Asking for a Friend | Chapter Three
Advice from Babe to Babe
I just graduated with my MBA, and many of my classmates and I are running into these situations as we begin to take on more responsibility in our roles. My approach has always been a blend between the servant and coaching style of leadership.
As a leader, your role is to facilitate the success of others in their role, so that your projects and programs can be successful. Getting to know each person on your team, on an individual basis, will be key. Learn what motivates them and what strengths they bring to the table, then help them find ways to let those strengths shine. Trust them to do a good job, take their opinions seriously and—I’ve found—they will (most likely) return the favor. Recognition is also key. Find ways to formally and informally recognize everyone’s efforts and contributions. Then they will know not only do you value their thoughts (since you’ve already listened to them), but that you aren’t running around taking credit for their work. Besides, the better your team looks, the better you look.
Unfortunately, things don’t always run this smoothly. Sometimes you have to set boundaries and have tough conversations. Make sure when you do, you have business drivers, data and fact-based information to back you up. Don’t make it a “because I said so” situation. Even if you are an authority, that approach never works. As long as you’re able to separate the situation from the person, you should be fine. Let them know the situation was unsatisfactory, not them.
Finally, consistency is key! Don’t flounder too much in your decisions, or they’ll stop taking you seriously. As long as you can get to know their personal drivers, allow them personal responsibility for projects, trust their experienced opinions, recognize their efforts, use facts and data to change behaviors and remain consistent, you’ll rock it! Sometimes, you just have to stay strong. Never be afraid to fake it until you make it.
—HILLARY KIRTLAND, CONTRIBUTOR
It's likely what makes you uncomfortable about this situation is that you don’t feel qualified to be in a position of authority over other people. The first thing you have to ask yourself is what's making you feel that way—is that actually what your direct report thinks, or are you internalizing and projecting that feeling because you feel unqualified?
Largely, it's the latter. That's good! Because it means you're the only thing standing in your way. Acknowledge that people are looking for leadership in their manager; you'll be taken seriously by doing your job well, not by being "nice." You owe them feedback and encouragement, boundaries and trust, areas of growth and opportunities to grow.
It's likely you earned your position as a manager because of your competence in doing the work—and it's likely you became competent doing the work because of the practice you've had doing it. Managing is a similar muscle; the more you practice your skills as a leader, the easier exercising them becomes.
—HEATHER CROTEAU, BABE #136
I think when it comes down to it, business is business. You’re there to do your job, and they’re there to do theirs. If your job is to supervise them, any personal feelings they have about the situation is their personal problem.
Treat the relationship with professionalism and respect and try not to be bothered by anything outside of that.
—KAYLA BECKMANN BARNHART, BABE #85
Having conversations with people you trust about what’s happening helps bring some objectivity into the mix. It’s really easy to doubt yourself or to make excuses for what is or is not happening, so if you can have an outside perspective (especially from someone who has no affiliation with your organization), it can either confirm what you believe to be true or help you see things through a different lens for additional perspective. Of course if there’s anything happening that is endangering you or others emotionally, physically, mentally, etc., you should feel 100 percent OK walking away from it. When it doubt, talk it out, be honest and fall back on your why. (i.e., Why did you take the position? What were you hoping to gain? What are you sacrificing by remaining? When you look back on the experience five minutes, five days and five years from now, would you want to have done anything differently?)
—DIANA MORRIS, BABE #182
I think this depends on preference. (Although, if you’re experiencing any type of discrimination, assault, hate crime, etc. in the workplace I hope you would—and are able to—find a new job.) There will always be petty drama between coworkers, rocky transitions within companies, disagreements with the way leaders handle certain situations, bogus new HR policies, etc. But the degree to which they affect you—and the type of core values you want to see in the place where you’re employed—determine the cause for leaving.
—KATE PIERSON, CONTRIBUTOR
Honestly, the only way I know how to do this is to reach out to my network. For consulting, Fishbowl is a great app to ask people real questions about the industry, anonymously. As for knowing when you should look for a new job, sometimes you have to just reflect and determine what you need in your career at this point. Are you learning and growing enough in your current role to make the headaches you have worth it? If no, look. Are you excited about the work you do, people you serve or content you create? If no, look. And if you think through all these things and still are unsure, you can always ask HR.
—HILLARY KIRTLAND, CONTRIBUTOR
Ask to schedule a time to speak with them and use that time to ask how they prefer to receive updates, requests, etc. If they’re rushing from meeting to meeting or just don’t have time for a consistent one-on-one, initiating the conversation when they can pay attention to what’s being discussed—and give thoughtful responses, not quick ones as they dash out the door—is important.
—DIANA MORRIS, BABE #182
Ask your boss directly how she would prefer you communicate after acknowledging you understand time is pressed. I’ve also found a very specific ask is helpful: "I know your schedule is tight. I need 10 minutes or less to get your feedback on an idea I have to improve our newsletter. What would be the best time for me to come talk to you?"
My current boss is one of the busiest people I've ever met, so I also try to present her with options: "I've got several items on my list I need to discuss with you, and I think they'll take about 30 minutes. Do you want to set a time to meet face-to-face, do you want me to give you a call when you're in the car tomorrow or do you want to address the most pressing issues now and then find time to go over the others later?"
The bottom line is that you have to be flexible and willing to work around their schedules and through their preferred channels.
—AMANDA HANDLEY, CONTRIBUTOR
Scheduling calendar time with my former boss who was permanently busy was a lifesaver. However, I've also worked for bosses who blow off calendar appointments unless they are official meetings with large groups or their supervisors, so I've resorted to scheduling nontraditional time, which is sometimes helpful depending on what the boss is like. I had a boss who was always busy, but would take a 30-minute walk in the parking lot in the afternoon, so I started asking her if I could join her on her walks so we could talk. Also, if you have a boss who eats out for lunch every day and you can't schedule time with them when they're in the office, ask if you can tag along for lunch. Sometimes the benefit of asking for the nontraditional time is that the boss realizes they aren't making themselves very available during regular office time and they will actually make the effort to keep appointments with you or reach out for meeting times.
—ALEXI STRONG GONZALEZ, CONTRIBUTOR
Until next week,
THE BWH ADVICE GURUS
Asking for a Friend is Babes Who Hustle's weekly advice column that asks and answers the work-related questions on all of our minds. Looking for advice and guidance? Hit us with all of your questions below and stay tuned for next Wednesday's edition!