Be the willow tree

Be the willow tree

I love willow trees. It stems from my early childhood when we didn’t have much, but we did have a huge (to me) willow tree that grew in our backyard. They are found all over the world, but the one in our backyard was the only one I saw as a child. It was unique, beautiful, and tree uniquely it’s own. Something that I also wanted to be growing up. 

Here are a few things that willow trees can teach us about our own leadership and life walk. 

They grow very quickly

Willow trees are one of the fastest-growing trees on earth, producing large amounts of biomass in as little as 4-5 years. It’s a tree that truly puts all of its efforts into growth and expansion. Willow trees take full advantage of the day, and so should we. 

The idea of living a life full of personal growth, adventure, and experiences has been a huge personal driver for me in my adult life. Don’t let time be an excuse to put off something that you want or need to do. 15 years ago,

I lived in Birmingham, AL, and had a goal to visit every county in the state while doing some geocaching. I remember vividly when some of my friends stop me and commented how crazy I was for traveling so much when the price of gas was so high. My response was, “Gas is never going to get cheaper.” The price of gas then was about $2.30 per gallon then. 

Another ambitious goal was to run all the Disney races in the US in one year. 29 races across both coasts. People thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy! We saved up some money and we were able to make it happen. Two years later, all the West Coast races were canceled, and it wouldn’t be much longer before COVID would shut down the East coast races as well. 

If you have a goal, don’t put it off. Life happens and will throw a curve or downright destroy the path to realizing your vision. Maximize your time like the willow tree to grow to your fullest potential. 

Their presence adds value to others

Willow trees hold quite a bit of symbolism for different cultures. Some associate hope, compassion, a sense of belonging, and safety to the tree, while ancient Chinese culture believed that willow trees warded off evil spirits and brought good luck. There is just something about willow trees that bring people a sense of calm and security.

How are you doing in bringing calm and security to those around you? Do you inject drama and stress into the room when you arrive or do you give people a sense that things are going to be ok? Be mindful of how you carry yourself around others and reflect on the energy and value that you brought, or didn’t, to the gathering that you attended. Some people are great at either life or work scenarios but may struggle to carry the same level of commitment and excitement across both. If that’s the case, check your personal calling (EP 161) and your level of commitment to each part of your life. 

They aren’t perfect

As beautiful as the willows are, they are not perfect. The fact that they put all their effort into growth, means that they are more susceptible to catching a disease and dying. Their roots are also aggressive and can be bad in residential areas that rely on underground and ground-level amenities like water pipes, drain lines, and buried cables. 

Nobody should expect you to be perfect and if they do, you may want to check that relationship. Even though the willow tree looks healthy, it’s the flaws just underneath the surface that could get the best of it. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself in leadership and life. It can feel like you are letting your team or your family down…and maybe you did, but that’s not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, and keep growing. Remember to lean into the power of accountability partners (EP 191) and mentors (EP 171) when things get tough, or you just need an ear to listen. 

Embrace your flaws as you grow in your leadership and life walk. Put time in its place by being intentional and actionable towards your goals, be the luck maker for those around you, and remember to be a calming presence in both your personal and professional life.

Make a better tomorrow. 

Be the glowstick

Be the glowstick

Our family loves glow sticks. We typically keep a pack of the sticks and some of the necklaces and bracelets just in case a need arises on a trip, campout, or just a fun time in the backyard.  Our kids and friends are always pleasantly surprised when we hand them out. 

Whether you had fun with some over the weekend or used them in the distant past, you’ve likely encountered glow sticks at some point. Simple in design, but I’m sure there are a few good reminders that we can learn to better our personal and professional lives. 

They have to break to work

A glow stick that has yet to be used….is kind of boring. It’s very muted and the shape itself is typically uninteresting. It just sits there and exists. You know how to make the magic happen though; you take it, apply pressure to snap it, and then give it a good shake. Then the glow stick comes alive!

Sometimes things in our work and home lives have to break in order for us to reach a new level of potential. The breaking is not the fun part; think of a loss of a job, a relationship ending or relocating to a new area. As you go through a tough time either by choice or not, focus on the positive that is sure to happen on the other side of the change. It will help you as you move to your new normal. 

Be on the lookout to break things in different parts of your life to various degrees to find new and exciting ways to accomplish your goals. Maybe there are processes at work that you have done the same way for years, that need to be re-examined. Perhaps you’ve been living in the same location for a long time and have gone blind to all the updates that need to happen. Don’t go about trying to wreck your life, but look for things that could use a fresh approach and perspective. 

They live out their purpose & light the way

A glow stick has one purpose. To provide light for its owner. Singular in focus, the glow stick always does its job well. 

We talk pretty consistently about finding your life calling (EP 161) and finding purpose in your work (EP 312) Today may be a good day to do some self-reflection in this area. Are you following your calling and purpose? I know that it can be a challenge to step out in faith and do, but the long-term benefits vastly outweigh the short-term fear and discomfort. In the business world, I emphasize the concept of finding your job (Find your job series) instead of just going after the first opportunity in front of you. It’s a joy to see leaders embrace the concept and process to truly find and enjoy their purpose and it’s also frustrating to see another leader continue to go after just a job and job hop from one thing to another. They are wasting their valuable time and doing a disservice to the organizations and people that they encounter along the way. 

Find your purpose and calling and live it out wholeheartedly in all that you do. You’ll light the way for others as a result and become a guide for others to find their own purpose. 

They are fun

I haven’t run across anyone that had an awful time with a glow stick. In fact, it’s usually the opposite! No doubt glow sticks are fun to play with. They simply bring joy when it’s their time to shine. 

How have you brought joy to others this last month or week? Are people happy to see you or could they not care less? Some of that dynamic rests on their shoulders, but the rest is your responsibility. You don’t have to be an extrovert either to light up a room. Be authentic, genuine, and caring. Those three things always bring joy to others. 

Remember that Leaders don’t have bad days (PTB #13) and to leave your baggage at the front door of your work and house. It will be there for you to pick up and your way out if you want to! Shake off the crummy parts of your day and be intentional about having a great time with others, however, that looks for you. 

Looking for tips on having fun? Check out Have Fun (EP 120) & Have more fun! (EP 192)

Be the glow stick. Embrace, and look out for, those breaking moments, know your purpose as you shine a light for others, and have fun along the way. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Be a goose

Be a goose

When you think about geese, there may not be a lot of positive things that come to mind. They can be mean, very territorial, and leave a mess everywhere.

Many years ago when I lived in Birmingham, AL, I would go on runs around these beautiful little lakes in a large business complex. The only problem was that geese also loved hanging out there. Between doing the endless amounts of goose poop and the geese themselves at times, running started to be a little bit of a chore. 

Despite all their flaws, there are a few things that we can learn from geese

Everyone has time to shine and lead

Geese fly in the class V formation while migrating from one place to another. They are well known in North America and the idea of the V formation can be found in many different leadership courses and discussions. When asked where a leader saw themselves in the formation, some would say the front. They wanted to be the person leading the team. Others would argue that they wanted to be in the back, letting others shine on the team. 

The truth is that each of the perspectives is right when they are put together. Sometimes you need to be in the font, and sometimes you need to be in the back. That’s exactly how geese lead each other. They rotate who is in front to give each other rest and time to take a break.

Geese share the load and step in and lead when it’s appropriate.   

They are very loyal to each other

Geese are extremely loyal to one another. If one becomes injured or sick during one of their flights together, the hurt goose will drop out of the formation while two other geese will stay behind to protect the hurt goose until it can fly again. Mother geese are famously protective of their little ones and will chase humans and other perceived predators away if they sense that they are getting too close. In both examples, the goose is willing to give up its own security in order to protect another goose in the group. 

While we may not need to yell at every human who gets near a hurting friend, we are better friends, family members, and co-workers when we do life together and look out for one another. 

  • Keep in good contact with your peers and other co-workers so that you know when something is off. Oftentimes people could use some help and don’t communicate it to others. Be a helping hand or a hero for someone when they are down. 
  • As family members, it’s important to protect each other as we grow in our life journey. It may be by physical protection or helping someone younger (or older) navigate the internet in a safe way. Help guide your family with your unique skills and abilities. 
  • Good friends are often times where we are the most loyal, especially for those that are younger. As life continues to change the dynamic that you have with other friends, be intentional in staying connected and in each other lives. You may be the perfect ear for someone as they share the hardships that they are going through. 

They communicate…. a lot. 

Sometimes you can hear the geese overhead before you can see them. They honk, a lot and loudly! Scientists believe that geese honk so much when they fly together in order to communicate with one another mid-flight. Get too close to a goose on the ground and it will likely start honking at you and maybe even open up its wings and start flapping them at you.  Even in the mundane, it seems like geese are constantly communicating with each other and those around them. 

People love their routines. Once we get into a great groove and routine, we can often drop off our level of communication. People should know what to do and how to do it, right? It’s important to stay engaged and keep the communication going across all parties even in the small things. This keeps informed and gives you both an opportunity to share any changes that may have larger implications later. 

Despite their flaws, we can learn a thing or two about teamwork from geese. Give others a chance to step out of their comfort zone and bask in the spotlight, communicate well and often and hold true to your loyalty to others. Just be sure not to leave a mess wherever you go. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

How to handle a micromanager

How to handle a micromanager

Micromanagers can suck all of the joy and efficiency out of your work and productivity. I know when I had them in my own life, I was more stressed and certainly not fully satisfied in my role and even had lower engagement with the overall organization as a result. Think you have a micromanager in your line of leadership? Last week we talked about how to identify one and what the possible reasons were for the behavior. 

So what do you do if you have a micromanager? Quit? Become passive-aggressive? Subvert authority? All of those may be tempting, but we’ll look at some healthy ways to address the person and behavior.

Eliminate the “You” factors

As we discussed last week, there are situations where you as the follower are driving the need for micromanagement. If the “you” factor is in play, you’re in luck. You’ll have a clearer and easier path to grow through the behavior. 

  • Be more proactive in communication. Anticipate the needs of your supervisor when it comes to what information they look for and what time frame they like to receive communication in. You can cut off some of the micromanaging behavior by heading it off before it happens. 
  • Beat those deadlines! It’s always helpful to come in ahead of deadlines and require little to no follow-up on the task or project.
  • Show your growth in knowledge. It’s also helpful to show how you are growing in experience in your immediate area and residual areas that influence your work. You may be getting micromanaged because your boss doesn’t think that you know the job well enough or you aren’t a technical expert in the area yet. 
  • Show your partnerships. Show your leader how you are collaborating with others to get the job done well. Recognize others in your conversations with your supervisor. It shows you are a team player and also lets your leader know that you celebrate the success and achievements of others. 
  • Find small ways to boost your credibility. Small wins add up. Look for ways to get some small victories in your work or responsibility to help grow your credibility and trust with your supervisor. 
  • Mimic their style. Don’t micromanage back, but adjust your style of communication to match theirs. Timeliness, length, and method of communication. 

Understand their intent

As you decipher the best way to address your leader about micromanaging behavior it’s important to understand their intent so you can connect in a way that resonates with them. Put yourself in their shoes to help understand where they are coming from. Other ways to understand intent include:

  • Tap into their vision and aspirations. Find out what they are trying to accomplish or achieve through the work that you are doing.  Having this understanding helps you communicate in a way that resonates with them and can lead to them giving you more space. 
  • Guide those that micromanage without intent. Sometimes micromanagers don’t even realize that they are one. In these cases, it may also be helpful to take the behavior from a different approach. Ask for freedom in a way that is not confrontational, “Can I run this one and check in with you to give you updates?” Start small and agree on a timetable for when check-ins will occur. 

Be straightforward

Being straightforward with your leader can be the best approach at times when it comes to micromanagement. This can be a difficult conversation to have because you may feel like you are putting your job on standing in the organization in jeopardy if the person is an insecure leader and the conversation doesn’t go as planned. 

Take a soft, yet straightforward approach. Coming in too hard will certainly not be received well and can do more harm than good. Instead of being confrontational, come in with a desire to grow through a caring approach. Try things like, “I feel like I don’t have your full trust yet to do my job well. How can I grow that trust with you?” or even more direct, “I feel like I’m being micromanaged. When you do X, I feel Y and it impacts my ability to get the job done.” Either way that you start the conversation, look to make the solution a collaborative effort where you are both agreeing on the next steps to take. 

Remember that no one loves being called out as a micromanager. Be friendly, smile, and try to keep the conversation light when possible to help your message be received better. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

The characteristics of a micromanager

The characteristics of a micromanager

I don’t know of any company out there that goes out and looks for ineffective people and micromanaging leaders to add to their team. How ridiculous would it be to see in a job description “Must be able to micromanage others in order to get tasks completed.” 

So how do we end up with so many micromanagers that can make our work lives miserable? Sometimes it’s company culture, sometimes it’s the bad habits of the leaders, and other times it’s our own behavior that pushed the leader into a micromanagement style. 

Signs of a micromanager 

Micromanagers are typically people who want things done a certain way, but leave out the context, support, and understanding to grow an individual. Some signs of a micromanager include:

  • They generally slow down work, through redundant approvals. How often are their approvals necessary?
  • Having difficulty delegating and letting go of tasks that they previously held.
  • They can tend to be perfectionists. 
  • They need all the information before they feel confident in making a decision. 
  • They may have an underlying fear of missing out on an opportunity.
  • They lead through authority instead of influence.  
  • Tasks big and small receive the same level of scrutiny.
  • Rarely seeks input from others. 

Micromanagers aren’t all evil leaders that want to make your work life miserable. They sometimes put a high value on structure to avoid chaos and unknowns. Other micromanagers may have good intentions but struggle with self-confidence and have a poor self-image.  This doesn’t make the behavior right, but it does remind us that there is a person behind the tension and conflict that arises from micromanagement. 

Is it you or your boss?

People often assume that the leader is always the problem when it comes to micromanaging. They are the ones that are constantly over your shoulder after all in nearly everything that you do. There are times and situations where the follower is actually the cause for the micromanager. So is it you or your leader?

Is it me?

Self-reflect to understand if your actions, inactions, reputation, or trust levels are driving the micromanagement. Some thought-provoking idea starters include questions like:

  • Are your priorities aligned to the teams and organization goals? This can sometimes get misaligned especially for those that are creative and innovative. It’s not always micromanagement when your leader needs to stay close to keep you focused on the rights tasks.
  • How have you been on deadlines? Have you missed several lately or are you the last one to complete your part of a project?
  • What is your trust and respect level with your leader?
  • What is your cadence of communication with your leader? Are you keeping them aware of project and task status? It’s likely that your leader needs to make others (including their boss) aware of the status of the important things that you are working on. 

While the leader ultimately decides how to lead, your actions may be contributing to the behavior or even pulling them to a micromanagement style that they don’t enjoy.

Is it them?

There are times when you are doing all the right things, yet you are still being micromanaged. This may be because of the leader themselves. Ask yourself these questions to help understand if the micromanagement is leader-driven.  

  • Are they laser-focused on things getting done a certain way? Exclude safety and compliance when considering this behavior. When it comes to safety and compliance regulations, there is often very little wiggle room to take things from a different approach. 
  • Are they new in the role? Leaders can often struggle a bit as they cross the juncture to a higher level of leadership. They need to adapt their priorities and let go of certain responsibilities that they previously held. 
  • Are they stressed out all the time at work? They may be feeling real or imagined pressure to hit a quota or deadline.
  • Do they have a fear of failure? Perhaps they have an extensive, “do not do” list when it comes to how you do your work. 
  • Are they a perfectionist that will jump in and take over a project or task? This can check several boxes for the leader including a self-esteem boost, and validation of their own work.
  • Do they have trouble trusting others, especially when their reputation is on the line?

Try your best to look at both sides neutrally to avoid having a confirmation bias towards the person and situation. Your mind can easily decide on the reasoning behind the micromanagement and then begin looking at small things that confirm that line of thought, even when it’s not reality. 

Does your company enable micromanagement?

Micromanagers aren’t born into the world. They are created through their personal experiences and are enabled by those around them. The culture of the organization can unknowingly feed and grow micromanagers among teams.

  • A leader may begin having micromanaging tendencies if they hear their leader share about poor employees or discuss others in a negative light. 
  • Senior leaders may not trust their frontline employees. This distrust can cascade down the leadership ladder and impact how they lead. 
  • The Sr leader may not be in touch with what is going on further down in the team and is missing the opportunity to coach the leader out of the poor leadership style.

Understand the signs of a micromanager and then step back and take an unbiased approach to understand where the behavior is coming from. Appreciate the part that you play in the relationship dynamic. Next week, we’ll cover how to handle a micromanaging boss. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

The Career Toolkit with Mark Herschberg

The Career Toolkit with Mark Herschberg

This week Zack sits down with Mark Herschberg to discuss his latest book The Career Toolkit. During the podcast, you will learn about:

  • How to maximize your efforts in terms of growth and potential
  • What personal considerations should be thought about when looking at a new role
  • Demystifying HR’s role in the hiring process
  • How to get your resume in the right hands
  • Remember that you are always interviewing
  • The power of communication and it’s ability to raise or lower your potential

Resources from the show

Mark’s book

The Career Toolkit App

About Mark

Mark Herschberg is the author of The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia. He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and a M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He also works with many non-profits, currently serving on the board of Plant A Million Corals. He was one of the top-ranked ballroom dancers in the country and now lives in New York City, where he is known for his social gatherings, including his annual Halloween party, as well as his diverse cufflink collection.