Articles about "managers"


Maybe your staff can handle criticism, but are they learning anything?

How well do you handle criticism?

I ask because in Poynter’s new report, “Core Skills for the Future of Journalism,” no multimedia skill received as many votes from professionals, academics, students and independent journalists as this one:

“Handle Criticism Well.”

Must be pretty important, eh?

Permit me to suggest why many respondents rated this “skill’ in the top one-third of their survey. At a time when most organizations are under-resourced and overextended, many managers would rather deal with an outbreak of head lice than with staffers who respond to criticism with anything short of compliance.

That’s what I often hear from newsroom managers, and I empathize with their challenges. But let me also suggest that staffers who roll over when critiqued are not the staffers you want aggressively pursuing journalism, often against great odds, in your community.

Instead, I think what you want are staffers with this skill:

“Open to Learning.”

The difference is significant — and has implications both for the staffer who is receiving, as well as for the manager who’s delivering.

What we’re really talking about here is the importance of effective feedback in a journalist’s development. That’s why “Handle Criticism Well” gives me pause, because it places all of the emphasis on what’s not working. Yes, we all need to learn how to receive and deal with negative feedback; but our feedback diet also needs healthy portions of what’s going well.

Being “Open to Learning” avails me of the entire spectrum of feedback in my quest to become a better reporter, editor, producer, writer, videographer, journalist. Being open to learning introduces me to new skills and tools to tell better stories and deliver them with more impact.

And if my manager and I both have an openness to learning, we can master new skills together — a much better relationship than one in which you give, and I handle, criticism.

As I said, the difference between “Handle Criticism Well” and “Open to Learning” has implications for managers and their staffs. Let me offer both groups a few suggestions:

Managers: First, let’s be clear about your goal. You want your staff to improve every day. You want them to produce journalism that makes your news report indispensable for your community. And for all of that to happen, you need a relationship that allows an ongoing dialogue with each member of your staff about the quality of their work.

So keep these things in mind:

  • Let me know you’re on my side. If I know you’re working in my best interests, I’m much more likely to take your observations to heart. How do you demonstrate that? Ask me about my ambitions, and help me assess what I need to do to achieve them. Ask me what about my job I like most, and feed me opportunities — when it’s possible — to do those things. Ask me for my reaction to the feedback you’ve given me, and respond. Ask how you can help me.
  • Give me specifics. Whether your feedback for me is positive or negative, cite specific examples. When you say, “This story doesn’t work for me,” I don’t know what to do with that. When you say, “this story moves slowly, perhaps because you use so many passive verbs,” I can go back to my story and make changes. (Similarly, when you tell me my photo had great impact because of the way I framed the subject, I can replicate that strategy in the future.)
  • If all I hear from you is criticism, I stop listening. This is not to suggest that you “balance” every negative with a positive. That rarely works because as soon as you say something negative, I forget the positive you began our conversation with. Just be on the lookout for what I do well. If I know I’m just as likely to hear from you when I succeed as when I fall short, I’m more open to your ideas. And that’s the goal, right? You want me to embrace — or at least seriously consider — your ideas.
  • Celebrate my improvement. Tell me when you notice that I tried something you suggested. Tell me that my leads are sharper, that I’m making more effective use of quotes, that my pacing is improved. And remember, be specific.

Staff: Your goal also is to improve every day. You want to produce journalism that your audience remembers and acts upon. You want to develop skills that will give you new opportunities both now and in the future. And to do all this, you need to be open to learning from all of the sources available to you.

So keep these things in mind:

  • Listen (even when it hurts). If you’re fortunate, your manager will give you a useful mix of positive and negative feedback — well-intentioned, specific and actionable. If, on the other hand, your manager’s idea of feedback is a daily dose of criticism, try not to shut down. Be open to the possibility that criticism — no matter how harshly it’s delivered — might help you improve something about your work.
  • Ask questions. Whether the feedback you receive is positive or negative, explore it. Ask your manager to be more specific, to cite examples, to suggest alternatives. Keep the conversation going until you have a clear understanding of what your manager is telling you — and an idea of how you will address the issue in the future.
  • Try to keep ownership. Managers often take their staff’s work and “fix” it. They finish editing and then tell you what they believed was wrong. If that is happening to you, ask your manager if you can get a critique before the editing occurs and try to improve the work yourself. (You will increase your chances of getting this opportunity if you turn in your work on time.)
  • Volunteer to try things. Opportunities to learn new skills require us to keep our eyes open to what’s going on around us. If the newsroom is talking about a social media strategy, ask if you can get involved. If you hear talk of incorporating more multimedia into storytelling, see if you can get training and jump aboard. The point is to take control of your development and seize opportunities to learn — even if the skill is not a requirement for your current job. Remember, those who know how to do the most will have the most options.
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Personality inventory

PoynterVision: Use Myers-Briggs to understand your coworkers

Poynter’s senior faculty in leadership and management Jill Geisler uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in her leadership seminars at Poynter. She introduces the test to new managers and experienced leaders to help them understand themselves better and better manage their staffs. Geisler, a certified practitioner of Myers-Briggs, says knowing your Myers-Briggs type can help you find harmony with your colleagues.


Related NewsU training: What Great Bosses Know About Leadership Styles | Advice for the Newly Named News Director | Challenging Conversations: A Step-by-Step Guide for Great Bosses | Managing Change: Creating Strategies, Setting Priorities Read more


6 books for great bosses to give or get as holiday gifts

Leaders are continuous learners, always looking to explore fresh ideas. That’s why I’m often asked to recommend good books for bosses. Sometimes I suggest what I’d call “classics,” which I’ve written about in previous columns. But let’s look at some newer releases I’ve enjoyed that I think you’d also like.

Warning: I have a bias when it comes to management and leadership literature. The books must be engagingly written and be research-based. I want to be able to check the science behind a claim before I embrace an author’s advice.

So, as you shop for others or drop hints for yourself this holiday season, here are several books you might consider.

“The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

Who will like it: Bosses who want to build real motivation and engagement among employees, even in the midst of tough economic times.

Amabile is director of research for the Harvard Business School. Co-author Kramer is a psychologist (and her husband). They persuaded 238 employees in seven different companies, spanning multiple industries, to keep daily diaries about their work. Some 12,000 diary entries later, the researchers crunched the data and found out what set the most successful folks apart from others, and what their bosses did to influence those good outcomes. Their major finding: it was the motivational power of forward motion, or the feeling of progress — even small wins.

The book explains how small setbacks can easily negate small wins, and explores what bosses can do to serve as catalysts for progress. The voices of the employees, excerpted from the diaries, echo throughout the book’s findings and advice. The book is practical, thorough, and impressive. I’ve been quoting from it in my teaching because its lessons are so clear and compelling. I really like it.

“Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People” by Edward Hallowell.

Who will like it: Managers who want to raise the game of underperformers as well as overachievers.

Hallowell is a psychiatrist whose noted work in the field of Attention Deficit Disorder makes him acutely aware of how our brains are wired. His focus in this book is everyday employees. His book offers a five-step process for getting the best from people:

  • Select (match skills to jobs)
  • Connect (build collaborative teams)
  • Play (more important at work than you may think)
  • Grapple and grow (dealing with challenge and pressure)
  • Shine (what types of recognition and reinforcement matter)

“Shine” covers territory similar to “The Progress Principle,” which I liked slightly more. “Shine”‘s “Select” chapter may prove frustrating to budget-challenged bosses who lack opportunities to move underperformers to jobs that are a better fit.  But the chapter on “Play” and its connection to creativity and motivation makes up for that. It’s a good read.

“StandOut” by Marcus Buckingham

Who will like it: Managers looking for an interesting tool to assess their top skills or those of their employees, especially as they relate to  leadership, management, sales and client service.

Buckingham is best known for his work with the Gallup organization’s breakthrough book, “First, Break All the Rules.” It got bosses talking about playing to peoples’ strengths. He later helped people identify them through the Strengthsfinder online assessment, which Buckingham says more than 5 million people have taken.

“StandOut,” according to Buckingham, is better because people who take it don’t just describe what they prefer to do. Instead, its online exercises describe common workplace scenarios and offer multiple responses, all of them good possibilities. You have only 45 seconds to choose what you’d do. The pattern of your choices determines how you rank among 9 different “strengths roles“: Advisor, Connector, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Provider, Stimulator, and Teacher.

The book provides a code for taking the StandOut assessment online. The results come as a “strengths list” in your personalized rank order, with your top two as a key focus. You get advice on how to leverage your strengths and watch out for their downsides. (My report: I’m a Provider/Equalizer; someone others come to for guidance in doing the right thing, good at rewarding and recognizing, but also capable of tough feedback and prone to fight for the underdog.)

“Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It” by Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel

Who will like it: People at any level of an organization who want to protect against bias and bad decisions.

Bazerman and Tenbrunsel are professors of business ethics at Harvard and Notre Dame, respectively. Their goal in this book is to sound a clear and urgent warning: we’re not as ethical as we think we are and the ethics training we receive in the workplace is insufficient. They back up their assertion with research from the field of behavioral ethics, which examines why we often act in direct conflict to our expressed values.

The book explores concepts like “bounded awareness,” “bounded ethicality,” “ethical fading” and our “want” and “need” selves to alert us that we can take a workplace ethics workshop, filled with the intention of doing the right thing, and still mess up. It tackles our personal decision-making and the way whole organizations can develop blind spots.

I enjoyed this book and think it is ideal for a team of managers to read together. Knowing how common it is for individuals to miss seeing a conflict or bias, colleagues could commit to challenging each other with candor and care. Even as I recommend “Blind Spots,” I wish were as good at offering a broad array of remedies as it is at describing and deconstructing dangers. Expanded tips for a variety of ethics traps would make this important book even stronger.

“The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

Who will like it: Managers who want to improve systems, quality, communication and teamwork.

Gawande is a surgeon and one heck of a writer. Although “The Checklist Manifesto looks at how something as simple as a checklist saves lives in aviation and medicine, its lessons apply to organizations of all kinds. That’s because there’s an art to checklists, which he investigates. But more importantly, the simple introduction of lists often challenges organizational cultures and hierarchies. They also drive communication and shatter old assumptions.

It’s hard not to be drawn in to Gawande’s international adventures on behalf of the World Health Organization, as he cautiously and carefully works with medical professionals to examine which checklists might improve surgical outcomes country by country. He also takes readers into airplane simulators and high-rise buildings under construction to demonstrate how checklists support quality and safety.

If you want a sample of Gawande’s approach to storytelling for leaders, check out his recent piece in the New Yorker, “Personal Best.” He tells the story of his quest to improve his already sharp skills as a surgeon by working with a coach. It makes the solid case that even top performers benefit from feedback and coaching.

* * *

Those are my top five suggestions — but permit me to add a personal post script.

There’s another book I hope you’ll soon enjoy.  It’s coming out in June of 2012 but already available at Amazon and elsewhere for pre-orders.

“Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know” by Jill Geisler

Who will like it: Everyone who has asked me for years to suggest one book, just one book that will help them become a better manager and leader in a variety of areas: communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, motivation, performance management, emotional intelligence, managing the boss — and having fun at work. I couldn’t pin down just one, so I wrote it!

People who’ve taken part in our Poynter leadership training at the Institute or my workshops on the road have asked for help in building on that learning and bringing it to others in their organizations. So, this is the workshop-in-a-book, designed to transform workplaces by helping managers become great bosses. It’s designed for leaders at any level of an organization, even aspiring managers.

I’ll share a little more in this podcast about “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know” and the other books I’ve recommended:

And please add your favorite management titles in the comments section. I’d love to get a conversation going about helpful books for bosses. Read more


What Great Bosses Know about 6 tips for new managers

Following their promotions, new managers often experience a curious combination of feelings: pride and panic. Sound familiar?

The pride comes from being recognized as a high performer. You’ve been told you are someone with the potential to help an organization’s product and people improve. The panic comes from another message: a phantom voice in your head that whispers: “This is the day they find out you’re really not qualified for this job.”

You fear that the phantom voice may have a point. After all, you were probably dropped into management with no special training. Yet, each day you’re asked to solve supervisory problems that are often surprising but rarely simple.

That’s why it’s helpful to listen to a few other voices — veteran managers who have walked in your shoes. They’ve been through the pride-and-panic stage. They’ve learned from experience and are willing to share their wisdom.

Candy Altman

At a recent Poynter seminar for New Managers, our visiting faculty instructor Candy Altman brought just such voices into the conversation. Candy’s a corporate VP of news for the Hearst Television stations. She rose through staff and leadership ranks of TV stations, overseeing and mentoring countless managers. She surveyed some of them for her presentation “Six Mistakes New Managers Make.” From their top “new manager” gaffes as well as her own, she developed her list.

I’m sharing it here, and adding links to additional resources on the topics she addresses:

Six Tips for New Managers from Candy Altman

1. Delegate: You can’t do it all yourself, and if you do, two things happen — things won’t get done well and you won’t live up to your responsibility to train those who work for you.

2. Don’t stay in your comfort zone: New managers do this by gravitating toward people like them when hiring and focusing on tasks they know.

3. Adapt your skill set: Recognize that the skills that made you great at your old job may not translate to your new job. Understand that you will be dealing with a lot of gray areas in your new job, where your old job might have been fact-based.

4. Build your time management skills: Build them for work and for your life. If you don’t, you will be tortured all the time and feel like you’re not accomplishing anything. If you don’t find time to enjoy your life outside of work, you will burn out.

5. Know that it’s lonely at the top: Understand, truly understand that managing people can be isolating. You are making decisions that affect your employees’ livelihoods. You are evaluating them and giving feedback. You are no longer their after-work, dinner and drinking companion. Make new friends outside work.

6. Define and communicate a vision: What do you stand for? If you want people to follow you, you must lead with a clear mission.

I hope Candy’s list helps you keep the pride and calm the panic. For good measure, you can check out the list of related posts for new managers below this article. As you can see, aspiring great bosses are our favorite people!

And you can listen to this podcast, in which I identify the one very big and needless nagging fear that new managers should put to rest:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Read more