Friday Round-Up – Better late than never edition

After being out part of last week and more craziness this week it’s been a bear getting this put together.

Seen on LinkedIn is this misleadingly titled article about getting yourself fired. Despite that, it’s good career advice. Fair warning, adopting this approach did actually get me fired but my career actually benefited from the experience.

Also from LinkedIn is a great piece on 10 HR Policies your competitors will thank you for. Sadly, a former job of mine had 6 out of 10 of those.

I think at this point I’m just linking these because they hit so close to home. Here’s a nice summary of Software Development Lifecycle and some common experiences. Even if you’re not in software read it and see how business pressures often lead us to incur future costs that are entirely predictable when we go off process.

People have told me I am quick to “pull the trigger” but read this post about how leaders need to “Make the Call” and you’ll understand exactly why I am willing to make decisions under pressure.

Last but certainly not least, if you are not prepared to answer these 10 interview questions you are not ready to go to an interview. Trust me on this.

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Posted in Round-Ups

How to fix Middle Managers

Yesterday I asked the question “What is wrong with middle managers”? I’m not one to just point out problems. Here is my approach as both a manager and as an employee.

For middle managers, there are some very basic rules you can follow that can get you to reconnect with your teams.

Do you lead a large team of a dozen or more individuals? Address people by name and if you don’t know their name learn it! Your team members want to be recognized for their efforts. If they think you can’t even remember their name they will have zero confidence that they will get recognition for their work. That’s a fair assumption if you stop and think about it.

Use physical presence to make yourself more than an email sending entity. Get out of your office and go talk to people. Engage them in conversation, maybe even non-work related conversation. Show them you do not hold yourself above them. If you have remote employees take opportunities to talk to them on the phone even if they are not direct reports. When you visit their location make sure to drop by. Be a normal human being in front of them.

Listen. Middle managers tend to talk too much to subordinates. I suspect we’re trying to hard to show how knowledgeable we are. Be open to everything an employee is willing to tell you even if it is not something you want to hear. If they say something that upsets you, don’t react right away. Process it and think about what they are trying to say or why they feel that way. You can always engage them later. “Jim, yesterday you said the project manager didn’t consult you on requirements and you were frustrated because you’ve been working in the system for over a year. Can we discuss your concerns about the project?” Which leads to my last point.

Control your emotions. When we perceive challenges to our authority it is easy to act out of anger. Don’t. Anger is not a bad emotion but when not controlled it can lead to bad actions. Stop, think about what specifically made you angry, analyze it, then address it. There may be valid reasons why you were angry, but snap judgements in the heat of the moment often leads to bad results. Same thing with sadness, fear, enthusiasm, or any other emotions. Your teams need to believe you act with good reason and in good faith. That doesn’t mean you can never follow a whim but you have to set an example as a calm rational thinker even if it may not be your natural state.

Most of my advice as an employee is a variation on the above.

Make yourself known. When you do good work don’t be shy about self promoting. No need to be obnoxious, but when you beat a deadline, fix a nasty problem that no one else could, or come up with a new money making idea make sure your manager has it on the forefront of their mind. It is the only way to get kicked up the chain. When you get the opportunity to talk to your director, senior manager, or whatever your manager’s manager is called be sure to seize it. Keep discussions factual. If they go into problem areas (“I heard that feature was dropped from the next release”) don’t panic or make excuses. Have a fact based discussion but stay positive. (“Yes, it was. I found out it was more complex than we expected but I’ve corrected the issues and are confident it will be in the following release”).

Offer solutions where others offer problems. I hear this advice often and I can’t repeat it enough. Every manager, good or bad, wants to figure out how to solve problems. They usually know there is a problem and sometimes they don’t even care what caused it or who did it. They just want it fixed so the executive they report to will get off their case.

Be bold. Whether the middle manager in your org chain is an ambitious corporate climber or a hapless victim of the Peter/Dilbert Principle you will generate far more respect from them if you appear confident. Make eye contact but act casual. Not so much that you put your feet on their desk but enough so that you don’t look like a trapped animal about to bolt.

Most of all, learn their boundaries. How well do they take negative news? Do they need a little flattery to get them going? Do they like lots of details or do they want you to get straight to the point? Are they willing to ask for more information or are they the type who wants to look like they know everything? Get an idea of how they think and adjust accordingly.

Just remember that no matter how bad the company is about leadership training or choosing leaders, you can make your own situation better. Whether it’s as a leader or as an employee, you should do everything you can to position yourself for success.

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Posted in Advice, Career Management, Managing Employees, Managing Up

What is wrong with middle managers?

Someone pointed out what I think is generally a fair observation. Middle managers tend to be obnoxious and out of touch. Why is that?

They weren’t really asking me my thoughts but I think I surprised them that I could answer. It’s actually pretty spot on and from my perspective it’s pretty easy to see why.

Middle Management is not a “destination” position. People who do middle management long term tend to be stuck in their career. This is often the level where the Peter/Dilbert principle tops out for most people and so you have individuals at their maximum incompetence.

Now, combine this with the other side of the dynamic. The ambitious career driven individuals who have their eyes on executive leadership. Middle management to them is just another stepping stone and since most middle managers report directly to an executive and often deal with executives they tend to start taking on an executive perspective even though they themselves are really just senior managers.

In all cases, middle managers are often the level of “real” authority. They have decision making authority that is non-trivial and can have severe impacts.

What often gets overlooked by individuals in these positions is that middle managers are really, well, in the middle. In other words, while you may be one level removed from executives you are still close enough to “boots on the ground” to be informed of day-to-day activities. In other words, the middle managers should be able to be both tactical and strategic. They can see what’s happening in the trenches but have to be able to inform those that are nowhere near the trenches what is going on.

Unfortunately, when you have middle managers who begin to adopt that executive perspective they devalue their role in the organization and often frustrate the leadership team they are responsible for.

Tomorrow I will talk more about how middle managers can fix this and what their employees can do to mitigate this kind of behavior.

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Posted in Career Management, Managing Up

Regular updates will resume tomorrow

I apologize for the lack of updates. When I started this I had intended for a strict Monday through Friday scheduled and then announced Saturday updates as well. Circumstances last week have knocked me out of kilter and I am playing catch-up at work.


Family first, then job. The blog has had to wait. We’ll get back to normal tomorrow.

Posted in Site Housekeeping

Take care of your team and they will take care of you

I had a family emergency late last week, thus no blogging there for a few days.

A lot of companies pay lip service to the importance of morale, I try to live it. I allow employees to flex schedules, I grant work at home when needed, I bring in breakfast on occasion, I always pay for lunch even if it’s out of my own pocket, and sometimes I let the team leave early on Friday. Those are just a few of the little things I do.

While I was out, two of my managers covered my meetings for me. I was able to reschedule my meetings with individual team members for other days, and generally everything ran smoothly. There were a couple of incidents that needed my attention, but being out for an entire day and only having a few things to worry about is a very light load for me.


When I wasn’t able to do my job, my team stepped up right away. Business was conducted as usual. A lot of managers think that the ship sails smoothest when they are there, but if they really are doing a good job it should sail just fine without them there every hour of the day. A highly motivated, capable team that I can entrust to keep things running even when I am not there is what I consider the end goal of team-building.

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Posted in Career Management, Managing Employees

Sharing some good advice

No big update today. Just wanted to leave you with this advice a former manager of mine told me.

“Try to think about how the person two levels above you sees the organization.”

If you can do that, you’ll find it much easier to pitch your idea or jockey for that promotion. One of the best pieces of career advice I’ve ever gotten.

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Posted in Advice, Career Management, Managing Up

I hate the term “low information voter”

In general I want to avoid politics. This blog isn’t about politics, it’s about your career, leadership, and trying to keep your sanity while earning a paycheck.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about attitude. That said, let me tell you something about politics. I love politics. They are my football. I follow the major players, I watch the parties, I vote. I’ve also paid very close attention to every election since 1992.

A very ugly trend started around 2000. It was around before then, but it really took off that year. When the election was over, whoever voted for the winner must have done so because they were easily misled. This is the implication. Essentially the belief put forth was that no one who wasn’t sane, smart, and informed could possibly have voted for the winner. Madness.

This culminated in 2012 with the term “Low Information Voter”.

Look, I know there are problems with the US Electorate but on the whole I don’t think they are stupid. I do think we have a large portion of the population who doesn’t care about politics as much as I do, and that’s ok. I know people who care more about healthy eating than I do, people who care more about exercise than I do, people who care more about science than I do, and so on and so forth. I truly believe there are a percentage of voters who will vote their party and the independents vote according to what matters to them. Along the way there is tons of misinformation on all sides that can mislead them, but that does not make them stupid or generally ill-informed. If anything, Americans in general have allowed this practice to continue so there is a certain consent to the misinformation campaign.

I am about to tie this back into work, jobs, and careers. Bear with me.

Assuming someone voted a certain way because they are a “low information voter” is condescending and more than a little arrogant. You are asserting that you are more intelligent and more informed than they are. That might be true, but you really have no evidence of that.

I see this attitude all the time at work and it is poison. People carry around this assumption that their department is righteous while another is incompetent. They don’t give co-workers a chance to prove themselves. The are quick to lay blame, quick to highlight mistakes, and gossip constantly. All too often I watch as individuals mount what they think is their moral high horse and just wonder how they can’t see that all they do is play in the sewer.

Thanks to the Internet we don’t ever have to read an opinion that we disagree with. With some careful selection I can make sure I only visit sites that reinforce what I already think. Fortunately, the real world is full of people who think differently than me. We are going to run across people who disagree with us, who think differently, who have a different culture, and are maybe just in a different place in their lives. Seeing the world from a different point of view does not make them “stupid” or misinformed.

Consider that somewhere someone probably thinks the same of you. Your first reaction is probably going to be “Not me! I’m not low information!” Except maybe that is the perception you give. It will certainly be the perception if you never want to get out of your little personal bubble and engage the world on its terms instead of your own.

I’ll be blunt. One of the secrets of my success is my ability to relate to people of all beliefs or cultures. I am fascinated by new perspectives and that has served me well. That also means I live my life outside my comfort zone all the time. While I don’t enjoy being uncomfortable, the experiences that has granted me has been rewarding and it has constantly signalled to others that I am someone they can go to. Isn’t that exactly what you want? Are you the go to person or are you the person people are avoiding right now because they are tired of your condescending attitude?

Figure it out quick, because if you are unfairly judging others it is probably hurting your career right now.

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Posted in Advice, Business, Career Management, Managing Employees
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