In North End Boston there are quite a few pastry shops run by umpteenth generation Italian immigrant families. They’re all serving about the same thing, but one of them served a better “lobster tail” than the others. It was better because of the stupid food science that we’ve all been hearing about for the last 20 years due to food tv, blogging, and snobbish friends who only eat organic vegan gluten.
Jessica and I, because of our love of science, went to the top three recommended pastry shops to eat the pastries and do the food trigonometry so you don’t have to.
Don’t go to Mike’s. Don’t go to Bova’s. Go to Modern pastry. Here’s why: freshly baked or fried breads cannot hold up to refrigeration. The refrigeration traps humidity and breaks down the crispy, structured lobster tails and you get a soggy lobster tail. Or a soggy cannoli. Modern pastry fills your unrefrigerated pastry to order. Crispy mouth delight.
On the way to another destination we passed one of these shops and the case was so thick with condensation that you couldn’t see the pastries in the case.
Don’t. Refrigerate. Your. Cooked. Pastries.
Starting a new tradition is good. It’s part of habit forming. So on Sundays, let’s do a plug of someone else that you should be taking insights, ideas, and personal or managerial growth from. Today I want to celebrate Michael Hyatt and his This is Your Life Podcast. It’s a great podcast with very practical discussions about personal growth, leadership growth, and general wisdom. Some favorite earlier episodes (I am a bit behind) include:
I’m not going to suggest you skip around, most episodes are incredibly useful (unless you don’t blog or publish or want personal growth). The episodes after the earliest involve Michelle Cushatt as the co-host. Definitely worth a regular listen.
If you listen to his podcast, what are your favorite episodes?
– the MGMT
Have you ever seen old footage of the Vaudeville acts where they would spin plates? It was masterful work that would amaze audiences. How did they keep the plates spinning? This is a modern problem in the work force. How do you stay busy, get busier, and do more than someone else so you’ll earn the raise, earn the bonus, or keep the job you’ve got? There are some rules to performance that until recently I had much less awareness of. I had always heard about work-life balance, and even things like avoid scheduling meetings. But what if those are wrong assertions?
In the book The Power of Full Engagement (Amazon Link | Audible Link) the authors argue for the cultivation of energy so that you can be present and engaged when you need to be somewhere doing something; when you need to spin plates. The idea is to be deliberate about your sleep, your food, your exercise, and your emotional well being so that the outcome of your life can be performance, not just barely getting by.
So should you keep the plates spinning? Maybe. But you need to pick the right plates that will return the most value. Take the other plates out of your life. They may be good, but they may not be the best use of your time. Criteria should be that things that drain energy have an opposing energy creation activity that you counter-balance with. If you have intense negotiations, for example, then you probably need to have some sort of exercise or positive activity to pair with it in the next 24 hours, preferably before you go to bed the same day. If I have presentations and planning all day I need to come home and do something that will restore my energy such as woodworking, playing the guitar, or cooking. I happen to brew beer, but alcohol cannot be my coping mechanism (or any other substance). Energy needs to be built up, not slowly depleted.
What do you do to manage your energy?
– the MGMT
When was the last time you were encouraged? What sort of day did that help you have? I encouraged one of my team yesterday because I could see a few events in recent history had put her on guard. We talked about framing. We talked about how she could take action without overstepping her bounds, but still move with confidence.
She shared some concerns she had and we talked them through. I think we left the room heading in the right direction emotionally, and with a clear sense of purpose. Not only that, but with her having some autonomy and letting her shown what she had mastered so far. It was great because I got to do a positive thing.
How intentional are you about encouraging your team, to be a beacon of hope?
– the MGMT
If there’s one thing that we all need it’s the truth. What we don’t need is a bunch of glad handing wrapped around the problems we’re facing. There may be a few members on some teams that are genuinely unable to deal with the reality that they need to grow, but maybe those are people who shouldn’t be on their teams, but instead go back to Oz, where nobody ever dies and nobody is ever harmed (except the witch).
When you have to deliver bad news check your culture and make sure that the pooh sandwich isn’t part of it. The pooh sandwich is traditionally called a $#!t sandwich, but we don’t use that sort of language here. You make the buns out of complements, but deliver the fecal matter in the middle. The supposed psychological benefit is that you start and stop on high notes. But it is better to be transparent and real. If you’re frank with me I’ll be frank with you.
Before delivering the tough talk you’ll want to think about what you’re going to say to be clear. How can you let them know what the expectations are so that they will not misread things. I tend to want to pad everything so nobody gets hurt or has any sense of offense, but this is not that time. You need to be clear more than you need to be a cloud of corrective light. It doesn’t mean you should be kind, it means you shouldn’t have on kid gloves and mask the issue for fear of causing someone to have to grow.
You may need to come up with a plan for how you expect them to address thir issue. You may need to plan a meeting in a week to review how things are being addressed. You may need to have your own personal plan outlined.
Once you clearly speak the concern or issue you need to ask your team member if they understand. You need to get that they get you. Then you need to ask them if they have questions about what you said, what you’re expecting, etc. Then ask them if they would like some examples of how to plan and execute the change. Many people won’t want it, but be prepared.
I don’t like bad news! But I like the trust that comes with honesty. If you need me to up my game then tell me so. Honesty builds trust, evendors if it makes us sore a bit. Keep the pooh sandwich off your managerial menu.
How have you received bad news?
– the MGMT
I’m known in my family for historically being argumentative, but somewhere in adulthood I got some maturity going and stopped wanting to be right about everything. Until we had our first daughter that is. As soon as she could reason I started picking all the battles; and it was ugly. Every moment was a teachable moment (to me). Those battles that I won were not great victories. Those battles that led to her crying and me feeling like a bully were useless. I was like a rookie playing a strategy game that they hadn’t figured out a strategy for.
As a maturing person you often need to think about the long game. That’s what broke me of my battle-minded practices. That and my wife telling me, “You have to pick your battles.” The long game recognizes you have to catch your team doing good things, rewarding them, praising them, and then your voice will be heard when something matters. The battles are potentially everywhere, the important ones are not.
When you’re in charge of progress you need to
- know what it looks like
- share what it looks like
- Connect your team members to their specific contribution opportunities to progress
- Celebrate the successes
This means that you will also need to observe roadblocks, and those can come in the form of battles. Not all of the battles are yours.
Consider what you can do to empower your team to remove their own roadblocks. What can they bring as solutions? If they come to you as a leader for guidance the first thing you want to do is help them unblock themselves. Help them ask What’s Important Now (WIN)?
The battles will still be there, but you’ll have fewer of them and they’ll be the important ones.
What is your battle reduction strategy?
– the MGMT
When I was a young boy my dad built a house. After the foundation was laid the framing began. Framing establishes the walls and the general structure of the house. As it turns out there’s a principle for perspective management called framing as well. With framing we evaluate how we’re looking at something.
For example, the oft told joke about the optimist and pessimist twin boys whose parents decide to test them on their birthday. They both are framing their life with their bents, but that year the pessimist’s present was a new bicycle and the optimist’s present was a pile of manure. The pessimist said, “I’m going to get a flat!” The optimist ran outside and exclaimed, “Where’s the pony? With this much manure there’s gotta be a pony around here!”
As we look at management opportunities ahead of us we see that our teams challenge us. They stretch us. They cause us to have to dig deep. And that, my friends, is the fertilizer for the soil of life.
What’s the framing to help you see the manure as fertilizer for growth?
– the MGMT
One of the worst things in today’s acronym laden world is terse explanations where jokes about TPS reports are at home. Nobody needs that. No one on your team needs to have their day spent deciphering gibberish. Acronyms serve a purpose, but any time you get a chance to explain a new concept avoid draping your explanation with a veil of confusion.
I had a manager once who quickly figured out (on his first day) that I was not familiar with his acronym cannon and switched to proper vocabulary and never switched back. It was glorious. I understood many of the acronyms in the industry, but he was new and came from a different background. His observation and flexibility made my understanding a lot easier and faster.
So explain things like your direct reports are five, even if they’re not, because that way it’s abundantly clear. And clear may deliver a better product.
When I think about what the most important ingredients for a team dynamic are I think of caring.
Does your team sense that you’re aloof? Do you focus on the next career move? Do you ignore their problems? Do they find you difficult to engage? Do you care? Do they know you care? That’s a lot of questions, but caring is an important thing to reflect on because if you don’t care about your team, as a group and as individuals, they’ll pick up on it and you’ll be losing their focused energy if they have it to give. Caring for your team is critical.
I was asked in an interview once, “What is your greatest weakness?” And my answer was, “I care about my team too much.” I really invest myself in them and I want to know them and I want them to know they’re cared for deeply and personally. Sometimes this can color my perspective. However, if I’m not deeply invested in those I’m working with then they’re not likely to put in the effort required to exceed expectations and deliver on what we own as a team.
What are your most important team dynamic ingredients?
– the MGMT