Tag Archives: management

10 Years from Now…

In 10 years, I’ll have an almost-10-year-old. I’ll also likely be at the same exact level in my career. I’ve been writing a lot about this lately, because it’s on my mind a lot. I see others my age who are already much higher up in their careers, and even though I know it’s not the right fit for me, I can’t help feel disappointment in myself and a bit of jealously.

It’s nice to work in a larger company where there are some older folks (late 30s, 40s, etc) that are in mid-level roles and probably will never go much further. It’s hard to accept that for myself. But it’s so hard for women in my industry to get ahead, even if they’re rockstars and socially capable.  Continue reading

Why Aren’t There More Female Senior Managers?

Continuing on my last post about why will never become a vice president, I’ve been thinking a lot about all these articles about gender equality in the workplace. The findings show that the higher in the organization, the more male it becomes – and, most shockingly, this starts with the first promotion when men are more likely to be promoted to manager than women.

The report assumes women WANT to be senior leaders (or that we should want to be senior leaders.) Who really wants to be a senior leader? There are two reasons you would want to become an executive – money and power. You can make money without being a senior executive – definitely not as much money – but you can make enough to have a happy and satisfying life lower in the organization. Since men tend to make more money anyway, women have the option to marry someone who is making a lot and have other ways to have that lifestyle anyway (*I did not go this route as I marry a man who makes less than50% of what I earn today.) If you don’t desire a high income and you don’t want power, then why WOULD you want to be a C-level executive? Continue reading

Mozart in the Management Jungle

mozart-in-the-jungle

After a weekend of binge watching Amazon’s Golden Globe-winning Mozart in the Jungle, I felt equal parts saddened and inspired. Saddened, because the show follows the lives of artists — musicians — who dedicate their lives to creating. Their madness is enhanced for comedic purposes, yet the madness of a musician is something I mentally relate to far more than that of a CEO. However, I also found the show offering lessons in leadership, and a reminder that the conductor, while expected to be versed in numerous instruments and able to step in to play if needed, is considered successful as a leader, a director, an – orchestrator – not a musician, i.e., an individual contributor.

I’ve always wondered why conductors were considered so important — all they do, it seems, is wave a stick and keep everyone playing at the same pace. Perhaps they would make a bigger motion to increase volume, but it seems to be largely for dramatic effect. What does the conductor actually do? Why do orchestras — filled with musicians who can read music as well as most of us can read the English language — need a conductor to begin with?

My challenge as a manager is stepping away from my nature to be an individual contributor. Although in a small company, I cannot walk away from the individual contributor role entirely, my value is in being the conductor. With this in mind, I return to examining the value of a conductor – not as someone just waving a stick in the air in a marvelous rhythmic dance, but someone who is leading a team, interpreting the “best practices” of the music and adjusting with their vision, keeping everyone together, guiding them through to the final product. The conductor’s work and value, I’ve been reminded, largely is contributed before the product release (aka the performance.)

I think I’m actually a very good manager as a conductor, but when I’m trying to play the proverbial violin and trumpet and oboe at the same time, it makes it nearly impossible to conduct successfully. Although the conductor may step in to fill missing seats, it’s her responsibility to hire the right musicians and then inspire them to follow their greater vision. A manager must do the same thing. She must hire the right team members and determine what role they should play, how loud they should play it, and otherwise orchestrate the score of any given quarter’s objectives.

While business isn’t art, it’s still an orchestra of creation, and still needs to be conducted. Without a conductor in an orchestra, perhaps experienced musicians could play music – but they wouldn’t know which music to play, or how fast to play it, or what to do should one of their violinists get sick for an extended period of time. In romanticizing the life of an artist – which I do frequently – I find myself feeling most alive when I approach my own work as practical art. I can still bring the passion which a conductor brings to the stage in front of a large concert hall during a sold-out performance. I can inspire people to be excited to play their instruments from start to finish, even if they’ve played this score a million times. I can inspire them to think differently about the music, to hear subtle shifts in rhythm and composition, to try new things, take risks, and ultimately learn and grow and make the great music of increasing ARR.

In orchestrating a team, there is a musicality to the work, a rhythm which must be established, an ecosystem of players who must all come together to accomplish a common set of goals. So, while I likely lost the chance to live the life of the broke artist, I’ve gained the opportunity to make a new kind of music – one that 10 years ago I didn’t know existed. When I feel overwhelmed or frustrated or scared, I now close my eyes and imagine myself with a baton in front of an orchestra, and I examine by players as well as the notes written on the page, and with a deep breath, I lift the baton, and my team begins to play.

Not The Best Year Yet.

Shortly after I was given a new boss said new boss announced that he wants me to leave the company. The company is, from all appearances, protecting themselves and providing some sort of a performance plan to document any and all mistakes, but it seems that no matter what I do right now I’m dead man walking. Needless to say, such a feeling isn’t exactly the most inspiring when it comes to driving further engagement and one’s best work.

At the moment, whether it’s my paranoia or accurate analysis of said situation, I’m hypersensitive to each criticism flung my way by my boss who is not at all supportive and who clearly wants me out. Yesterday. I’m pretty sure he’s overreacting to every tiny error on my part just to build his case to throw me out the door, and there isn’t one person willing to step up and protect me. To be fair, I am not the ideal person for this role, and I’ve struggled with the position both from the day-to-day tasks of the role, as well as in building a team (let’s just say the few hires I did make ended up embarrassingly failures before they even started… and then they never even started!)

Right now I’m in this pickle of a predicament where the only type of roles I’d be considered for are more senior level roles in my particular field/area of my field – yet, those are the jobs where I feel like I’m not the right fit. Sure, I can brainstorm strategy and come up with some good ideas – but I’m not a good team builder and I’m certainly not the best when it comes to ongoing detail-oriented execution. Clearly I can do well enough in an interview(s) to convince certain types of executives that I’m the IT girl that is going to skyrocket their business to success. Then reality hits. And it’s only a matter of time before all the shit hits all the fans. And I’m back to square one.

Then again, I tell myself – maybe this time, it will be different. After all, I’ve learned quite a lot in this role, many things that looking back I could have been much more effective doing if I had such insights before playing a fast-and-loose game of trial-and-error. Maybe I wouldn’t be any better at the execution but I’d be better at staffing up early, hiring for people to do the things I’m not good at (vs trying really hard to prove to myself I can do everything when clearly that’s a recipe for absolute disaster.) Maybe with a fresh opportunity and a growing company I can actually do a good job.

That is the futile optimism that continues to lurk relentlessly in the crevices of my foolish skull. My mental illness, inability to sleep on a regular basis, and general existential emptiness ensure that I run blindly off cliffs in any which direction all while telling myself “I CAN DO THIS.” (No, I can’t. And, fuck it, that’s ok to admit.)

Managing people is it’s own skill and personality type. It’s rewarded handsomely with much better salary and benefits than just managing yourself. It also means that you have to somehow have the ability to take pride in your team’s success and take on some of that success for your own bragging rights (which are necessary to keep you employed vs having a younger, faster, better and eager employee who earns significantly less than you do take your place) and manage to buffer team members who are not performing as well from the powers that be, falling on the sword, so to speak, for those who aren’t performing, and/or figuring out how to jump in and fix shit that you may or may not have any idea how to do. Management sucks.

All of the mind games of corporate life – even in a startup – are too much for my INFP psyche. I’m just a sensitive sap who should be an artist or novelist but instead is writing a series of entertaining yet unfinished whitepapers and shaking hands at conferences silently begging her social anxiety to shut the fuck up. It’s no longer just a cute recurring nightmare of my 20s, this is my life – my career – the entirety of the next however many years I face ahead of me until retirement, and I don’t know what it is that I can do, in a stable sense, to have some kind of sane life where I’m not desperately looking for a new job every 6 to 12 months and ending up right back where I started.

You know?

 

 

 

 

10 Workplace Stressors – and when it’s time to quit

Stress. No matter what job you have, at some point, it’s going to be stressful. But jobs with chronic stress can destroy your health and happiness at all hours of the day. I’ve attempted to break out the different types of work stress below, to discuss which kinds of stress is ok (short-term) and which kind of stress should be avoided or engineered out of your life.

  1. Work Quantity Stress — you may like your job, your compensation, your boss, and your peers, but you just have too much to do. Perhaps you’re being scheduled for too many hours, or being handed too many clients than it’s reasonably possible to manage in a week’s work. If you can negotiate a lesser project load or convince your boss that additional resources need to be added, then this stress is manageable. However, if you are working in a situation where this is unlikely to change, it’s best to start exploring new employers within the same field. You should determine if the workload is common across all employers in the field, or unique to your employer. If unique, start planning your exit. If not, determine if your career is truly sustainable.
  2. Job Success Stress — some jobs are second nature to employees. There may be specific projects that require learning new skills or developing existing ones, but no matter what there’s a core set of things that you do well, probably better than anyone else in your company. You take pride in these things and know they are adding value to your employer. If you do not have a core set of skills that add value to your employer, it’s time to look at your career and scope your potential for success. If you’re constantly unable to live up to expectations, and are unable to learn certain portions of the role (i.e. you have to be extroverted but you’re really shy) it’s time to look for a new job or career.
  3. Management Stress (Boss) — your boss likes you give you one direction and then change it the next minute. Goals are never consistent and somehow a contribution you made once that received great praise is, despite being nearly identical a few days later, somehow not considered a win. You are fighting an uphill battle that you can’t win. You should maybe start to look for a new boss. If you can move to another department in your company, this is worth a first step if you still like the overall company and culture.
  4. Management Stress (Direct Reports) — no matter what, you just cannot get the best work out of your team. Maybe you are understaffed (see #1) or you made poor hiring choices. Even if you hired the world’s best team, you still may not be helping them succeed due to your own poor managerial skills. Not everyone should be a manager. It’s ok to take a step back and accept if you are not management material, as they say. You can still lead a very successful career without being in middle or senior management. Take stock of your stressors and see how many of these would go away if you could focus entirely on execution and not on leadership. If the answer is “most of them,” consider a career change into a field where individual contributions are rewarded. Consultants can earn as much or more than middle managers. Don’t be a slave to corporate hierarchies if you don’t fit them well.
  5. Financial Stress (Underpaid) — your life is more expensive than your compensation. Maybe you have a lot of debt, or have to support a growing family, and your work isn’t paying enough to enable you to live the life you want. Just leaving your job and jumping to another role will unlikely solve this, unless you can manage a major pay increase. Examine your career and realistically address your likely compensation over the next 10 years within your role and field. If this won’t help you achieve your financial goals, start to look for a career that pays better.
  6. Financial Stress (Overpaid) — this one may seem odd, but there is a stress that comes along with negotiating well for yourself and making comparatively more than others at your level in the company. You and your own boss may place a great deal of stress on your successes that are in reality much bigger than the cost to the business for the extra couple hundred dollars you make each month after taxes. Determine if you’d be happier making less with less unreasonable pressure. It maybe be better to add a second job or some freelancing work to make up for the difference, versus being expected to give up your entire life for work.
  7. Culture Stress — no matter what, you haven’t been able to find your peer group in your organization. It’s like you joined some super cliquey sorority and you were invited as a joke. Perhaps everyone at the office goes on and on about sports everyday and you haven’t watched a game since you were forced to by your parents in second grade. Or the entire company is made out of male engineers who seem to have a touch of Aspergers, and won’t listen to anything you have to say. It’s ok to admit that the culture isn’t right, and it’s time to start looking elsewhere. If the company culture is causing you so much stress it’s distracting you from getting your job done or enjoying your home life… it’s ok to move on.
  8. Individual Person Stress — is there one employee in your organization who just drives you absolutely batshit? If this employee isn’t your boss, you probably can learn to deal with them, but it won’t be easy. Every company is going to have its fair share of people who don’t jive with your personality, and in most cases you have to learn how to deal with them and be a mature adult about the situation. If the person is related to the company’s founder and is given special treatment, you’re probably not the only one who notices. Remind yourself the job is not forever, and do your best now so you can be better suited for other companies – without this person as an employee – in the future.
  9. Travel Stress — you joined the job thinking you’d be traveling a few times a year, but suddenly you’re called on to travel every day of the week, and some weekends. You feel like you never see your family, significant other, pet or bed. Maybe the travel was fun and exciting for a while, but you’ve gotten to the point where you know the security gate attendant better than your partner. If the travel is creating more stress than reward, consider looking for a position in the same field that doesn’t require constant time on the road.
  10. Office Stress — getting out of the office every once in a while can do wonders to help you improve your work. If your employer doesn’t support your attending industry conferences, sitting in on client meetings, or ever leaving your cubical, you may be stuck in a rut that won’t be de-rutted until you make a move. This type of stress is manageable over the short term. Start to look for other positions which your skills can apply towards which offer more opportunities for travel or being put in front of users/clients. Or, talk to your boss and see if there are opportunities to improve this in your company today.

Jobs naturally are stressful – if they weren’t, we wouldn’t get paid to do them! But there are some stressors that are worse than others. Take stock of what is causing your stress today, and determine if this is something you can manage for a few months or years, or if it’s time to start looking at a company or career change. This post was inspired by a friend of mine who is an occupational therapist, who, despite stresses over resources, really loves her actual job. She explained that it feels good to be really good at what she does. I returned to thinking about my own stresses today in work, and how most of these are due to my lack of confidence in being able to do any of my core job tasks well. By understanding this, I’m able to focus on looking for a new career where I can obtain a role where I can feel competent. Personally, I don’t see this ever being possible in my current role/field for a number of reasons, so I am more convinced then ever that I must shake things up in order to lead a happy life over the long term.

The Challenges of Being an Effective Leader

To be an effective leader, perhaps the most important ability is being able to hire well. As I’ve said before, when directing a theatre production, 90% of your success is achieved by casting the right actors. You have one chance to get that right – because you can’t really fire actors (especially if you are not paying them), so you better make your picks count. You can hire great actors and do nothing and still have a reasonably good result, or you can hire poor actors, try hard to direct them, and still end up with a mess. It’s exactly the same with management.

The challenge with hiring though is the quality of your employees trickles down from the top. As a manager, you are tasked with bringing in A players. Your success depends on it. But if you aren’t the best at recruiting or hiring others, and your firm is not, say, “Apple” or “Google,” you have to figure out how to recruit great people. Getting heaps of applications isn’t the hard part — getting the right people to apply, move them through the hiring funnel, and closing them is. Every manager must be great at marketing and sales, especially those who are at companies whose name does not yet do all the sales before the candidate walks in the door.

I know if I’m going to be successful in my current position I need to hire fast, but not too fast that I bring in the wrong people. In order to attract high-quality candidates, I know I’m already handicapped. This is the case of many newer managers, especially in innovative industries that naturally attract candidates who were genetically modified for a high IQ since residing in utero, who also are only interested in working for Ivy League-esque graduates. Just as a talented actor won’t audition for a play directed by an unproven director in a local theatre which has yet to make a solid name for itself, talented professionals are weary of working for companies and managers that don’t have a long list of gold stars on their C.V. Not only do you have to sell your company, you have to self yourself as a great manager. It’s a lot easier to sell a company you believe in — harder to sell yourself when you don’t even look like a great manager on paper.

The only way I’ve managed to scoop up one great talent, at least part-time, is due, strangely enough, to him knowing everything that goes in my mind, as he is pretty much the only person I know IRL who has access to this blog. It’s my one success story, but I need to hire more talent like him, and that’s proving very hard. At the end of the day, I have to hire fast, but also get the right people in the door. I admit I’m not doing a good job at it. I’m also in that hard place where I’m a young manager, so I’d be better off hiring talent older and more experienced than myself, but then I don’t know how I’ll actually remain the manager. At some point I have to ask if the person I should be hiring for is someone to manage me.

This opportunity is so remarkably huge that I don’t want to screw it up, but I just don’t know if I have it in me to do this. With the opportunity comes the weight of needing to move oceans fast in order to succeed, and my success = helping many others be successful as well. If I fail, I am not only failing myself, I am failing my team. I feel infinitely stressed and terrified. I love so many of the pieces, the industry, the people, the intellectual side of telling the right story, and much more. But I also see myself crumbling yet again. I am trying to be strong. I am watching the opportunity disappear before my eyes as I fail to effectively lead.

Then, when I do have resources, managing them just doesn’t come naturally to me. Growing up not playing team sports, I never learned how to be a team player. In the arts you are pretty much in it for yourself. But when it comes to business you are not important. You must be a machine, making your part more efficient and productive. You must be clear on objectives, and once you’ve hired the right talent, make sure they have what they need to be successful. You also need to know if said talent isn’t delivering, and if it’s your fault or theirs, and if it’s theirs can you provide guidance to help correct this, or not, and are you even capable of providing the right guidance?

Maybe leaders – mostly men – are better at faking it until they make it, especially when it comes to management. I feel as a woman I already have less natural respect statistically. As a young female leader it’s worse. Then I show weakness just once or twice and I’m done for. I wonder often if it’s already too late.

What does the ideal manager look like? Is she flawlessly dressed, hair with an “at home” professional-looking blowout, body toned from daily pre-sunrise workouts at the gym, protein shakes, and weekend 8-mile hikes to ensure her body is in tip-top shape? Does she spend thousands of dollars a month on clothes and accessories to look fashionable without trying too hard, each item in her wardrobe tailored to fit her toned physique? Is she so organized that every day she creates a list of “to dos” and knows exactly what her team is working on at all times, so she effectively communicates this up the line of command and motivates the best work in her direct reports, while always being one step ahead of any potential fire drills? Is she a duck smoothly gliding across the executive pond while kicking furiously underneath, moments away from drowning?

I feel constantly I’m not strong enough for this. I don’t know when I should push vs pull, to chase vs accept, to strive for perfecting the important details vs just let them go. I think maybe one day I could be a decent leader but maybe I’m just not ready yet. It’s only I don’t want to blow this opportunity. I really want to fake it until I make it, to at the very least ensure we hit our numbers to provide time to fix what’s broke and to grow into the leader I would like to be. I may be on the verge of a mental breakdown, or professional breakthrough. It’s too soon to tell. But as I comfort the chaos in carbohydrates, I fear I’m quickly aging and falling apart, trying to hold myself together so no one would guess just how broken I am.

 

10 Traits of a Great Manager: The ADHD Challenge

As I’ve noted in previous posts, management does not come naturally to me. I think great managers often had parents who taught them many of these managerial skills from day one, or other parental figures who did the same. Evolving as a manager I am also going through the process of determining whether management is for me. I am hoping I can sort it out and make it work as management is where the money is, but ultimately I may be better suited as an individual contributor. How many of these 10 Management Traits do you have?

1. Multi-Tasking Genius: The ability to multi-task is the requirement of a good manager. She needs to be on top of the goals of her direct reports, not only designing goals that map directly to upper management objectives, but also helping those who report to her achieve these goals. While great managers know that the best way to win is to step aside, there will always be times when their guidance is sought and they need to have a good answer or be able to quickly find it, all while working on numerous other projects and priorities. Continue reading

Being a Manager with ADHD

Management isn’t easy for anyone. Whoever says it is is a big fat liar. Management is hard because in order to be successful you have to manage both up and down and make just about everyone happy while somehow retaining the rights to your own success so one day you can maybe get further ahead. You have to do all this without seeming like you want to or are trying to get ahead of course, your only goal is the success of your company, and your personal objectives should be set aside for the common good.

Managing with ADHD adds an entirely new layer of oh-shit-this-is-hard-ness. I’ve experienced a lot of managers good and bad in my day, enough that I know what makes a really good manager. I strive to be that good manager and yet the exact requirements I have for quality managers are the same traits I struggle with most. I’m a rather strong individual contributor, but in order to move up in the workforce one must manage. I like to stretch myself and prove that I can do things that don’t come naturally, but managing effectively is a huge challenge for a person like myself. Continue reading

Effectively Managing Time, People, and Happiness

It’s 2am and the only thing I’ve effectively managed to do is stay up way past what should be my bedtime. Somehow official work hours disappear in the blink of an eye, somewhere between meetings, interruptions, and small tasks requested of you that end up taking longer than anyone else might expect, not to mention your daily distractions.

There must be a much more effective way to successfully manage all aspects of life; if there’s anything I fail at most it’s management. If someone gives me a project to do with some sort of general framework, I can get it done. The second I’m tasked with competing priorities (personally and professionally) things go to shit. And that is why I’m still awake at 2:16am.

I’m also thinking, and concerned, about a conversation I had with the one person I manage at work. While I’m bad at managing myself, I’m absolutely terrible at managing other people. To be honest, I haven’t had a lot of experience in this area so I have to learn somewhere, but some people learn management skills from their parents and others don’t. I’m in the don’t camp. I’m in the “get beaten and degraded until you do what they want” camp. Not to say good managers couldn’t have been put through that sort of upbringing, but I can’t imagine it helps the case.

Continue reading

Managing Outsourcing

I was recently assigned the task of managing a team of outsourced workers for a small project at my company. As part of this assignment, I must interview and hire candidates through an online tool that allows me to find a low-cost workforce.

This is my first experience truly managing a project, and also working with offshore help. From a purely financial standpoint, the staff is very cost effective if they follow the instructions and produce quality work. However, I am feeling queasy regarding paying someone $2 an hour. I know in the Philippines and such $2 is worth more than it is here, but I can’t imagine it’s a livable wage.

However, this is the world we live in and in order to keep up in business, I think I must accept that offshore labor is an evil necessity. And my current goal is to keep costs down as much as possible. I feel like a slave driver. I do not like this feeling. But I do like the numbers.