How to Earn a Reputation as a Fair Manager

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At some point in your career, you likely encountered a manager you believed was unfair. You probably thought to yourself, “When I’m a manager, I’m never going to be like that!” Now that you’ve been promoted to a management position, you’re probably dedicating significant amounts of time and energy to making unbiased decisions, but no doubt finding that the right balance is elusive. Sadly, there is no objective measure of fairness. Instead, each time you attempt to level the playing field on one dimension, you throw it off balance on another. The best, if imperfect, approach is to understand the different forms of fairness and to be thoughtful about when and how you apply them.

You can start with the most standard measure of fairness, which focuses on the outcomes of your decisions. Did your decision-making process lead to a fair distribution (of inputs and outputs)

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The Key to Preventing Generational Tension Is Remembering That Everyone Wants to Feel Valued

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I remember the first time I felt old as a manager — more than 10 years ago now. It was at a lunch with my new team when I mentioned the first “45” I bought with my own money as a kid. One of my direct reports, who was 10 years younger than me, looked at me blank-faced and asked, “What is a 45?” She had never seen the single-song vinyl record format. We came from different worlds. On the same team, I had another direct report who was 30 years older than me. She was quick to answer my question about her first 45, but I had never heard of the song or the artist. Over the next couple of years I had what I perceived as serious “generational issues” on my team. I learned a few lessons about managing across the generational divide.


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Should You Cover for a Friend’s Mistakes at Work?

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It’s nice to have a friend at work who cares about you and looks out for your best interests. Research has even shown that it contributes to your engagement. The benefits of having a friend at work are clear, but what about the downsides? What happens when your friend starts to let things slip? How do you handle it when you notice they aren’t keeping up? Should you cover for them?

As with most difficult situations at work, there isn’t one right answer. The approach you take depends on a variety of factors. First, how worrisome are the slips? Will they create significant problems for your team, or even your customer? Next, how self-aware is your friend about their harmful behavior and the impact it’s having? Finally, how is your friend’s manager handling the situation? Is anyone other than you noticing the problem? The answers to these questions will help you decide

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How to Resolve Conflicts with a Remote Coworker

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Working as part of a remote team, with colleagues spread out in different locations, is increasingly common and surprisingly challenging. Absent non-verbal cues, it’s often difficult to gauge how your relationship is going. If something does start to derail your relationship, you don’t have the benefit of informal office interactions to build rapport and re-establish trust. Small irritants that aren’t addressed can fester into resentment and eventually impact your work. Don’t let concerns with your remote teammates grow bigger than they need to be. There are a few techniques you can use to deliver feedback that will get the relationship back on track.

Although you may have been thinking about concerns in your relationship for a while, suddenly phoning a teammate to share your constructive feedback might take them off guard. That element of surprise is likely to trigger defensiveness and erode trust, rather than strengthening it.

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How to Get Your Team to Use Their Vacation Time

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Evidence is piling up that vacations are good for business. Not only does taking vacation contribute to enhanced productivity but it also immunizes our teams against the toxic negative attitudes that can be contagious in the workplace. So if vacation has such a good ROI, why are people taking less and less of it? In one study, researchers found that employees fear that their manager will think less of them for taking vacation. Yup, they are blaming you (what’s new?). To change this worrisome trajectory, you need to get creative about how to get your team members to take vacation. First, make the business case. Use a few minutes in a team meeting to share some of the research on the benefits of vacation. A 2015 HBR article by Ron Friedman is a treasure trove of facts about the benefits to reaction time, creativity, and
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How to De-Escalate an Argument with a Coworker

During a conversation with a colleague, you stop following what he’s saying, and focus on how red his face is, as he yells at you about what’s wrong with your proposal. When you tune back in, you hear him scream, “It’s a one-sided, shortsighted approach that shows no respect for my team’s input!” You know you’ve hit a nerve, but you have no idea why. If you’re going to find a mutually acceptable path forward, you know you need to de-escalate this conflict fast. But how? The bad news is that your instincts are generally useless in a situation like this. The good news is that you can counter your natural reaction — whether you’re more inclined to dig in your heels or run for cover — and slowly shift the conversation from aggressive and adversarial to controlled and cooperative. If you want to take a discussion from overly heated to
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The Right Way to Start a Meeting

We all know there’s a price to pay for a making bad first impression: A limp handshake conveys low confidence; a wrinkled suit makes you seem lazy; oversharing comes across as emotional instability. But do you ever think about the first impression your meetings make? Frequently restarting meetings for stragglers sends the message that participants have more control than you do. Issues opened for discussion with no clear purpose get hijacked by participants with a clearer agenda than yours. Monologues validate everyone’s fears that your meeting is going to be about as valuable (and as scintillating) as watching an hour of C-SPAN. If you want to have a more productive meeting, focus on a strong opening. A good start to a meeting is like an overture: It sets the tone, introduces the major themes, and provides a preview of what you can expect. Here are some best practices for starting your
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If Your Team Agrees on Everything, Working Together Is Pointless

Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict. You’ve probably been taught to see collaboration and conflict as opposites. In some cultures the language and imagery of teamwork is ridiculously idyllic: rowers in perfect sync, or planes flying in tight formation. As a team, you’re “all in the same boat.” To be a good team player, you must “row in the same direction.” These idealized versions of teamwork and collaboration are making many teams impotent.

How to Tell the Difference Between Venting and Office Gossip

You’re sitting quietly at your desk when Tony walks over, perches on your filing cabinet, and starts criticizing your colleague Sam. It’s awkward, but you nod and smile and throw in the occasional “uh huh,” because that seems like the only thing you can do in the moment. Once Tony leaves, your first inclination is to raise your concerns about Tony’s inappropriate gossip to your boss. That feels like the right thing to do to shut down this toxic behavior, but is it? How you respond when someone starts venting can have a significant impact on the dynamic in your office. Telling your manager about your teammate’s gossip without first expressing your concerns directly could create several harmful perceptions. First, the boss might view you as a tattletale, trying to court favor with her at the expense of your colleague. Worse, if the boss asks what you said to Tony, you have
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Everyone’s Network Should Provide Two Things

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When I interviewed people for a university research project 23 years ago about networking, many people weren’t familiar with the term. I explained it as “multiperson mentoring.” Evoking the millennia-old concept of mentors and protégés, that description made it clear to everyone that networks included people who could provide you with advice and support. In its ideal form, a network, like a mentor, offers two very different types of support. The first is instrumental support, the ideas, advice, and assistance offered by people trying to help you achieve your goals. The second is psychosocial support, the support your network gives you to help you survive and thrive as a person. Great networks provide both, but the people I studied back in 1993 tended to focus on one type of support and missed the value of the other. Fast forward to 2016, and now nearly everyone has
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How to Put the Right Amount of Pressure on Your Team

While the popular press talks of stress as a negative to be avoided, seasoned managers know better. If you’re trying to drum up new business, get a customer’s order out on time, or hit your numbers for the quarter, a little stress goes a long way. It’s even more important when you’re trying to transform your business or revitalize a sagging culture. That’s when you need enough stress to motivate action. In its most positive form, stress results when an employee tries to do the same old things in a new environment. Those out-of-date behaviors produce subpar results and the growing gap in performance creates tension. It’s exactly the kind of stress you want, because it counteracts the powerful inertia of habit. If you’ve been around the management block a time or two, you’ve probably also seen the other side of stress. As stress gets too high, instead of increasing
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Polite Ways to Decline a Meeting Invitation

There it is in your inbox: a meeting invite to a meeting you really don’t want to attend. Maybe because it’s shoe-horned into one of the few remaining white spaces in your calendar. Or it’s for a time that’s already booked, and now you’re left to decide whom to turn down. Whatever the reason, sometimes you need to decline a meeting invite. Your first challenge is deciding which meetings to decline. A little discipline goes a long way here. Establish a set of criteria for participation and stick with it. Start by assessing the value of the meeting. Is the meeting about something important, timely, and worthwhile? Is it set
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When an Argument Gets Too Heated, Here’s What to Say

I recently stood in front of an executive team, allowing their unproductive to-ing and fro-ing to continue a little longer. It was a gold mine of examples I could use to teach them how not to have conflict. Within 10 minutes, they’d managed to take a routine issue and turn it into an all-out row, with yelling and swearing and more than a few hurt feelings and bruised egos. What they had failed to do was get to the root of the problem and get aligned around what they were going to do about it. This type of situation is all too common on teams. Although productive conflict is a hallmark of high-performing teams, many teams struggle to communicate dissenting opinions without triggering resistance and defensiveness. They fall into unproductive conflict by invalidating one another as they argue. Do any of the following sound familiar? After someone speaks, you make no reference to
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You Can Learn and Get Work Done at the Same Time

As you think about how you want to learn and grow this year, don’t fall victim to the common trap of building your development plan around a formal learning program. Although we default to equating development with structured, instructor-led activities, you’d be better served to think of formal programs as the appetizer or dessert of your development, rather than the main course. You take three risks when you depend on formal courses for nourishment. First, you risk being disappointed if your request can’t be funded because other priorities take precedent. Second, you underestimate how costly it is for you to be away from work, both in your increased workload before and after the training and in the price your team pays in backfilling for you. Finally, focusing on formal development can reinforce a passive mindset and leave you with the false impression that your development is in someone else’s hands.
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