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Leadership

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Don’t network – Work!

Many people will tell you that to be successful as a manager you have to build up a network and spend much of your time maintaining this network.

I disagree with this notion and believe that networking for the most part is a waste of your time!

Instead of spending hours and hours at business lunches, informal meetings, pre-meetings or even drinking coffee with co-workers, managers and people completely unrelated to your position -you should just work.

You will get so much more work done than the managers who spend half their time networking. This real work will shine through when it comes to reviewing your performance and contribution.

Networking can replace hard work at the beginning of your career. It is easy to move up in the organization as long as your relative responsibility is low. As soon as your contribution to the organization becomes visible however, networking will not help you to get ahead. You will be judged by your work and not your “friend status”.

And while we are at it – social networking based on popular services like Facebook or Twitter are as much a waste of your time as real life networking. Just don’t do it!

Some of these social networking tools might be helpful to organize your contacts or aggregate relevant industry news – but make sure that this is how you are using them. If you start sharing your favorite YouTube videos, funny presentations and other unnecessary status updates you are wasting your time and don’t get anything in return.

Use a more professional oriented service like LinkedIn or Plaxo for organizing your contacts and use Twitter as a news aggregator by following the news outlets that are important to your current job role (this never ever includes the “Joke of the Day”).

Use these tools only when necessary – if you have found a better system for contacts and news aggregation, use that system.

Remember that whatever you publish on any of these services is by definition public. It will be read by your team members, your manager, your future employer and everybody else.

All this said I believe it is important not to confuse networking with healthy relationship building.

Remember at work, you should strengthen the relationships with these three important groups:

  • Your manager
  • Your direct reports
  • Your top performers

These are the people that will get you ahead because they either support you with their own hard work or because they directly judge your performance.

Make sure you take some time out of your busy schedule and ensure that you are on the same page with these three important groups of people at work.  They must understand your motivation and your goals so that they are able to follow you (remember they also want to follow the rule: “Do that other thing” – this they can only do, when they understand what you expect of them).

Don’t go to any social events at work if you can avoid it. Go to the ones that you organize yourself for your team, but leave early. Go if your boss invites you, but leave early. Whenever you have an all hands event and you don’t have to give a speech or presentation – don’t go. Spend your social time with the important people in your life (your family, your friends) and keep a professional relationship with your co-workers and employees.

Don’t network – just work!

Simplify

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. “

Antoine de St. Exupery

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Albert Einstein

As my main field is Information Technology, I have seen many companies design complex systems to support elaborate business processes. Unfortunately, I have also seen many of these systems fail.

We sometimes forget that added complexity almost never translates into added benefits or success. Every time we make a process or product more complex we set ourselves up for failure.

Process and Product simplification should be one of the main goals of every professional and manager.

Do not reward complexity! Reward simplicity!

Ensure that everyone around you understands that you foster simple solutions. Depending on your organization this might require a new culture of work or just a small change. In some organizations, it is considered an achievement to build such a complicated process that its creator becomes indispensable (for this also see: “The graveyard is full of indispensable people.”). So much so, that he or she can’t even go on vacation or worse, they are not available to take over other tasks or projects.

Make sure that you reward the opposite – a good manager is a dispensable manager. Only then can he take over new tasks and add value to the company.

In product design there are many examples of the success of simplicity. Just look at Google or Apple and you will immediately recognize that one of their underlying design principles is simplicity.

So make sure that whenever and wherever possible you simplify!

Bad Managers create Complexity - Good Leaders remove it!

Do that other thing

So you have finished that most annoying thing. Good for you! Now do that other thing. 

What is the other thing?

Very simple, this is the one other task on your task list (see also: “Always work from a list”) that if done immediately helps your manager the most.

Not yourself – at least not directly - but your manager!

It is important to identify this task as it helps you to achieve many things:

1. Your manager will see you as someone who prioritizes correctly (at least from his point of view).

2. Your manager sees you as someone who supports him in getting projects done quickly and efficiently. He will recognize that you can perform without much supervision, constant reminding or those awkward moments of: “Did you ever get around to …”

3. You will also establish yourself as your manager‘s “Go-to guy”.  This is important as you will over time receive the most important projects from him or her as their goal is to get things done (Remember your managers’ are also just looking to be efficient).

4. You gain trust from your manager, which will be beneficial to you many times not only in your direct relationship with each other, but also when he or she or yourself move on to other things.

Now you have finished your most annoying task (that feels good, doesn’t it?) and you have completed the most important task for your manager (so he also feels good as he has gotten important work done as well).  

This is the best start of any work day, everything else will be easy (and on top of that you just motivated yourself!).

Only promise what you can deliver!

Delivering on your promises is doing what you said you would do, when you said you would do it.

If you always do exactly what you say you will do you will build a very strong relationship with your colleagues, managers and customers. If you can deliver more than that, then better still!

Under promise and over deliver whenever possible!

Many companies use this principle to build trust and strong relationships between all levels of the organization and its customer and shareholder base. A classic business example is Apple’s constantly low guidance for revenue and profit and over delivery every single quarter.

Be always true to your word – if you promise something, deliver it. Don’t question your own promise after you have made it – you are obligated to fulfill it.

If you promised to deliver a sales presentation, make sure you are there on time and well prepared. If you promised to organize a meeting make sure you thought of everything needed. If you promised to sit in for your manager, make sure you are there and very well prepared.

Remember that a promise should be voluntarily – this is the second part of you promising something – only promise what you can deliver.

Do not let anyone pressure you into promising something you already know you will not be able to deliver. If you are sure you cannot do it – do not promise it. Say no (read also: “Never say No!”), make clear it is unreasonable and explain why – this is very important: You have to make sure that it is understood why you will not promise something, if you don’t explain people might think you implicitly promised something that you didn’t.

Unfortunately it is part of today’s business world that people will try to force you into decisions and promises - be aware of that and don't accept it.

Failure

Making many decisions in your role as a Leader will inevitably lead to making some wrong decisions.  

Don’t be afraid of failure, of making the wrong decision. Failure in a business environment is widely regarded as part of being a Leader as long as you stand by your decision and learn from the mistake.

Whatever you do, don’t try to hide your failure, or try to blame someone else for your decision. Accept failure, try to understand how your decision led to it and make sure next time you consider the reasons for your earlier failure when making a decision. Just don’t postpone your next decision because you failed last time.

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