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770: How to Become the Manager that Your Team Wants with Russ Laraway

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Russ Laraway reveals how being a great manager is simpler than you think.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to sharing feedback that actually works
  2. How to get your manager to manage well
  3. Why you need to “prioritize prioritization” and how to do it

About Russ

Russ has had a diverse 28 year operational management career. He was a Company Commander in the Marine Corps before starting his first company, Pathfinders. From there, Russ went to the Wharton School, and then onto management roles at Google and Twitter. He then co-founded Candor, Inc., along with bestselling author Kim Scott.

Over the last several years, Russ served as the Chief People Officer at Qualtrics, and is now the Chief People Officer for the fast-growing venture capital firm, Goodwater Capital, where he is helping Goodwater and its portfolio companies to empower their people to do great work and be totally psyched while doing it. 

Over his career, Russ has managed 700 person teams and $700M businesses — facing a vast array of leadership challenges along the way. He’s the author of the book When They Win, You Win: Being a Great Manager Is Simpler Than You Think.

Resources Mentioned

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Russ Laraway Interview Transcript

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

Russ Laraway
Thanks a lot for having me, Pete. How are you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m doing well. How are you?

Russ Laraway
Great. Great. No complaints.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, I’m eager to get into your wisdom. But, first, I think we need to hear a story of a fifth-grade Russ winning a big prize. What’s the story here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I was watching cartoons after school one day on one of the UHF channels, which, for those that don’t know, your television, when it didn’t have cable or Roku or Netflix, your television had maybe seven channels. So, I was watching Channel 48 and they said that, “If you could answer the following riddle, you could win a shopping spree at Toys ‘R’ Us.”

And the riddle showed a picture of The Pink Panther. I don’t know if you remember The Pink Panther, and he was ice skating. And the riddle was, “The Pink Panther is skating on a pink blank.” And I was in fifth grade and I figured out that he was skating on a pink rink. I wrote that down, sent it into the TV station. And out of a couple hundred thousand entries, I was one of three kids who won a shopping spree at Toys “R” Us.

Pete Mockaitis
Hundreds of thousands of people got ranked and it didn’t occur to me immediately.

Russ Laraway
Well, I promise you, if you saw the picture, it would’ve been pretty clear, yeah. A couple hundred thousand entries, I don’t know how many of them were correct but there were a couple hundred thousand entries, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations. And that was, apparently, pretty memorable for you. Anything that you got there that was a really treasured item in your youth?

Russ Laraway
Oh, yeah, Atari 400. Yeah, I’m super dating myself with this story. But an Atari 400, I was able to get a bunch of games. It was a little weird. You couldn’t just run down an aisle. I think people imagine you can run down an aisle, just have your arm out and just scoop things into a cart. So, I won a one-minute shopping spree. There were two one-minutes and a two-minute. I won one of the one-minutes.

And I actually had to go around beforehand and pre-staged the items that I wanted. And so, we sort of identified an Atari 400 and then I just pulled it off the shelf a little bit, and some of the games and different things. So, I just kind of focused. And you had to get an item and then run back to the starting line with each item. So, you’re doing line win sprints.

And so, that’s how they, I guess, managed the cost a little bit because, in the end, the way I left Toys “R” Us that day was they rang us up, and then Channel 48 paid for the bill. It was like 500 bucks. So, you couldn’t just…the instincts everyone has to optimize a shopping spree, they figured them all out and made sure that I had to identify the things I wanted beforehand.

But the Atari 400, I mean, hours and hours of fun with my friends playing all the games, and that’s when the games were first starting to become higher quality at home, and so it was awesome. It was awesome. Atari was a big part. A big part of my youth.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, knowing what you want in advance is going to be one of our themes here on sort of both sides of the management equation with your latest book here When They Win, You Win: Being a Great Manager Is Simpler Than You Think, and we’re going to talk about how that’s handy for more than just managers, so thank you for that. So, lay it on us, for starters, what’s a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you’ve made about being a great manager?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, it’s actually that managers are systematically failing and, despite the mountains of content, books, podcasts, articles, they’re not getting any better. And I defend this pretty heavily in the book. And, by the way, I’m confident that your listeners aren’t going to have a lot of disagreement with that idea. Most of them are having actually quite a bad experience with their managers, almost guaranteed.

And so, I had this idea, Pete, hopefully, you’ll indulge me. I have a little fantasy. And the fantasy goes like this. Don’t worry, it’s G-rated. The fantasy goes like this. I get to sit down a few of the luminaries who create content designed to help managers be better at their jobs. I get to sit them down each, one on one, and I ask them a simple question, I say, “How does your stuff, whether it’s your book or your podcast, your article, how does your stuff contribute to making each manager in the world great?’

And then the fantasy continues. They’re going to use a bunch of different words but I suspect they’re going to…

Pete Mockaitis
Synergy, engagement, dah, dah, dah.

Russ Laraway
Yeah. Well, engagement is a really big deal. We can talk about that. It has a very strong relationship with business results, not attrition or retention stuff. That’s a symptom. But, actually, like quota attainment, or earnings per share, or operating margin. All these things have a very strong relationship with the psychological measurements, employee engagement but let’s come to that in a sec.

But you’re right, what I think they’ll say is something like this, “It’s akin to going through a buffet-style lunch line, and you’re at a leisurely pace, you have your tray on the rails there, and you’re moving from left to right, let’s say, and you take a little from one section, maybe we’ll call that the Simon section, and then you move to the next section, maybe the Brene section, I don’t know. And then we go to the next section, and maybe it’s the Kim section and kind of off you go. And then you have on your plate, ideally, a nutritious meal that allows you to solve all of your leadership problems.

The problem I think, though, is for the typical manager, it doesn’t feel at all like a leisurely trip through a buffet-style lunch line. Instead, it feels like they’re hogtied in the center of a middle school cafeteria while a multi-thousand-person food fight is transpiring, like broccoli hits them on the head, mashed potato sliding down their cheek. By the way, worse, even if they are going through that lunch line at a leisurely pace, they’re not choosing the chicken breast and broccoli they need. They’re choosing the cheesecake and cream puffs and chicken fried steak that they want. It’s a process heavily fraught with bias.

And so, I think, practically, the proliferation of content about how to be a great manager is actually confusing managers, and what is missing from the entire corpus, in my opinion, is really the willingness to put the leadership standard you are prescribing, whatever author, podcaster, whatever, up to measurable account. Good leadership should measurably and predictably deliver happier employees at work and better business results. And, ultimately, that’s kind of the book that I wrote, what’s exactly the book that I wrote. Does that help, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, yes. Okay, happy employees and better business results. And so, when you say managers are failing, what are the sort of core evidence or proof points that we’re looking to say, “That’s not happening”?

Russ Laraway
Yes. So, I’ll use a little bit of research to make this point. First is that Gallup, this is actually a 2013 study from Gallup. It’s called the State of Global Engagements, and I get to talk to the guy that did this study. His name is Larry Emond. And they found that managers explain 70% of engagement. And what that means is, in very large datasets, when you observe a positive variance from the average in employee engagement, 70% of that variance is explained uniquely by commensurate variance in manager quality.

So, if engagement is higher, managers are better. If engagement is lower, then the average in that spot, managers are worse. And so, even if you want to arbitrarily discount that to 50%, not that we have the credentials to do that, but that still means everything else you’re doing to try to affect employee engagement, this magical measurement from IO psychology that predicts results, everything else is worth less than half of the investments you make in your managers, 70%, less than half is 30%, the remainder.

If we arbitrarily discount it to 50%, I don’t know why, but we just do that, it’s everything else you’re doing is worth half of your investments in your manager. It’s pretty clear, managers are holding the keys. So, in either case, the research finding or our arbitrary discount. But here’s the thing that will kind of blow you away. Global employee engagement is 15%, that’s 15% out of a hundred. In the US, by the way, it’s twice as good and still terrible at 33%.

And so, you just have to put these two data points together. The manager drives employee engagement, and employee engagement is terrible around the world, and it’s pretty obvious that managers are systematically failing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. I hear you. From that data picture, there you have it. So, then what are the primary drivers of the disappointing manager performance?

Russ Laraway
That’s a great question. What, ultimately, we uncovered, and this was sort of a, call it a four-year long project while I was working at a company called Qualtrics. We were able to take a theoretical leadership standard, and really what I mean by that is a set of behaviors, and we were able to determine the degree to which those behaviors affect employee engagement.

And so, how we did that was every quarter, when we measured employee engagement at our company, we also measured something called manager effectiveness. And we did that by asking employees only, not 360, just the employees, the people who do the real work, the people we’re all fighting to attract, develop, and retain, the people who are being led, we asked them if they observed these behaviors from their manager in the last quarter, a specific set of behaviors. It’s about 12 questions we would ask them.

And it turns out, when you ask questions like that in a certain way, you can actually measure, basically, how frequently the managers, and individual managers, are exhibiting the right behaviors. And then once we have that measurement, we can actually just drop it into like a statistical package and correlate it with both engagement and hardcore results, like quota attainment, contract renewal, all these things. So, that’s what we did.

So, a couple of the behaviors that are highly correlated with employee engagement, the mostly highly correlated behavior is actually specific praise for good work. And so, the question might be, “How often does your manager give you specific praise for good work? Very often, often, etc.” And so, we give the manager credit for either one of those top two choices – very often or often – is kind of how you do it.

And so, the reason why that’s a big deal, though, is from a management perspective, it’s not being a cheerleader. A cheerleader is on the sideline, cheerleaders are pompoms, and they say, “Good job.” And I think to people that sounds like praise. It’s actually about coaching. Coaches are on the field or at least on the sidelines. It’s energetic. They’re right there and their entire job is to help people be more successful.

And in the book, I call it continue coaching, which is being very specific and sincere about what people should continue doing so that they have the best chance of repeating the things that are working. So, whether it’s the work products they’re producing, the customer service ticket, or the marketing copy, or the code they’re writing as a software development engineer, that’s the work. And the behaviors, our core values that our companies often define, the behavioral standards. And it turns out, it’s actually really important to be very explicit and clear about what people are doing well because it gives them the best chance to repeat it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that sounds sensible. And then when we say very often or often, are those defined in the eyes of the employee being managed?

Russ Laraway
Yes, eyes of the employee being managed.

Pete Mockaitis
They say, “I say that often, not very often, and that’s what we’re running with.”

Russ Laraway
Yeah. Yeah, that’s the most important perspective. And it’s irrelevant if the manager disagrees with the employee. If the manager is like, “Well, I do this all the time.” If you’re not doing it in a way your employees are hearing, then you’re actually not achieving. That’s why it’s so important to only evaluate the manager along these lines from the perspective of the employee.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and the employees, I assume, are genuinely reasonable, like, “Well, no, I mean, I went four hours without you giving me specific praise for my good work. That’s not very often.” Okay, well, that makes sense. Can you share with us a couple more sort of big drivers here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. The next biggest one is about soliciting feedback from the team. So, it turns out nobody wants to go to work and not be heard. And the idea here is have you ever heard of the HIPPO?

Pete Mockaitis
The highly paid important person?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, highest paid most important person or what I call the most dangerous person in the room. Good companies are trying very hard to limit the degree to which the HIPPO, the highest paid person in the room, the degree to which their perspective ultimately drives the decision or the outcome that we’re trying to get to because that person is usually actually pretty meaningfully disconnected from the facts on the ground, and they’re not usually in any real sense more likely to come up with the best idea. It’s a very wisdom of the crowd kind of idea here.

And so, it turns out that a couple things become true when the manager regularly asks for input from people on the team. First is people feel heard. A big topic today is inclusion. If you want to talk about everyday inclusion, it’s this one sentence, “Every voice is heard including my own.” So, the first thing we do is we now give…this is their team too. It’s not just your team. It’s their team too. So, the first thing we do is give the folks on the team a voice in where we’re headed, what we’re trying to do.

The second practical outcome is the results are better. The research is crystal clear. Diverse perspectives deliver better outcomes. And diverse has a lot of lenses, one of which is making sure every single employee’s voice on the team is heard before we do something important, every single voice is heard when developing our team’s direction. And this gives people a degree of ownership over what the team is trying to do.

And so, Peter Drucker said, I can’t quote it exactly, but one of his landmark kind of insights was that people are far more likely to pursue a course of action enthusiastically when they have had a say in creating it. And so, that’s the idea here, is managers that do a good job of inviting diverse perspectives, inviting challenges to the current state, challenges to their own perspective, challenges to the leadership standard, challenges to how they’re behaving, those teams thrive and those employees tend to be significantly more engaged than the teams where the managers don’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s good. Can we hear a third key driver here?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. I’m trying to pick the best one. So, another one that has a very strong relationship with engagement is actually the other side of the first one I mentioned – praise – which is actually improvement coaching. So, praise is about coaching people on what to continue. Improvement coaching is about what to change with one simple idea. It’s not to kick you in the shins, it’s to help you be more successful.

Pete, if you’re the guy like me who starts off this conversation talking about this lunch line metaphor as a way to express the complexity being thrown at the average manager, then you have to be the guy who tries to simplify the job. And I’ve kind of done that work and I’ve come up with a job description that I believe fits every manager in the world from the CEO of Google or IBM, all the way down to the frontline manager at Jersey Mike’s for the sandwich line.

And that is your first obligation is to deliver an aligned result. The word aligned does a ton of work there. But aligned result, meaning the results your team delivers are aligned with what the company is trying to get done. And the second is to enable the success of the people on your team. And success is short term and long term. In the short term, your best tool for enabling their success is coaching, both continue coaching so that they know what to repeat, but also improvement coaching so they know where they can be better.

And, again, you coach on work products, “How could this code have been a little tighter?” “How could the copy have been a little clearer?” “How could you have more efficiently or effectively solved that customer’s problem?” That’s the work. And then the behaviors tend to be things like core values, like transparency, or justice, or one team, “How well did you behave in alignment with our standards?”

And people are always running a little bit afoul of our standards, and it’s okay. Like, we’re not perfect. We’re all humans. And the best managers know that they need to not only offer continue coaching but they also need to offer improvement coaching. And these two things together kind of round out our top three drivers of engagement, and it makes sense because they’re your two best tools for enabling people’s success: coaching them to be better and coaching them to continue the things they’re doing well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, within this coaching, I would love to hear what are some best and worst practices on both sides of that conversation? I guess one worst practice is just forgetting and not doing anything, but, additionally, what are some top do’s and don’ts to be on the lookout for there?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, let’s start on the continue side. If it’s okay, I want to tell you a little story. Cool. So, I used to coach little league baseball. By the way, if anybody wants to become a better manager in the span of about four months, go coach youth sports. And before our season kicked off, we were impelled actually to go to a seminar by the Positive Coaching Alliance. This is a nonprofit, really good organization, works at the professional, college, high school youth levels.

And this seminar lasted all day. It turned out to be a great use of a Saturday. The Positive Coaching Alliance prescribed five-to-one praise to criticism. Five to one. Now, it’s important, so that’ll be five-to-one continue to improve. What’s important to realize is they didn’t say infinity to one, which is what a lot of people hear when you say five to one, and they didn’t say five to zero, like everyone gets a trophy. It’s five to one.

And so, practically, what I did with this was I started something called the book. It’s a very clever name because it was literally a book, it was a lab book with graph paper, where I would just write down the things the kids did well. It started with being on time to practice. We all know if kids are late to practice, it wasn’t probably the kids’ fault. They don’t have a driver’s license. It’s their parents’ fault. So, we didn’t get on the kids’ too hard for that but we certainly recognized the kids that were on time. It included counting loudly during stretching.

And, by the way, when that gave way to the kids like not really doing their stretches well, we got clear on the standard for a good hamstring stretch, and we wrote that down. And this carries all the way through to fielding a ground ball correctly, “Move your feet. Center the ball on your stance. Get your glove in the dirt. Cover the ball with your throwing hand. Move both hands the fastest line possible to your shoulder. Step with your back foot. Step with your front foot. Fire over to first base. That’s how you field a ground ball and then throw somebody out.”

And so, what I would do is, halfway through practice, or at the time, if I thought the kids were kind of lagging, or they were losing focus, or they weren’t hustling as much, we’d call them in and we’d read from the book. And I’d hold it up like Simba, and sometimes I’d even sing, like, “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba sithi uhm ingonyama,” and they loved it. They were nine, ten, and 11-year-olds. And I would just start reading off what they did well.

Pete Mockaitis
By name.

Russ Laraway
By name, yeah. On time to practice, and then boom, “Miles, Starks, Caden, Jimmy, Tara,” and we’d just kind of go all the way down. And then we do it again at the end, and sometimes I’d reinforce it with a little article on the team website that night. And what’s most interesting about this, I think, is that it’s tempting to think, “Well, that’s just something that works on kids.” But they’re not. They’re just small people. They’re not some unique other thing. They’re just small people.

And the big insight here is for the workplace, to translate this to the workplace, is in order for us…here’s the mistake people make on continue coaching. They say, “Good job.” That is not helpful. That’s what you say to your dog, that’s not what you say to the people you work with. Being specific about what was good is what really counts. That’s what helps people know what is working. And in order to be specific, Pete, you have to be very clear about what the standards are around here. I couldn’t have been specific about fielding the ground ball correctly if I couldn’t communicate the actual standards for fielding a ground ball.

So, that’s the biggest thing people get wrong, and after a while, people just tune you out. You sound like a cheerleader. You don’t sound like a coach when you just say, “Good job. Well done. Way to go, team.” Enthusiasm is fine. It must be accompanied by specifics about exactly what was done well and why it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so then, it’s interesting, you talk about little people. A question I’m having here is what is too small a thing to provide for continue coaching? Like, you showed up to work. I mean, I love praise and enthusiasm but I just want to make sure how small is too small? Or, like when is it veering into insincere or patronizing? Or, like, “Okay, dude, yes. I’m going to show up to work and I’m going to check my email. I feel weird that you are praising me for this.” I don’t know, where’s the line?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, totally. The answer lies in this five-to-one prescription. I think if we were to start offering continue coaching or praise in the way you just described, I think we very quickly get to like 500-to-one. And so, that’s your guideline and it gives you a feel for what’s too big or too small. But here’s a really simple prescription, and, by the way, you don’t even need to be a manager to use this.

There’s a phrase that is perfect for all of this, “Do you know what I love about…?” That’s the phrase. So, what does that sound like? “Do you know what I love about the way you ran that team meeting?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Do tell, Russ. I’m all ears.”

Russ Laraway
Or, “Do you know what I love about the way you showed up in that team meeting?” “Do you know what I love about the way you created that analysis? I loved the way you put in sensitivity in all the key variables because we don’t know what the future will look like, and that allows us to have an understanding of what the boundaries might be.”

“Do you know what I love about the way you ran that customer meeting today? It was carefully how you listened to their needs and made sure to tailor our message to it.” These are the kinds of things that reinforce for people what they should be doing.

Showing up for work, like things that are table stakes like you described, the kinds of things that if you don’t do, you just sort of get canned. Yeah, let’s stir clear of those. You’re exactly right. They become patronizing. But the thing you have to remember is the people on your teams are doing a lot more well than they’re doing poorly. And my evidence is you’re not walking around firing everybody.

And so, start calling those things out. And if you do things in general terms or unthoughtfully, you’ll run into the risk you just described. If you do things carefully and thoughtfully, you not only help people reinforce what they’re supposed to be doing, but you actually demonstrate that you recognize what they’re doing.

Like, how many times have you heard people say that their boss has no idea what they do? It’s like it’s an illness. But if you are regularly feeding back to people that you saw what they did, liked what they did, and why it matters, they can never hold the perspective that their manager doesn’t know what they do. So, it’s more of those kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so you’re a buffoon but you know what they’re doing.

Russ Laraway
Yeah, you can still be a buffoon, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now you got me thinking about I like how that five-to-one grounds us there in terms of the goods. And I’m sure this is going to vary quite a lot based upon the nature of your relationship with the employees and the work and various spans and layers. But if I’m thinking five-to-one, do you have a sense of the range of like, I don’t know, the daily or weekly volume or monthly volume of coaching? Like, is there an amount that’s too little or too much?

Russ Laraway
Yes, probably the both. And too little is easy. Here comes your sixth month review and you’ve received no coaching at all. That’s too little. I actually think I get this question about too much a lot, and I think it’s actually a phantom problem. I think almost nobody’s at risk of over-praising. I really don’t. I know that in theory or conceptually or before they get into it, like as they listen to this prescription, because I get this question all the time, they believe there’s this big risk of over-praising, and it’s just very unlikely.

But the mental model I’d use, Pete, is so I mentioned six months, it’s perfect. Sixth month reviews happen. How often do you get your teeth cleaned, out of curiosity?

Pete Mockaitis
Not quite every six months but my wife once tweeted, “Getting my husband to go to the dentist is like pulling teeth.”

Russ Laraway
That’s a great tweet.

Pete Mockaitis
So, once or twice a year-ish.

Russ Laraway
Okay. It should be, I think, ideally, it should be four times a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that true?

Russ Laraway
That’s how often I go, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Well, the insurance only covers two in the US.

Russ Laraway
Oh, then maybe I’ve got that wrong. Let’s just call it two since that seems to be what we’re both settling in on.

Pete Mockaitis
Gee, Russ.

Russ Laraway
Well, I’m a hyper…I create plaque very, very well. I’m talented at making plaques so I got to go a little more often. But besides the point, it’s a long period of time. How often do you brush and floss, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, every day. Well, flossing is not every day but brushing definitely is, and flossing happens…I don’t actually have a good number for you.

Russ Laraway
It’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
More than I go to the dentist. I floss more than I go to the dentist but not every day, yeah.

Russ Laraway
Yeah, all good. And so, let’s see what happens. That trip that you hate making to the dentist, does it go better or worse if you haven’t brushed and flossed the previous time period?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s definitely better when you do it. You get less disappointment, judgment, time scraping.

Russ Laraway
Time scraping, which is, we agree, the worst. So, this is the mental model for coaching. You want to be way more on the brushing and flossing cadence, which might be a few times a week. Sometimes if the situation calls for it, we could be in for a couple of days but you’re on the field. Just imagine an athletic coach, if you can. If you watch sports, or if you’ve played sports, or if you’re at least a little familiar with sports, hopefully that covers everybody. The coach, it’s energetic and it’s constant, and it’s both things. It’s how you can be better, what you should continue, that was well done, here’s why.

So, it’s more like brushing and flossing and less like going to get a root canal, which, by the way, the root canal is a practical…it’s on the same evolutionary path if you don’t coach every day. If you don’t brush or floss a day, a root canal…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s coming your way.

Russ Laraway
It’s coming your way. That’s right. PIPS is coming your way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, got you. Thank you. So, I like that. So, there is a wide range but this is the ballpark we’re talking about. And I don’t know if you know, it sounds like you do from Qualtrics and your research, like do we know roughly what proportion of managers fall into the camp of near-zero coaching or don’t know what their employees are doing?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I think at Qualtrics, our managers were very good because, first, we selected them for their leadership disposition not because of their tenure or because they were good individual contributors. So, we had a really positive selection bias that they were at least mentally aligned, if not skillfully aligned, with how we wanted them to lead.

Then we explicitly taught them the leadership standard. So, select, teach. Then we assess them from the perspective of their employees, and then we coach them. So, that’s STAC, select, teach, assess, coach, so we could stack up a bunch of great managers. Our managers actually got measurably better over the four years I was there and we added 500 managers.

So, our managers were, because of a very intentional approach, we knew that they were holding the keys. And we knew as a group of humans at the company, they were holding the keys. And we knew that if they led our people better, they would be more likely to create the circumstances under which people could do great work rather than destroy them.

And so, our data is heavily biased towards strong management, and the company’s engagement was always high 80s, like extremely high. And the company is now, by the way, sixth straight beaten Rays, as a publicly held company. Our managers are creating the circumstances under which people do incredible work that shows up in the company’s results. So, that was Qualtrics and it’s biased in a very positive direction.

Yeah, if global engagement is 15% and in the US it’s 33, still really, really bad, this strongly suggests that the overwhelming majority of managers out there, they’re not actively coaching their teams, they’re not giving praise for good work, they’re not engaged in people’s long-term career aspirations, they’re not crystal clear on exactly what is expected of the people on their team.

They don’t co-develop the team’s direction with the team members. Remember, it’s their team too. And so, I don’t have a number for you, Pete, but I can tell you that the evidence, the engagement evidence strongly suggests most managers aren’t even doing the basics.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I guess if listeners who are managers, you start doing that, that’d be great. And those who are not yet managers, and they say, “Hey, you’re right, Russ. My manager doesn’t know what I’m doing. I’d like for that to start.” Any pro tips or how to broach that conversation or what could be done for the individual contributor who’s in that spot?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. So, I have a little, a couple prescriptions in the book that I think would work well here. The first one I have is called…I call it coaching the boss. And so, for managers that, for example, don’t proactively ask for input from their teams, recognizing this isn’t really sustainable for anyone, most people don’t like to be in a team where their manager won’t hear them, I created a little prescription for how to proactively surface some feedback to the boss. And, again, usually more.

It’s not hard to tell the boss when they’re doing well. It’s much harder to tell the boss when something on the team, or the boss themselves, is doing poorly. And so, that four-step process is, first is manage your risk. And what I mean by that is if you work for a retaliator, just end of process. You’re done. Like, if they don’t like to hear, if they tend to behave poorly after someone tells them, “Things could be better around here,” just polish up your resume, find a new boss. Life is too short.

But most managers actually aren’t retaliators. And so, the first thing to do is what I call gather your boss’ unique contexts. So, a lot of times an employee is really sure they’re right; and they’re not. They have a valuable perspective that’s actually likely closer to the facts on the ground but being right, possessing truth in the workplace is like a really high bar. Like, my truth is not the truth. It’s the sort of the idea.

And so, instead of going in being sure you’re right, the first step is actually to gather your boss’ unique contexts, which means don’t assume your boss doesn’t know anything about the topic at hand. Instead, assume they know something and then try to pull that out of them. And what you might learn is your boss is not paying attention to this for really good reasons. You might learn that your boss is like really blind to the problem and their sort of lack of attention is unintentional.

And you might learn that they know exactly the nature of the problem and they’re just specifically deprioritizing it for following reasons. You could learn any of those things. But before you go in there, guns a-blazing, sure you’re right, actually go in and find out what your manager knows and how important they think this thing is.

And so, that’s kind of the first step. Well, first step was manage your risk, second is gather your boss’ unique contexts. Now, with their contexts, if you still think it makes sense to share what you see, which is a reasonable thing to conclude, that’s the evaluation you have to make. And so, now you have to make a decision, “Okay, I think I want to share this.”

And I think the third step is ask permission, which might sound like this, “Okay, boss, I think I see things a little bit differently than you do. Are you open to hearing that?” A very large percentage of the time, when presented that way, they will say yes. If they say no, go back to the polish-up-your-resume step and go find another boss because who wants to work for that person? That person is an ass-clown manager, for sure, and our mission here is to rid the world of ass-clown managers. But most managers will say yes and actually mean it.

And now that they’ve said yes, I believe step four is it’s Nike, you just do it. You got to do it. Now, you’ve got an obligation. The team will be better, the manager will be more successful, you are likely to be more successful, and so now you have, I think at this point, you’ve gone through the steps carefully. Now, you have an obligation, I think, to deliver the hard feedback to the manager. But you’ve gone about it in a very high-quality way. You haven’t assumed you’re right, you asked permission, and now it’s time to give the feedback.

So, that’s a way to start a positive cycle with the boss, where maybe your voice will get heard more often. Do that once or twice, maybe the manager starts to come ask you because they know you’ll shoot them straight. Maybe they start to ask other people on the team. You could actually jumpstart a culture of a manager listening to their people by running this process a few times with your manager.

Pete Mockaitis
Inspiring. Thank you. You’ve got a turn-of-a-phrase I must dig into, that’s a bit of a swift transition here, “Ruthless prioritization.” Where does this fit in to being a great contributor and manager? And how do we do it well?

Russ Laraway
Yeah. So, I’m going to guess that a lot of your listeners are kind of high-performing types. And if I may, I’m going to say your listeners are a bunch of Lisa Simpsons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, plays saxophone.

Russ Laraway
Do you know who that is?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, The Simpsons. She’s a high achiever in school and her activities.

Russ Laraway
Boom. Lisa Simpson, as you correctly indicated, is bright. She’s polymathic. She’s got a lot of interests. Plays saxophone, like you mentioned, and she’s ambitious. And so, I’m guessing you know your listeners well. You allowed me to know them well before I interviewed. I walked away saying, “That’s a bunch of Lisa Simpsons.” So, that’s one part of this prioritization problem. And I’ll get to the problem in a moment.

The second part is the environments we find ourselves in. I’ve been at large companies and small companies, hyper growth, not that, and what is common in almost every workplace I’ve been in is there’s some chaos. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing all the time, things are moving very quickly.

Pete, it turns out, when you put Lisa Simpsons into those environments, it creates a prioritization problem. And what I mean by that is you have the kind of people who are interested and capable of doing a lot of things, and an environment that has ostensibly a lot of things to do, and then those Lisa Simpsons might just try to do it all.

And that is a very, very…that’s a fast-track to mediocrity. So, prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not addition. It is about learning how to say no politely, which I offer a prescription for in the book. You have to say no politely, that’s the key. And I have this little inequality that I offer, which is three is greater than two is greater than four. Now, does that sound right to you?

Pete Mockaitis
Not from a strictly mathematical perspective, but I’m hearing you when it comes to prioritization. Keep going.

Russ Laraway
If you have more than three priorities, you have none, and that’s how I can say three is greater than two is greater than four, and that’s for a day. And for a week, it might be five. I’ll allow five. And so, here’s what this looks like, practically. On Monday, the first thing you should do, before you look at email, before you get involved in any projects, write down the five most important things you need to get done that week given the goals that your OKRs or the goals you have for yourself that quarter.

And then each day, ideally, including Monday, write down the three things you’ve got to get done that day. Three things you’ve got to get done that day. and these things can adjust a little bit. But, again, given the goals you have for yourself that quarter, try to be specific and use that to hold yourself accountable. Your priority list is not a task list. Those are really different ideas. Task lists are not prioritized nearly exclusively.

Constrain to the three most important things you’ve got to get done that day. And it’s okay to check those, “Hey, boss, these are the things I think are most important for me to get done this week. Do you agree?” And then even give your boss maybe a chance to affect that list. Sometimes it’s things, because they’ll change it quite a bit, and maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but you can negotiate. It’s better to have their buy-in than not.

But that’s what ruthless prioritization is. It’s remembering that if you have more than three, you have none. Prioritization is an exercise in subtraction, not addition. And, ultimately, it’s about learning how to say no politely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And these three things, it’s so funny, I can bundle…I’m a master of bundling things big and small, so if I don’t want to do the hard decision-making of ruthless prioritization, I’d be like, “Oh, podcast stuff is one of my three important things today,” but that’s actually six things underneath there. So, any guidelines in terms of what constitutes a thing or how big or small a thing can or should be in a day?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, actually a really good insight. So, what you just talked about is something that I cover a bit in the book but I pull from another source. A guy named Dr. David Rock who wrote a book called Your Brain at Work. And this guy has got a PhD but what he does is he consumes a lot of research about the brain, and then he smartly applies it to the workplace.

And so, he has a funny phrase called “prioritize prioritizing,” and that sounds silly but it’s actually quite useful. And the reason is because, as you suggested, prioritization is a very prefrontal cortex intensive process, meaning it is very hard work. And if you don’t know, your brain consists of obviously a number of parts, but two main ones. It’s your sort of hindbrain, which is literally in the back. It’s your brain stem, your amygdala, the part that controls emotion and fight-or-flight type responses. It’s strong, it’s old, and it’s efficient at processing glucose and oxygen.

Your prefrontal cortex, really what makes us human, that’s your problem-solving, logic, reason. It’s really small, sadly, for us. It’s weak and it’s relatively new. And it’s weak in terms of processing glucose and oxygen. By the way, they don’t work together. So, if you’ve ever said, “I was so scared I couldn’t think,” that’s a true statement. That’s your hindbrain overwhelming your prefrontal cortex. But, nonetheless, we only have so many repetitions for our prefrontal cortex in a day.

People like Mark Zuckerberg, for example, wears literally the same outfit every day because he takes one decision off the table, and he knows he’s only got so many good decisions, which come from your prefrontal cortex, available to him. Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor does the same thing. She wears these coral-colored sweaters and blue jeans every single day, with a white T-shirt, to take one decision off the table.

And so, people are inclined to avoid the hard work of thinking about their priorities for a day. And so, David Rocks says, “You actually have to prioritize prioritizing.” So, the first thing to do, before we get into what’s good or what’s bad, is you have to carve…like, I used to carve out time, do not schedule time. I’m an early bird, so I would carve out from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day to make sure I did this well, and on Mondays for the week and each day.

And, in fact, when we hit the pandemic, my team and I, we set up a process in the Slack bot where at midnight, whatever time zone you’re in, the Slack bot prompted you for your top three priorities for that day. And we would each add them in so we could observe each other’s priorities.

These are meaningful chunks of work. So, podcast stuff, you’re right, would be a bad one but a better example would be maybe last week, on Monday, maybe one of the things you needed to get done was, at least, skim my book in preparation for the interview. That’s a very tangible example. By the way, you know the interview is coming next week, “Russ is going to be on next Thursday, and so I’ve got to, at least, get through this book conceptually, if not in detail.” I’m letting you off the hook because I’m the slowest reader on the planet and I know I couldn’t pull it out in a week.

So, that might be a very specific example. You know you’ve got to interview me. You know you’ve got to prepare. And your number one sort of tool to prepare would be the book. And so, that’s a very specific example, contemplates sort of what you’re trying to get done in the future, and that’s much more tangible. And, by the way, it answers two really important questions, “What?” and “By when?” The “Who?” is implied. An action item in life always answers those three questions, “Who will do what by when?”

If you’re writing your own priorities down, or thinking about your own priorities, the who is implied because it’s you. But what and when should be very clearly implied. And so, this can be a catchall, like podcast stuff is not particularly useful but the specific stuff you got to get done, given the interviews you got coming up the following week or the following month, whatever it is, those specific items, those are the things that you have to prioritize, and don’t do another thing until you’ve knocked those most important things out.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, Russ, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, I think we covered it. That was a really good interview, Pete. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. All right. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, “Success comes when opportunity meets preparation.” And the reason I like this quote is because you’ve heard people that are a little too self-assured, a little too “I’m self-made,” and not really accounting for the advantages they might’ve had in life. On the flipside, you hear people that are excessively humble, like, “Oh, I just got lucky.”

Neither of those people is accurate, I think. I think that, for all of us, it’s important to be aware that our success is really a function of a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill. And you put in the work, you try to develop your skills, you try to be ready, and when those lucky opportunities emerge, you’re a little more ready to seize them. And I think it presents a virtuous cycle.

But this sort of what I hammer with my kids, actually. It’s not your innate smarts. Calvin Coolidge has an incredible long quote on this, “It’s not your innate smarts, it’s not just your talent, it’s not your station in life; it’s your grit, your resilience, and your willingness to put in the work.” And then, in turns out, the more work you put in, sometimes the luckier you get but, still, there’s a lot of luck involved. So, success comes when opportunity meets preparation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Russ Laraway
Yeah, my favorite book for a long time has been A Separate Peace by Jonathan Knowles. I had to read it in high school, and it really moved me. It’s a dark story set at a private school, and the characters are really phenomenally well-developed archetypes. But, for me, the book, I can’t give it away, but the book shows very clearly consequences for small actions. There’s a moment in the book where there’s a very small action. It’s well-known in literature, it’s when character A jounces the limb, that’s the phrase used, and everything that happens from that point after is really dark and bad.

And I always loved that book because I think it’s important for many reasons. It’s taught in many high schools for a reason. But this notion of the kinds of consequences and accountability that can be huge for even some of the smallest actions, I think, is an important thing to take away. So, yeah, I’ve loved that book for a lot of years. And, I guess, now that I think about it, it’s still my favorite.

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

Russ Laraway
Yeah, pretty easy, Pete, www.WhenTheyWinYouWin.com, probably the easiest way to get in touch.

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

Russ Laraway
So, when I was at Google back in 2005, I noticed pretty quickly that we had a lot of really new, really young managers who were, nearly by definition, unskilled because they were new, there wasn’t really a training program, and they were young. We were growing so fast and giving people huge amounts of responsibilities.

And I noticed that even when the managers would fail to exhibit some of the most basic behaviors, that their teams still often delivered. And it occurred to me that the reason for that was that our average talent level at the company was so incredibly strong that they would actually often cover up for the inadequacies of many of the managers.

And I wondered, “Is that replicable? How valuable is it to know what to expect from a manager, or what is expected of your manager, by their manager, and to drive your behaviors even when the manager is not giving you everything you need or want, can you, nonetheless, figure out what is probably expected and deliver in alignment with those things, and almost cover up for your manager’s own inadequacies?”

I think it’s a really interesting framing and there’s lots of places you could go to learn what the kinds of things that might be expected of a manager, like, for example, When They Win, You Win, is a great place I recommend to start. But I think you’re not a victim; you’re a player. Victims are powerless; players are powerful.

And if you’re not getting everything you need from your manager, and you’re feeling like they’re not invested in your success, you can actually kind of take the bull by the horns and change your trajectory with that manager. So, that’s my last call to action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Russ, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and many wins.

Russ Laraway
Thanks. I really appreciate it, Pete. Back at you.

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

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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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