I recently just completed my MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Along the way, I learned some things and thought I would write them down, find some relevant gifs, and publish them on the internet.
1. How To Establish a Growth Mindset
The most important and substantial thing I learned was how to reframe setbacks. We all make mistakes but I am one of those people who really beat themselves up for every screw-up.
But hey, we are all flawed humans. We can view mistakes in one of two ways. We can have a “fixed mindset” and view them as failures and reasons why we are terrible human beings. OR we can have a “growth mindset” and view them as opportunities to learn something and grow. Carol S. Dweck coined the mindset vocabulary behind these ideas in her book Mindset: The Psychology of Success.
2. Clarity of the One Word Why
This is similar in theme to number one, which is why it’s number two. Our professor had us choose a word to internalize why we wanted to grow our managerial skills. The task was to pick one word that we could use as a mantra to help us develop our growth mindset. They asked us to write it down on a post-it note and place it somewhere we would see it. This little mantra, a single word, helped me find motivation when I was tired, helped me accept hard to hear feedback, and helped me believe that I could continue to grow. In short, this one word has been an inspiration for me the entire semester. If you don’t believe me, ask Ted Lasso and see him adopt the same strategy with his mantra: “Believe!”
3. What Psychological Safety Is
This article from the New York Times does a great job detailing how Google discovered the most critical factor in a team’s success was a high degree of psychological safety.
Psychological safety is a fancy way of saying that individuals with a group feel safe to throw out ideas, feelings, or other information without fear of embarrassment, rejection, or some different kind of punishment. Psychological safety extends beyond the intellect and applies to the trust and respect people are comfortable being their whole selves.
4. Effective Goals Are Meaningful and Audacious
Setting good goals is an important and impossible task. I’ve had bosses that set no goals. I’ve had bosses that had me set arbitrary metrics and growth metrics as goals. What I’ve never had a boss do is set OKRs.
OKR is a framework for setting effective goals and stands for Objectives and Key Results. I’ll try to describe OKRs here, but for the sake of both of us, just watch the TED talk below by John Doerr. Objectives are the “what” — they are significant, concrete, actionable, and inspirational. Key Results are measurable, verifiable, aggressive, realistic, and specific indicators that the objective was reached. If you want a more narrative discussion of OKRs, I suggest reading Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke.
5. Know Thyself
How well do you know yourself? Are you outwardly or inwardly focused? How do you prefer to take in information? How do you like to make decisions? How do you choose to live your life? These are all tough questions to know on the spot but are answerable in the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This isn’t a sales pitch for MBTI, but rather a pitch to remember and understand your personality type.
Once you know your personality type, it becomes easier to understand others and their personality type. You might find that friction you feel with a co-worker might boil down to differences in personalities. From personal experience, that simple knowledge can smooth out those relationship wrinkles. (Sorry it took me so long, Brian!)
6. Meetings Don’t Have To Suck
When the professor first started making this point, I was pretty sure it was a bad Valentine’s Day joke. Meetings have sucked, do suck, and will forever suck. It wasn’t until the professor made the very astute point that despite the fact the middle manager spends 35% of their time in meetings, we rarely critically think about improving them. It was in that sheepish moment that I reflected, despite running countless hours of meetings, I’m not sure I tried improving any of my meetings.
This HBR article by Steven Rogelberg lays out a relatively simple framework for improving meetings: Assess, Prepare, Facilitate, and Reassess. Good meetings are hard work, and to think you can wing effective meetings is frankly egotistical (I’m talking to myself, exclusively).
During the assessment:
- think critically about your meetings
- observe what you are doing
- reflect on what you learned to improve the meeting
Preparation is just the simple notion that good meetings require work. A good meeting needs:
- a purpose
- a cohesive agenda
- a meaningful participant list
- a place/platform reflective of the discussion
Facilitation is about adopting a stewardship mindset:
- ask questions
- engaging all participants
- modeling active listening
- managing conflicts
Lastly, reassessment is the growth opportunity:
- diagnose your meeting problems
- learn to prepare better to facilitate the next time
- remember, there is always room for improvement
7. Listening is Hard And W.A.I.T.
Oh. My. Goodness. Active listening is much more complicated than any one of us wants to admit. It can be so hard to let pauses and silence in conversation sit there. We want to talk; we are social human beings, after all! I’ve taken some comfort in realizing it is not just me — listening is a complex skill to master for anyone.
There is one phrase I am using to help me actively listen more, Why Am I Talking (WAIT)? It is just a simple, easy reminder to just shut the hell up and listen!
8. Coaching IRL
I’m naturally not a bad coach. I’ve gotten feedback that I’m a great coach, but it isn’t a skill I necessarily actively think about employing. And no, I’m not talking about coaching like in team sports. Coaching as a manager is helping guide someone else through a reflective process to find their solutions and actions. Coaching is not telling someone what to do and how to do it. Good coaching is built on the premise that folks are capable of solving their problems!
I want to jot down a set of coaching questions that I’m trying to use more often:
- What’s the best place for us to start?
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- If you’re saying “Yes” to this, what are you saying “No” to?
- What was most useful to you?
- It sounds like you feel/felt…
- How is this similar to something you’ve been through before?
- When have you been in a situation like this and felt differently?
- What are you willing to take on to move this forward?
9. Delegation Red Flags
I’m not proud to admit it, but these categories for “delegate red flags” helped me realize I was delegating work to my team poorly. At moments in my career, I thought I lacked the time to delegate tasks. I lacked trust that my team could complete those tasks. I thought my team lacked interest so I didn’t bother asking them to help. I was just too timid to delegate work to them. If you can relate to any of these red flags, then there is an opportunity for you to rethink delegation. In each category, I’ve included some reframing questions to help you get started delegating work to your own teams.
- “I’m too busy to delegate.”
- “I’m burning out.”
- “I can’t take any time off.”
- What if someone started the work earlier?
- Will this situation arise again?
- “No one else can do it right.”
- Are your expectations clear?
- What check-ins can you build into the work?
- Is “different” from your way necessarily wrong? Have you communicated both what and why?
- Where are you building capacity in the team?
- “If they could do it, they would already be doing it.”
- Do they know the pressures and constraints you face?
- Have you signaled that you are willing to let go?
- Have you made a direct ask?
- Have you shared your “why”?
- “I feel bad asking someone else to do my work.”
- Have you considered the opportunities the work would give them?
- Have you underestimated their desire to be helpful?
- Are you applying your time to the most critical responsibilities expected of you?
10. The Four Ds
I can do a better job prioritizing and delegating tasks. A dead-simple framework for thinking about prioritization and empowerment is Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants and the Four Ds: Do, Delay, Delegate, and Delete.
Tasks that are high urgency and high importance are “do.” Items that are high urgency but low importance are “delegate.” Assignments that have low urgency and high importance are “delay.” And lastly, chores that are low urgency and low importance are a “delete”!
11. Ways to Give Feedback
Giving feedback is complex and more than a little scary. We often don’t provide the feedback we need to share because we are scared of being disliked. This fear means most of us aren’t getting the feedback we need to grow. My humble suggestion is to find a framework you like to help guide you. A little process and structure can go a long way in helping deliver feedback that resonates.
Here is one feedback framework: Set clear expectations on what performance should look like according to you. State your observations on what exactly was seen, heard, read, etc., only facts! Next, discuss your assessment of how your observations compare to your expectations. Lastly, draw it to a conclusion by examining the consequences or possible effects of this performance.
12. Making Receiving Feedback Less Painful
When you get feedback, your brain responds in the same way if you are physically attacked. Your body enters fight or flight mode. This type of response, where an emotional stimulus invokes your physical fight-or-flight, is called the amygdala hijack. Luckily, if we can understand our body’s physical reaction and how our amygdala gets hijacked, we can channel the response to a more productive state.
When you get feedback, understand that the racing feeling you get, the drop of your heart or pit in your stomach, is your body responding to the stimulus. In those moments, breathe, reflect, and accept that this is an opportunity to learn. The person delivering you this feedback is likely doing so because they have very high expectations of you and want to see you grow. Graciously and generously accept what they have to say and try to understand what they are saying. Say thank you!
13. Stress can be healthy?
This was perhaps the most surprising thing I learned during class. My entire life, I was bombarded with the message that stress was bad and having too much stress in your life would cause all sorts of health problems. Yet this TED Talk How to make stress your friend by Kelly McGonigal posited that we could reframe stress to be healthy and valuable.
McGonigal’s idea that stress could be healthily resonated with a deeply held belief that stress can be something you can leverage to improve your productivity. Or maybe it’s just the procrastinator in me finding a coping mechanism. McGonigal suggests that viewing stress response as something that will help us perform better at the stressful task changes the physical response, and our response becomes healthier. I could explain more of the talk, but it’s a fool’s errand to try to abbreviate an elegant TED talk. Just watch it!
14. On Being Positive
Would you believe me if I said feelings are “catchable”? Would you believe me if I said it is harder for our brains to process and accept positive emotions over negative ones? I think we know these things to be true, and there is plenty of research to back us up. Yet, so few of our organizations work to help manage our emotional culture. Stimulating positivity and assisting teams in feeling pride in the work they do and gratitude for the work of their colleagues are feelings that we as managers can help cultivate. See Manage Your Emotional Culture by Sigal Barsada and Olivia O’Neill for more insight.
I have made it a goal for myself to notice others’ great work and show more gratitude. Secondly, I will try to take more pride in my work and create a space for others to share their pride. See The Powerful Effect of Noticing Good Things at Work by Joyce Bono and Theresa Glomb for how these simple practices can change your workplace.
15. A good thank-you takes 90 seconds
This takes some practice to believe. I’m not sure how reliable a narrator you find me at this point, but I attest that a good, simple, meaningful thank-you note takes no longer to write than 90 seconds. It makes a world of difference to show folks you work with and in your life unexpected gratitude. Try it.
16. Challenge your relationship with your boss
Raise your hand if you’ve ever written off your relationship with your boss?
(Sorry, Peter!) 🙋 Maybe your current boss is terrible, or perhaps you’ve never really given your boss a shot? I am working on bettering my relationship with my boss. Along the way, I have formed a series of questions that have helped me reframe our relationship. Many of these questions are fairly leading — but they help lead you in the right direction. So lean in, ask yourself these questions, just maybe you too can think of your boss a little differently.
- Do you see your boss as a coach/developer or as an evaluator/judge?
- What small risks have you taken to test their willingness to provide support and development?
- Are you meeting your boss’ expectations? Do you know what your boss's expectations are? Are you helping your boss meet expectations with their own boss?
- Can your boss count on you to do the “right thing”?
- Do you know what your boss is ultimately responsible for delivering?
- Do you know their strengths as well as their weaknesses?
- Are you clear about what you and your team need and expect?
- Do you have expectations of your boss that you have not communicated?
- Have you discussed with your boss your individual and your team’s growth, development, aspirations?
- Have you given them negative/constructive feedback?
- Have you demonstrated to your boss that you have your team’s back?
17. Being a Better Person
Being a better person means constantly learning and getting better at understanding your privilege and biases. Being a better person means admitting mistakes when you misstep and unknowingly discriminate. Being a better person means noticing and owning new tendencies you weren’t aware you had. Being a better person means taking ownership of your learning. Being a better person means challenging others’ questionable behavior.
Being a better person means applying our growth mindset to difficult conversations on discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, or others.
18. The Power of a Good Story
Stories and metaphors are powerful vehicles to help deliver a point. Unfortunately, data does not change our behavior. Otherwise, we would all be exercising 60 minutes a day, have a healthy 401k account, flossing, and getting 8 hours of sleep every night. Good stories are compelling, memorable, and “sticky.” Stories also help with complex problem framing and can help simplify complexity or effectively convey abstract concepts.
What changes behavior are our emotions. Stories are proven to be the best way to cultivate those emotions based on your brain’s physical response! Karen Eber’s TED Talk How your brain responds to stories and why they’re crucial for leaders speaks to how our brains respond when we listen to anecdotes in this insightful TED Talk. Eber’s TED Talk does a much better job explaining this biological response, so watch that instead!
This managerial list of 18 different ideas and topics is a lot to consider and be mindful of at all times. As the author, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in every category. I am doing my best to practice each skill and keep a growth mindset to get better continually. I will screw some of these up along the way to becoming a better manager. That is OK. Ultimately, understanding and appreciating this list has already improved my own life and hopefully enhanced the lives of those I work with daily. I hope this list will give you a new perspective on a couple of topics, and maybe you try to listen a little more, write a quick 90-second thank you note, or figure out what your one-word-why.
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18 Things I Learned Taking a Business School Class on Management was originally published in BuzzFeed Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.