Monday, January 24, 2011

10 Things That Keep Managers up all Night (And A Sleep Aid For Each One)

Most of the time being a manager can be incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of helping an individual or team reach their goals and perform at their best. Managers are usually in a better position to influence and lead change. And let’s face it, in most organizations, being a manager means a better compensation package.
However, there’s a price to pay for the privilege to lead, the status, and those extra rewards and perks. Being a manager means you also have to deal with the tough issues that can cause you to lose sleep at night.

Having been a manager for over twenty years, and being in positions that involve working with managers at all levels, here’s what I’ve found to be the top ten issues that can keep a manager up at night. I’ve also included a “sleep aid” for each one.

1. Confronting a performance issue.
No doubt, this one always has been and always will be the granddaddy of all manager headaches. While they are never easy, they don’t have to be so hard. A lot of performance problems can be preventing with better selection, establishing clear expectations, regular feedback, coaching and development, and using a progressive discipline process. Yes, you’ll still need to confront poor performance, but when you do, it shouldn’t be a surprise and it’ll be the right thing to do.

2. Having to fire or lay off an employee.
There really is no sleep aid for this one. No matter what you’ve done (see #1), it’s always going to be gut-wrenching. No manager should ever get too comfortable with this responsibility.
In addition to the tips in #1, make sure you have clear polices and training for severe conduct violations. For layoffs, make sure you use a fair and consistent process, get training on how to conduct the discussion (in a respectful way), and provide a fair severance and outplacement package.

3. A tough hiring decision.
Choosing between your final candidates can be agonizing! If you choose wrong, you’re going to end up dealing with a few of the other problems on this list. The cure? Use a good selection process – DO NOT “wing it” (most managers actually do).
Get trained in selection interviewing; consider using validated selection assessments; get multiple inputs, offer realistic job previews or shadowing, and work with a good HR pro or recruiter.

4. Guilt from doing something unethical or wrong.
Here’s a preventative cure that’s served me well over the years: when making a decision, ask yourself, “How comfortable would I be reading about my decision in the newspaper the next day”? That’s a far better question than “what’s the chances of being caught”?
However, if you do screw up (and we all do), then the best thing is to come clean and own up to it. Cover-ups usually get people in more trouble than the original screw-up. Live with the consequences, learn from your mistake, and get on with it.

5. Boss confrontations.
The topic of how to deal with a bad boss would take up more space than this post allows. However, let’s assume most bosses are reasonably competent with good intentions (and they are). Bosses, and people in general, don’t like being told they are wrong. So if that’s your goal in a confrontation (to convince your boss you’re right and they are wrong), then it’s not going to be a productive discussion.
Try putting yourself in your boss’s shoes, and offer your idea as an alternative than will help them achieve their objectives. Also, listen and keep an open mind. Who knows, your boss may have information that would lead you to re-consider your idea.
Most importantly, work on establishing a foundation of trust and mutual respect with your boss. That way, you’ll be able to have disagreements in a safe and productive environment. For more on this topic, read John Baldoni’s Lead Your Boss.

6. Team member conflicts.
As managers, we all want our employees to collaborate, work as a team, and play nice in the sandbox. When one employee comes to you with complaints about another employee, it puts the manager in a “Judge Judy” position of having to arbitrate the dispute. To some degree, just like in being parent, it comes with the territory. However, a lot of team member conflict can be avoided with a hiring profile that places an importance on teamwork and collaboration, as well as clear expectations, rewards, and consequences that reinforce these expectations. Beware – don’t turn your back on the “star” performer that’s consistently ticking off their co-workers. If you do, than you’ll get exactly what you deserve – a disruptive prima donna, team turnover, and a reputation as a wimp manager.

7. Peer confrontations.
Are you starting to see a trend here? Yes, confrontations - those messy people issues - are probably the single aspect of work that keep managers up at night the most. That’s why many managers tend to avoid them. In some cases, that’s not a bad strategy (i.e., develop more tolerance, acceptance, etc…). However, when the stakes are high, avoidance is a terrible strategy. Also, not all confrontations are bad - a little constructive conflict is healthy for a team.
I’d recommend learning how to have a “crucial conversation”. It’s a must skill for any manager.

8. Having to do something important that you don’t know how to do.
It’s always a challenge when we have to leave our comfort zone and feel “incompetent” all over again. However, if you never do anything new and different, you’re not developing. The most impactful way to develop as a leader is new jobs and challenging assignments. “Learning agility” is not something anyone is born with – it can be developed over time.
When you are in a new role or doing something new, put a development plan in place to ensure your success. There are usually 2-3 “subject matter experts” that you can learn from, as well as books, courses, and online resources. Nowadays, with social networking, you can easily find someone that’s willing to help by sharing their expertise in whatever you need to learn. Great leaders are always learning, and are not afraid to admit it.

9. Losing a star performer.
Don’t wait until your star performer shows up with an offer letter. By then, it’s too late. Make sure your “A players” are paid what they are worth, are challenged, supported, and are learning. Let them know you care and how much you appreciate them.
Keep in mind, star performers will eventually get promoted or leave for better opportunities. That’s OK, that’s the rewarding part of being a great leader (as long as they are leaving for the right reasons, not because they’re dissatisfied).

10. Burnout.
Take care of your health and always keep a perspective on the things in life that really matter. Managers that don’t take vacations are not benefiting from the opportunity to recharge their batteries. They also set terrible examples for their employees, which can lead to burning them out as well.
A primary cause of burnout is job satisfaction, not hard work. If you’re doing something you truly hate, then make a plan to transition to something else. Life is too short… we don’t need to settle for a job we hate. There are always choices.

How about you? What keeps you up at night as a manager?

This blog was originally posted by Dan McCarthy on Great Leadership

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