How many of us start our day with a plan of everything we would like to accomplish only to quickly go down the rabbit hole putting out the day’s fires? If that sounds familiar, this post is intended for you. The main things I would like to get across with this post is the idea of setting up a system to assess (triaging?) your priorities and the importance of frequently utilizing that system to reassess your workload. Along the way, I’ll also offer some thoughts on the related pieces which factor into time management. Let’s start out by reviewing the 2×2 matrix below.
I recently received an advance copy of Professor Bob Sutton’s latest offering “Good Boss, Bad Boss.” This is the highly anticipated follow-up to “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,” a book which received strong praise for helping harried workers deal with bullies in the workplace. Professor Sutton’s new book looks to help us swing the pendulum further from office jerks to the land of the centered, uplifting bosses. I’ve come across a handful of quotes which reflect the ideas presented in “Good Boss, Bad Boss.” I’ve arranged those throughout this post to help give you a flavor of the book.
Side note: I read this book in three or four days, which is a testament to its quality and page-turning nature. (I usually carry a book around with me everywhere I go for 2+ weeks before getting through it.) Even so, I’ve spent the last three weeks fighting my way through this review. I felt a certain obligation to the opportunity and am an avowed basher of critics in general, so I’ve put myself out on thin ice with this endeavor. In my opinion there are four kinds of reviews: good ones, bad ones, outlines and give away the milk. The first three seem obvious but the fourth is likely not so clear. I see that as being when a reviewer gives away so much detail on an author’s main points as to render the book impotent. I believe I’ve avoided the third and fourth options, but as to whether it’s good or bad, I’ll have to leave that up to you. 🙂
“IF A UNIVERSITY IS A REPOSITORY FOR KNOWLEDGE, THEN SOME OF THIS KNOWLEDGE SHOULD SPILL OVER INTO THE NEIGHBORING COMMUNITY. A UNIVERSITY MUST NOT BE AN ISLAND WHERE ACADEMICS REACH OUT TO HIGHER AND HIGHER LEVELS OF KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT SHARING ANY OF THEIR FINDINGS.” –MUHAMMAD YUNUS
I’m a firm believer in the need for, and positive benefits of, academic research, but that many professors become entrenched in the game of “publish or perish,” in which their research efforts target publication in top journals. I haven’t yet read any of Professor Sutton’s technical papers, so I can’t comment on those, but I do know he has a true gift in delivering what I think of as “functional academia” via his books and blog posts. While his efforts are based in research, the end products are readily consumable by non-academics. I recommend taking a look at his recent HBR blog post “12 Things Good Bosses Believe” for a good example of that which I’m referring to. I also recommend reviewing and bookmarking his blog “Work Matters,” which he frequently updates with relevant, high-value articles.
“MANAGEMENT IS THE MOST NOBLE OF PROFESSIONS IF IT’S PRACTICED WELL. NO OTHER OCCUPATION OFFERS SO MANY WAYS TO HELP OTHERS LEARN AND GROW, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY AND BE RECOGNIZED FOR ACHIEVEMENT, AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUCCESS OF A TEAM.” – CLAYTON CHRISTENSEN
In a way, “Good Boss, Bad Boss” is an ode to the perils and opportunities of leading others. The book offers no silver bullets, but instead delivers good and bad examples over a range of topics which will act as targets and guide posts for the self-improving manager. Each chapter brings to life a different topic through multiple vignettes. These real life examples illustrate the different approaches and behaviors of bosses and the outcomes they elicit. Readers will find these stories easy to identify with and recall in times of need.
“THE UNEXAMINED LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING” –SOCRATES
One of the main themes throughout the book is the need for ongoing introspection. Leaders need to frequently take stock, not only of their performance, but also of their assumptions. This idea is called out in conjunction with several key points and it seems to build to a crescendo towards the end of the book. If you choose to read this book, and I highly recommend that you do, pay heed to these opportunities and use them to perform an honest analysis of your management style and patterns of thinking. If you do, the return on that time and effort will surely be positive. It’s very easy to assume the best in ourselves and to explain away inconsistencies, but availing ourselves to a close look is one of the best ways to develop our skills.
“MAN KNOW THYSELF” -PLATO
Caveat: If you take a look inward and aren’t able to find anything to work on, you’re likely giving yourself a free pass. Commit to finding your shortcomings and foibles or don’t waste your time.
Professor Sutton uses the analogy of good management being like a perfectly salted dish, which tends to go unnoticed. This is a great idea which I think we should all strive for. If your employees have a laundry list of grievances against you, all your great ideas are probably not worth squat. Take some time to look at how you could make your team not notice your efforts, by clearing hurdles and organizing their work in a way which makes it relevant. Seek changes which reduce institutional friction and constantly look for ways to support your team’s efforts. If you put more effort into those areas, you’re employees will “notice” by enjoying their work more while likely increasing their productivity.
This post may seem to start out lost at sea, but I assure you that once you have circumnavigated it, you’ll dock in safe harbor.
Professor Todd Zenger, of Washington University’s Olin Business School, introduced me to the sailing term of “tacking”. Wikipedia defines Tacking as, “a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing into the wind) turns its bow through the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other.” As it is impossible to sail directly into the wind, tacking affords the opportunity to move indirectly towards a goal. Professor Zenger used the term to describe the vacillation in a firm’s strategy between creative and control-oriented phases as a way to strike a time-based balance between these two incongruous approaches. The concept is broadly applicable and was especially useful in determining my approach to managing a project team. Continue reading
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” -Douglas Adams
I’ve been engaged with a bit of interesting correspondence over the past week with Dr. Ali Anani which has occurred between my blog and Bas De Baar’s. (PM Shrink) Both Bas and I have recent posts on the importance of trust in project teams. Here are the links to Bas’ Post: More Leadership Means Less “You” and mine: Competence, Integrity and Trust, Oh My! By now you’re probably wondering if there’s a point to this. I assure you there is. Dr. Anani’s latest comment spawned the idea for this post, for which I am most grateful. So, I’m hoping to keep that dialog going, while continuing to add voices (i.e. yours!) going forward.
The First Rule of Plumbing
When I was a younger lad, my Uncle Bob taught me the first rule of plumbing, namely that “(waste) rolls down hill.” This seems an incredibly appropriate metaphor for discussing the effects of the waterfall methodology on project teams. Continue reading
I’m getting an understanding of how Sir Elton was feeling.
I’d love to switch modes from discourse to dialog, but I’ll need a little help to make that happen, so I’m politely asking you to fire away with comments and questions, as in the absence of feedback I’m likely to start thinking everyone agrees with me. (You don’t want to be around when that happens.) Please take me up on the offer while I’m still asking politely as it goes downhill from here to whining, then pleading and finally groveling. (Another thing you don’t want to be around for.)
Kidding aside, I’d love to hear thoughts on my existing posts and/or ideas for new ones. I’m sure there are plenty of people who see things differently than I do and I would love to hear those perspectives. Let’s kick around a few ideas and learn something from each other.
As always, thanks for reading!
The Right-Brained Project Manager