to you in your career.” And you just don’t get many hands raised.

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, that’s exactly right. And when we were doing the book, I interviewed hundreds of people just for the book, and all the people I interviewed that really is are managers, I asked them, “Has an employee ever sat down with you and asked you about your workplace preferences or your style?” And, again, like nobody said yes. Like two people said yes.

Pete Mocakitis
Wow.

Mary Abbajay
It’s crazy.

Pete Mocakitis
Well, that is striking, you know, because I figured, you know, you’d be the minority, right? But to be in the ballpark of under 1% is striking.

Mary Abbajay
It’s crazy, yeah.

Pete Mocakitis
And so, oh, wow, what a takeaway right there in terms of it don’t take much to really stand out and be supremely impressive.

Mary Abbajay
I know. Because the truth is to be awesome at your job, you have to be awesome at your job. And, as you know, like the world isn’t a meritocracy, right? So you also have to be awesome at that relationship, and that’s one way to be awesome at that relationship.

And what gets in the way, I think, for people managing up, so whenever we do a workshop where I give a talk on it, there’s always a couple of people that are like, you know, “I object. This is stupid” And what happens is that we get in our own way. So one thing that gets in our own way is our ego gets in our way.
We get caught in this trap of like, “Well, you know, my boss should give me more information,” or, “My boss should know what I’m working on,” or, “My boss should be more proactive in reaching out to me,” right?

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, right? If your boss isn’t, then you have to be the one that adapts and goes to ask for what you need. And those that gets in the way, “You know, we feel like it takes extra effort.” Like when we talk about a micromanager like, yes, managing up is going to create extra work on your plate. But it’s extra work that’s going to be good for you, your boss, and the organization. So that gets in the way.

And then the last thing that gets in the way, besides your own ego and our own sort of like desire not to have to do it, is perspective. And so what we talked about in the beginning, having the right paradigm and the mind frame, is we have to start being able to look at things from other people’s perspective. And your boss has a different perspective. They have a different skillset probably, definitely a different experience. They sit in a different place in the organization. They probably have different pressures.

And so once we can get out of just our own narrow perspective, which may or may not be right, and we can actually do a little empathy, a little like, “Huh, I wonder what the world looks like from Pete’s angle?” Whatever expands our choices and what kind of strategies we can use for our boss.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. That is good stuff in terms of what an opportunity for differentiation. And with regard to taking the time, my hunch is that you may find yourself having saved time because by getting a real clear sense of the goals and priorities, you can go, “Oh, so this other stuff doesn’t really matter that much, so I could maybe just put that on the bottom of my list and not worry about it and nothing explosively bad will happen to me as we go.”

Mary Abbajay
That’s exactly right. And oftentimes, you know, what you think is important and what your boss thinks are important maybe really different. So you’re absolutely right. It can save you time by understanding what they care about and what you can kind of let go off and not spinning your wheels on things that they don’t really care about.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. That’s powerful. Well, so I guess when I think about managing up, I guess, my first thing that my brain goes to is, “All right, boss is doing something annoying, troublesome, unprofessional, rude,” just that is driving you nuts in one way or another, you know. And so you got to have that tricky conversation with a conflict, but then there’s a power dynamic in which you are on a lower – so that’s the first thing I think of when I hear managing up. I go right to the most dramatic, unpleasant.

Mary Abbajay
Worst-case scenario.

Pete Mocakitis
I’m glad we started easy, like, “Do that thing. Be a 1% professional and have that conversation.” But then when things get into the tricky territory, like, you know, I’m thinking, let’s say, there’s a complete lack of clarity. Here’s an example, there’s a total lack of clarity associated with decision-making roles, associated with a group collaborative project, and you say, “Hey, boss, this is kind of driving us all nuts. We don’t know who’s in charge, and then you just say, ‘Hey, just collaborate.’ And it’s like we decide we need to know. We need to know who’s got the decision-making authority and what kinds of areas?” but the boss isn’t giving it.

This is super detailed example but I’m just saying I think that this does happen in which you want something from the boss, you’ve asked for something from the boss, the boss gives you sort of an answer that’s not really satisfactory or sufficient. How do you get what you need?

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, that’s a great question. So there’s a couple of things in that example. First of all, you have to frame requests correctly. Okay, so, and you did a nice job in that. So you want to go to the boss and what you don’t want to say is, “You need to do this,” because that doesn’t fly very well.

So you want to go and say, “Hey, boss, so we need your help, or I need your help,” if it’s you or the team. Make sure you’re speaking, “We’re unclear about who is responsible for buying the apples for the company picnic, and we’re also not sure on the budget, or if we have the authority to actually go buy the apples. Can you clarify that for us? That would be really helpful.”

Pete Mocakitis
“Well, Mary, just figure this out. I can’t be in the weeds on all of this stuff with you, Mary.”

Mary Abbajay
“Oh, got it. All right. So that’s perfect. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to buy the apples, I’m going to spend $50, I’m putting them on your credit card. Is that acceptable?” So when they say that, then you come right back, and you say, “Here’s my plan. Does this work for you?”

I mean, in some ways, if your boss isn’t giving you information because they’re kind of like, “I’m too big of a picture. Go figure it out,” which, by the way, is the kind of boss I am. Then you need to come back with that boss and say, “Here’s what we’re doing. I’m going to be in charge of this, or George is going to be in charge of this.”

So it depends on what kind of boss you have. If it’s that kind of boss who wants you to figure it out, then you need to go figure it out but tell that person what you did. If your boss is just hard to pin down, then you need to go and say, “Here’s what I need, and here’s why I need it.”

Pete Mocakitis
Okay.

Mary Abbajay
Does that make sense?

Pete Mocakitis
Understood.

Mary Abbajay
So you’ve got be a boss detective. You’ve got to know who you’re dealing with when you go have those conversations. Like it drives me crazy. So I’m definitely a hands-off boss. I am, until I’m not. And so I want them to go figure it out, and I want them to come back to me with options. Like I don’t want to have to hold their hands. But they know that about me because I tell them every day. But you have to know who your boss is.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. I’m with there. So, now, you’ve done a little bit of categorizations associated with bosses and types, any boss, naughty boss, some work style personalities. Could you give us the quick orientation to these concepts to see sort of who we’re dealing with here?

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, if you can’t label your boss, who can you label anymore in this world, right? So we cover some different – we take Managing Up from the perspective of personality and work styles because that’s really what you see. And so what we did, what I did, is really broke people down to a couple different personality types, and then we went and took after that, then we went and talked about 10 difficult boss types.

So the main personality types are introversion or extroversion, so that’s very helpful to know that. Then we went and talked about four work styles. And one work style was what we call the advancer, and the advancer is the person that’s – I’m an advancer, for example – fast-paced, task-oriented, wants to get a lot of stuff done quickly, doesn’t really want a lot of, you know, soft huggy muggy relationship building.

I love my people but I don’t want to talk to them all the time about it. And just really focuses on tasks and getting things done, and wants to make decisions quickly, very pragmatic, move the ball forward all the time.

Then another boss type is also very fast-paced. We call this boss the influencer or the enthusiasts. And this boss is about high energy, moving things forward, but moving with people. So the kind of a cheerleader, like the inspirational person, loves to take risks, loves to innovate, loves to do different things, and wants it done with people along their side. So fast-paced and people-oriented.

Then the third type that we talk about, these are the people that we call them the evaluators. So they slow it down, you know, they’re the efficient perfectionist, they’re task-oriented, so not warm and fuzzy but not cold. They love the details, they want things done right, they’re like the measure twice, then measure twice again, and then cut once. We call these the evaluators. Different energy, and what they care about is getting things right every single time.

And then the last boss that we talk about is people-oriented. They are people-oriented and they are also moderate pace. So they want to kind of slow things down, they care about the people. These are the people that want to build team, they want to make sure everybody is happy, they don’t want to make anybody unhappy, and they want to get things right, and they want everyone to be secure. And this boss we call the harmonizer.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. Understood. And so, then, once I know that, I imagine you’re saying, “Go ahead and give them what they want.”

Mary Abbajay
Yeah, so, for example, if your boss is an advancer like me, and they are fast-paced and they want to get stuff done, and they don’t want to be huggy muggy, and they don’t want a lot of chitchat, they want decisions made. Then you want to really pay attention to that personality and do things that work best with them.

For example, if your boss is always impatient and in a hurry and just wants stuff done, when you go into their office, don’t sit down, fall of on a chair, and then just chitchat for 15 minutes. We’ll want to punch you in the face. You want to be able to like go in, be brief, be business-like and be gone. So you want to pay attention to different personalities and work styles so you know what works for these bosses.

For example, if you have an energizer boss, one of the qualities of this boss is they’re optimistic, they’re enthusiastic. And they’re going to come in, Pete, they’re going to be like, “Wow, let’s do this new idea. Let’s put an office on the moon.” And you’re going to be tempted to be like, “That’s dumb,” and be a wet blanket.

And so you can’t do that with that boss. You’d have to say, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea, and we may have some challenges.” So you want to know that you’re working with them and not against them in a way. So you want to find out what your boss is and adopt strategies that are going to work for that boss that doesn’t push them away from you.

Pete Mocakitis
Okay. Very good. Well, then, now I want to hear about there’s some things that are just bad behavior, you know, no matter what your work style is, things that can be disrespectful, just mean. And so how do you handle those tricky ones?

Mary Abbajay
When you’re the mean person or when your boss has the bad behavior?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the boss is mean, you know, the boss seems to just have little regard for you and others as human beings and steals credits, publicly shames, they’re just like all the naughty things the boss does.

Mary Abbajay
So when you have a boss that does that, you want to think about the spectrum of behavior. So on the one end, you have the good boss, they’re easy. They might do that once in a while or occasionally like be snippy. Then you have those bosses in the middle that might do this behavior frequently. Like we call those the difficult bosses, like the narcissists, the impulsive, the pushovers, we have some difficult bosses.

But then you have, on the other end of the spectrum, I put it like the red, like, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson.” We have what we call the truly terrible, and these are the psychos, the crazies, the bullies, the people that are screaming at you, the egomaniacs. Now they’re a whole another category of bosses. And with those bosses, it’s not so much about managing up as is about surviving.

And I talk about, I always caution people like it’s okay to quit. I think you want to talk about that later but, you know, if you have truly psycho behavior on your hands, or behavior that is just not acceptable, then you don’t have a lot of choices. You can’t do much managing up. You have to choose to protect yourself.

But if the boss is kind of snippy, well, maybe you need to look at, “Are they really snippy or are you just taking it the wrong way?” So you have to kind of assess the behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then can you help us make that distinction between, well, what’s kind of tricky, okay, there’s this sort of snippy every once in a while, they’re in a mood versus truly terrible? I think it might be eye-opening for some in terms of if you can just sort of lay it out in terms of these are behaviors or examples that tend to be almost unworkable and, thus, it’s time to explore the exit.

Mary Abbajay
Yeah. So, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever read any Eckhart Tolle. I love his stuff. He said that human beings have – he wrote The Power of Now – human beings have three choices when they’re faced with a difficult situation. Choice number one is you can change the situation or you can, choice number two is you can adapt to accept the situation, or, choice number three, is you can leave the situation.

And so when you’re talking about someone who’s truly terrible, you know, screaming, raging bully, then there’s not much you can do to change other people. There’s nothing you can do to change other people. And in terms of your choices about going to HR, for example, those are pretty risky as we’re seeing now with the MeToo, and it gets even riskier the smaller kind of business you work in.

So maybe if you work for a really large company with a robust HR department it might have some traction. Going to you boss’ boss is also a little risky. Your boss’ boss probably hired that person and they may not be as supportive as you want.

So the next choice is to accept and adapt it, right? And when the behavior is so bad, like if they are screaming at you on a daily basis, when you are feeling demeaned, when you are feeling sick, when you are physically and emotionally strung out, when you are planning your day more about how to survive than how to thrive, it may be time for you to take that third option which is to leave.

And this is a very difficult choice for many people but quitting is always an option. And quitting as an option, more people I do think need to consider. I mean, look, you spend most of your waking hours, most of us spend at work, and those should be good waking hours. And those should be hours where you’re alive, and you’re doing great stuff, and you’re feeling great, and you’re contributing to something.

If you have a boss that’s truly terrible, that’s irredeemable, then we really do – you need to leave because you will become sick. I mean, there are studies after studies that have shown how toxic bosses make people physically and mentally sick. You need to get out if you have one of those.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Now, you used the word irredeemable, and I would love to get your take on, if you do need to have a tough conversation, like, “Hey, you know, every other week or so you say,” the boss says something that’s just kind of super hurtful.

Mary Abbajay
Terrible? Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just terrible. So I guess there are some things that could be in the blind spot of the boss or, you know, they just – it’s hard to know. It’s like, “Yeah, I know I do it. I don’t care,” versus, “Oh, I had no idea I was being interpreted that way.”

Mary Abbajay
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So how do you dance in that world of providing feedback in the hopes that a boss will change a behavior?

Mary Abbajay
So it depends on the relationship you have with your boss and it depends on your boss. Like can you imagine someone like – take Donald Trump, for example. There are certain people that can give him feedback and there are certain people that can’t give him feedback, right, from what we read in the news. And he’s a pretty powerful boss, he’s the President of the United States, so it’s about your relationship.

If you have the kind of relationship that you can give feedback then you want to do it, you want to do it privately, you want to have that conversation, you want to make it so that you are showing your intention as to make them successful, and your intention is to also let them know that you’re on their side and you’re going to, have a request of a different behavior.

But let me also caution that if the boss is truly terrible, they may not take that feedback well. If you really believe that it’s a blind spot and they don’t know, that’s good. But if they are truly a bully or a true really heavy narcissist, that conversation may backfire on you, so you want to be really careful. Also, you want to look at, “Are you the only one being targeted or is it everybody?”

So that conversation is very difficult and that’s a case-by-case situation. And if you do have that conversation, be prepared for it not to go well and role-play it first. Because the truth is a lot of people might just say what you did. They might just say, “I’m a screamer. I don’t care.” So now the choice is clear for you.

You can either stay there and deal with the screaming, right, and kind of put on your golden work shield every day so it doesn’t impact you, or you can choose to leave. And the other thing you have to do is assess, “Is it worth it?”

So I know a lot of people would say, “I would never work for someone who screams, or belittles me, or embarrasses me in front of people, or is a narcissist.” Well, then a lot of people would never have worked for Steve Jobs, right, because that’s pretty much how they described him. So only you can decide what you’re willing to put up with and what is worth it to you.

But what I don’t want people to do is think that they don’t have choice. Really, at the end of the day, I want people to be in choice. You get to choose what adaptive strategies you use for your boss, and you get to choose how you want to be treated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very cool. Thank you. Now toward the end of the book you’ve got 50 tips for managing your manager. Can you share a couple of those that have been just supremely resonant with folks and helpful?

Mary Abbajay
Well, the first tip is really learn what your boss wants and adapt to it, right? It’s not about, if you’re waiting for yourself to adapt, if you’re waiting for your boss to adapt to you, you might be waiting for a very long time. So you want to really find out what’s important to him or her and see what you can adapt.

You want to bring solutions not problems. And depending on what kind of boss you have, it will depend what kind of solutions you’ll have. So, for example, if you have an advancer or you have an extrovert, then you’ll want to go and bring a couple of solutions.

So one thing that people tend to do in the workplace is they tend to complain. But inside every kind of complaint is request. So don’t bring a problem without a solution, and don’t bring a complaint without a request. I mean, these are just classics. And they’re classic because they work.

The other thing is respecting your boss’ time. When you walk into her or his office, you want to be clear and prepared about what you need. Because in addition to managing you and others, your boss most likely has her own tasks to accomplish so know what you need from your boss and then get out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Mary Abbajay
Make sure you align your priorities. You know, oftentimes we get stuck in our own priorities and we’re not shifting for our boss’. Being proactive is huge, and that means really – you know, when my staff is proactive, I love it when they look at my calendar and like, “Oh, you know, Mary is doing a podcast. Let’s get on top of things that she might need for that before she asks us for that.” So being proactive is always a way it’s going to make you stand out.

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

Mary Abbajay
I would like to talk a little bit about and give one specific strategy about what I see is the boss that most people hate the most.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, let’s do it.

Mary Abbajay
All right. So the micromanager is the one that comes up all the time about the one that drives people crazy. The micromanager is the boss that’s always over your shoulder, that is always telling you what to do, doesn’t give you an authority, and is just on you all the time.

And most people find this really frustrating, because we like to have some autonomy at work, right? We like to stretch our own creative muscles and we like to be able to make our own decisions. And so the micromanager, well, is probably the most annoying to most people. It’s also the easiest one to manage up to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Mary Abbajay
And do you want me to tell you how to do it?

Pete Mockaitis
Please do, yeah.

Mary Abbajay
All right. So it’s so obvious, Pete. What would you think you would do if you ever had a micromanager?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Yes.

Mary Abbajay
And how did you handle it? What did you do? Aside from being frustrated.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I just continually tried to anticipate what they were going to ask and need, and then just like over-did everything.

Mary Abbajay
Dude, you go it. You could’ve co-wrote the book. And that’s so easy but most people are like, “I’m resisting this. Like I don’t want to do this. It’s unfair.” But you need to flood them with information before they ask. You need to anticipate this behavior. You’re not going to change them right away. Either it’s based on their lack of trust of you, or they just need to know, so stop resisting it and just give them the information before they ask. Give them as much as you can, whenever you can, and find out what’s important to them.

And a lot of times you will gain their trust once they see that – and do things their way. If they like the Oxford comma, use the Oxford comma, but it’s really about being forthright, proactive, and giving them information before they ask.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it. Thank you.

Mary Abbajay
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Mary Abbajay
Oh, yeah, oh, that’s a hard one. So I think, and I’m not going to get it exactly right. I tried to find it before this. But it’s from Cher, it was something that I read years ago when I was younger trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and she said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I just kept not doing the things I didn’t want to do, and pretty soon I was doing the things that I wanted to do.”

And I really like that because I think your career is a journey, and it’s a marathon, and I think that there’s a lot of pressure to know exactly what you want to do as soon as you get out of school. So for those of us who took us a little while to figure out what you do, just keep trying different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Mary Abbajay
Well, you know, I’m really into lately, I’m really into like the neuroscience of emotions and interactions. So there’s some great work being done by people like David Rock that really they’re pinpointing like what parts of your brain lights up with different emotions and what human beings need. So it’s actually giving the hard science to what people call the soft skills and the soft science. So I’m really into that lately.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And how about a favorite book?

Mary Abbajay
Well, you know, I’m an English major so this is like choosing a favorite child so I’m going to say I’m going to go fiction, being an old English major, and my favorite book, I would to say, is a book called Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. And I love this book because it’s a story of a woman and her life just – most of us would be like, “Oh, my God, how horrible. Terrible things have happened to her.”

By the end of the book, she is blessed and thankful for everything that her life brought to her, and I just really like that sort of embracing what life is and never letting yourself be a victim.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Mary Abbajay
So I couldn’t do my job without Google. Like let’s just give old-fashioned Google a big shout out. And I think I’m really lately into something called the Pomodoro Method, I’m kind of old school here, which is this 25-minute productivity tool where it forces you to work for 25 minutes straight without answering email and I’m loving that.

And then, of course, I don’t know what I would do without my Starbucks pre order app because I hate waiting in lines. So those are three favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, something that helps you flourish?

Mary Abbajay
My favorite habit. I take a walk. Well, I’m a 10,000-step girl, right? So I try to get my 10,000 steps in every single day. In fact, when I’m going to this podcast, even though it’s raining, I got 1300 more steps to get in today. But I really find walking for about 45 minutes to an hour every day is something that really keeps me sane.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And is there a particular nugget or piece that you share that seems to get quoted back to you frequently?

Mary Abbajay
Oh, God. Yeah, there’s a lot. But I’m thinking lately, people always say that I say, “Just do it. Just do it. Like don’t complain. Just do it. Make it work. Figure it out and take control of your life.”

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

Mary Abbajay
Okay, if they want to learn more about me, they can either go to Twitter @maryabbajay, they can go to my website, either careerstonegroup.com or managingupthebook. But if you want to get in touch with me, I’m kind of old school and I do like to email. It kind of runs my life. So if you need to talk to me, you can email me mary@careerstonegroup.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Mary Abbajay
I do. It’s kind of a two-fold. One is adapt. It’s really important to be awesome at your job, to always be willing to adapt, to be able to accept change, to be able to look around, be strategic and adapt to what is. As we know from biology, that in evolution, that people who adapt, people who could be flexible are the people that were going to be around for the long haul.

And the second one, which I feel very strongly about, is take responsibility. And I mean this in two ways. I think people need to take responsibility for gaining the skills that they need to be awesome at their job, they take responsibility that they’re always developing their career and their skills, and responsibility for driving their career.

And we all need to take responsibility for our impact in the world and our impact in other people. It’s about understanding, separating your intention from your impact. And to be someone that impacts in a positive way, which I like to say leaves a positive wake after every encounter with people so that people feel great about you, about the encounter, but mostly so people feel great about themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, Mary, thank you so much for taking this time and writing this book. I think it’s going to be transformative for a lot of folks in terms of relationships improved, fast tracks joined and some bosses left. So everybody wins no matter which way it goes. So much appreciated and please keep up the great work.

Mary Abbajay
Thank you. And, Pete, you are a doll face. It was so much fun to be in your show. Thank you again for having me and I wish you the best.

145: Encouraging Innovation through Conflict with Jeff DeGraff

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Jeff DeGraff says: "The people who love all the stuff you do are probably not very helpful."

Professor Jeff DeGraff shows how to stir up some constructive conflict to encourage innovative thinking in the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The extraordinary value of arguing
  2. Who are the four types of people at the workplace and what creative tensions emerge among them
  3. Effective ways to create constructive conflict at work

About Jeff

Jeff DeGraff is called the Dean of Innovation because of his influence on the field. Dr. DeGraff is a professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. He has advised hundreds of the world’s most prominent firms. He has founded a leading innovation institute, Innovatrium, with labs in Ann Arbor and Atlanta. Jeff’s thoughts on innovation are covered by Fortune, Wired and the Harvard Business Review to name a few. Jeff writes a column for Inc. magazine and has a regular segment on public radio called The Next Idea. He is the author of several books.

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