Thursday, January 3, 2013

The hardest part of the job...

People often ask me what the most difficult thing I do is, and for me, and for many of you it's always the same answer... It's the people.

I can juggle many complex tasks, organize an event for tomorrow, listen to an irate donor until I've lulled them to happiness, and crank out work like you wouldn't believe... But the thing that keeps me up at night, other than my nightmares of angry talking tchotchkes, is managing people.

I'm not just speaking of direct reports or a specific department, managing people, in all directions is not only difficult but at times draining. For those of you that have the whole people thing down pat, congratulations, but I've never met you. For the rest of us, some things I have learned, I would love for my wise audience to add some tips to this:

1. If you have the opportunity, hire well, hire to your weaknesses, and then get out of the way. The pool of development talent can sometimes seem shallow and murky. Two written in stone rules for me; don't  hire anyone in development with a mistake on their résumé, no matter how small, and don't hire anyone who doesn't write you a hand written note after you interview them. Nope, email isn't good enough, they need to understand the power of a note, if you struggle with this decision, please read this fantastic book.

2. If you can, try to manage expectations, not just people. This one works well for me, as I am a very direct personality... In case you haven't noticed. This works especially well when managing up or someone who may not understand exactly what it is you do. Set a clear understanding of the outcomes, deadlines, action items, what you need, and if you're not in charge, you can always clarify in a follow up communication, enhancing your listening skills and their consciousness of your presence in the process. Don't be a martyr and be a powerful professional instead.

3. Understand that not everyone learns or communicates in the same way you do. I am an email first person, it is my safety zone for communication and I love data, spreadsheets and crunching numbers.  Some people prefer face to face communication and charts (those two seem to go together for some reason) or phone calls and anecdotes, learn about your audience and help adapt your style to them. Want it in writing? Good, you can always send a follow up email. In the same hand, hard to believe, but when someone shows you who they are, believe them. Most people are incapable of large sweeping change, hence the reason most New Years resolutions fail miserably, but people can adapt. I can never change who I am at the core of my existence, and I'm okay with that but I have learned to adapt or not, depending on the circumstance and consequence. How can you help someone adapt to you? For me, I try to disarm people with humor because I know I'm a big personality, and I also explain that I enjoy direct feedback.

4. Be the kind of boss and coworker you want, regardless of the situation.   I have learned great lessons from my many leaders. But my first leadership and management lesson was taught to me by my Dad, we were walking through one of the massive factories he ran when I was little and he greeted everyone by name, but stopped to chat with the janitor(now called a sanitation engineer).  I asked him why he took special time for that man and he said to me, "because I used to be a janitor, they know everything, and are the heart of the operation, treat them well and you can't fail." No truer words were ever spoken. We tend to get caught up in titles and hierarchy, especially in Higher Ed., the titles I choose to focus on are names.

5. Hire well. Sounds like a repeat, huh? Nope. Ask good questions during the interview process and observe behaviors that aren't direct, like how people treat support staff, servers in restaurants, etc. and how difficult they make it to schedule time with them. Some of my favorite interview questions that I've asked or have been asked of me: What does philanthropy mean to you? What kind of work fulfills you? Tell me the last book you read. When was the last time you made a mistake? Tell me about a time when you were a doer and a time when you were a thinker or observer. What has been your greatest learning experience on the job? I have plenty more, email me if you want a list.

6. If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me. Just kidding, this is a quote from Steel Magnolias. But the thing I struggle with daily is learning to be more stoic (otherwise known as a poker face) and more quiet in meetings. This will be a lifelong struggle for me but I am getting much better. Doodling helps... No, seriously. But sometimes you can't help but be quiet because its best to not open your mouth. For those of you that have mastered this, let's hang out in silence together.

7. Finally, understand that with people comes that unique characteristic of humanness. We're not perfect, but we sure are interesting. Not everyone was made to be friends, but we can all try to work together in harmony,  and if you can't seem to make it work, look at yourself first and then ask someone you respect to help you. Some personalities are just not a good mix, no matter how hard you try. So you may have to bless and release some things.

I hope some of these rung true for you. I encourage you to share your tips, questions, and thoughts below. Happy New Year to you all, 2013 is going to be fabulous, I just know it... Pie chart and spreadsheet to follow to prove I'm right... :)


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  2. Great post, Lynne. Yes, some of these most definitely rang true for me. I understand we'll be seeing each other in mid-May?! Can hardly wait! Fun times (and educational, of course) are sure to be had.

    Love your blog.

  3. Hello, Lynne! This is Lia Kampman! Yes, this post rang incredibly true! A rule I'd like to add is evaluating why a prospective employee wants to work at your organization. Do they want a "slow down" from corporate American and think non-profits will be "easier"? Do they want to work at their beloved alma mater without knowledge of [insert field here: fundraising, higher education, administrative assistant work, etc., etc.]?

    I'm currently reading the fantastic book, and I can assure everyone, it truly is fantastic. Thanks again for always providing relevant insights into the crazy world that is donor relations!

  4. Lynne,

    This is such a GREAT post, especially for the new year!

    I laughed out loud with the quote from Steel Magnolias . . . a film that is on a long list of my favorites. I will definitely have to get that list of questions the next time I am hiring someone or being interviewed.

    And I am RIGHT THERE with you on the handwritten note! Even with e-mail, I think it is such a critical skill to have in our field.

    Looking forward to that pie chart and spreadsheet to prove that 2013 will be especially great!

  5. Hello there! Are you an often online visitor or maybe you are more into face to face communication?