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When Do You Decide to Stop Being the Boss?

The Office    You’re the boss, but you’re unhappy. You’re the Sales Manager, the Operations Manager, the Senior Team Leader, but you really don’t like it very much, and you’re beginning to wonder if you made a terrible mistake wanting to be a manager in the first place.

So…when is it okay to decide you want out? When is it okay to decide to stop being the boss?

Let’s consider a few thoughts about this — but first, a disclaimer. I am NOT giving you advice here! A decision to step down from a management position is a highly individual one, not to be taken lightly. Seek plenty of honest input from people whose counsel you trust, and make sure you’ve handled the decision well before you take what many would consider a leap backward. Don’t act impulsively. (And before you read on, sign this release form. Just kidding.)

I bring this question up because I have twice made the decision to step out of a management job and to stay with the same organization in a “front line” role with no supervisory responsibilities. In hindsight both decisions were good ones, and were I faced with the same choice today I would likely do the same thing. The first time I stepped down voluntarily was early in my radio career when I was Sales Manager; the second time came more than two decades later when I was VP of Donor Relations. Here are a few common denominators that affected each decision. Do any of these apply to you in your present managerial situation?

  • In both instances I was working for a boss I found very hard to please, largely due to my inexperience
  • Both those bosses felt they knew more about my job (radio sales and fundraising) than I did, and they may have been right
  • In both instances I felt like I was in over my head and had doubts (groundless, but real) about my future job security
  • In both of these situations my dissatisfaction had gone on for months — and seemed to be getting worse
  • In both cases I had begun to doubt my professional abilities, and that self-doubt was compounding the stress in my life
  • In both situations I had complete support from my trusting and discerning wife who saw how the stress was affecting me
  • In each of these situations, before I made a move, I had met with my boss on multiple occasions and talked openly through my decision process so the choice to step down from management did not seem impulsive or irresponsible
  • In each case I planned as well as I could for my own transition within the organization, and also helped plan how my managerial duties would be covered by reorganizing the team.

How did it turn out? The first time, I moved from Sales Manager into a sales position and things went fairly well. The second time I moved from the VP position into a fundraising job and things went okay but I ended up taking a job outside the organization six months later. The downside both times was that I did take a hit in salary and benefits — ouch — and my ego took a hit as well, to be candid, even though leaving management was my decision. So it goes. But each time I was happier and will probably live longer as a result. And I did end up managing again (after the first self-demotion anyway) and was much better at it the second time around.

If you’re a leader and happy in that role, stick to it with enthusiasm. If you’re new to leadership and you’re not sure how happy you are, hang in there — you need time to learn and to grow. But if you’ve been managing for a while and you’re increasingly unhappy and unsure of yourself, it just might not be the worst thing in the world, after you’ve taken all the variables into account, to decide to do the counterintuitive thing and step down voluntarily, moving into a non-managerial role. Just a thought, for what it’s worth.

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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Three Clues I Was in the Wrong Job

wrong-career        As I have mentioned before, I had a very brief and VERY unspectacular sales stint years ago working for an unnamed office products company. To this day I wonder why I took that job in the first place, and when I realize how little enthusiasm and energy I brought to my employer I feel a twinge of guilt.  (Sorry, Greg. Sorry, Phil.) On the positive side, I did learn a lot, but I knew almost from the very start that the job was a bad fit for me, and I for it.

I’m not trying to give career advice here (I suspect I’m the wrong guy for that…) but during the time I worked for this company there were at least three persistent clues that kept telling me I was in the wrong job. I may not have heeded the warnings at the time but in hindsight I know that these three alarm bells were sounding loud and clear! The Three Clues were…

Clue #1: I didn’t like telling people what I did for a living. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of it — the company was fine and all that. But I knew that people would start probing about how I liked the job or how well I was doing, and I really didn’t want the conversation to go there. It made me uncomfortable to reveal how unhappy I was and how ill-suited I felt for the position. (By contrast, when I’m enthused about my work — like I am now — it’s hard to get me to shut up about it!)

Clue #2: I found myself wasting inordinate amounts of time. Part of my territory included Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle (cold calling in the Smith Tower with those old fashioned elevators was an experience never to be forgotten). There was a deli in one of the old buildings where I sat many a morning at a table next to the old brick wall, sipping English breakfast tea with honey and half and half, letting valuable time slip by, daydreaming about other things I could be doing for a living. No excuses — I see now that I was simply practicing an unhealthy level of creative avoidance.

Clue #3: I didn’t really care about the profession. In the training they taught us to do product demonstrations and to ask lots of questions, which was a valuable skill, one that I mastered during the role play sessions (don’t you just love those?). But in the real world I quickly realized that, even though I could go through the motions and all, I really didn’t care two cents about what the client was telling me! That’s a bad sign: you’re supposed to be listening for valuable information upon which to build your sales presentation, but instead I would ask the question and then mentally tune out the reply. Not professional, and not very respectful of the client’s time, either.

No doubt there were other warning signs, too, but you get the picture. The more I avoided talking about my work, neglected basic habits of productive time management, and zoned during sales calls, the more obvious the conclusion: this job was not right for me. Fortunately through a referral I was able to change career fields shortly thereafter, embarking on the thrilling adventure of selling radio advertising which kept me occupied for most of the ensuing 28 years.

So how about you? If you feel you’re in the wrong job, some honest self-assessment may be in order. It may be time for a change! But if you can’t make a change, what else can you do to make things better? Several ideas come to mind…but I suppose that’s a question better left for another time.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Negative People Need Drama     Ran across this quote and couldn’t resist sharing it!

We all know what it’s like being around people who are habitually negative. There’s a corrosive quality to their attitudes, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that seems to say, “No matter how bad things get, they will probably get worse!” Sadly, that kind of toxic thinking is contagious, affecting the negative person’s friends, family, even an entire office full of people.

What’s more, as this little quote says, negative people tend to love drama. They wallow in conspiracy theories. They savor the direst of predictions. No positive motive goes unexamined. No good deed goes unpunished. Suspicion is the order of the day, along with a habitually thin skin. It’s exhausting!

So in light of all this, what are we positive thinkers to do?

Here’s the obvious answer: the best way (maybe the only way!) to overcome another person’s negativity is to find all the ways you can to stay positive. Practice the old “attitude of gratitude.” Strengthen your faith muscles through prayer and praise. Rehearse all the reasons you can find to be glad. Start hanging around people who will lift you up, not bring you down. If your circle of friends is the problem, pick new friends. Negative thinking can indeed become habitual — but then again, so can positive thinking.

Easier said than done? Perhaps…but I know what the power of negative thinking can do when left unchecked and unchallenged. So choke off the drama machine! Fight back with love and a smile! It may drive your negative friends nuts — but it will be worth it.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“One Thing” — the Power of Focus

Jack Palance One Thing      Everybody knows the famous line from City Slickers. During the cattle drive, cowboy Jack Palance (the unforgettable Curly) offers to tell uptight radio advertising salesman Billy Crystal about the secret of life. It’s simple, Curly states, holding up his index finger.  “One thing,” Curly says. “Just one thing.” Crystal’s character Mitch asks Curly to explain what the “one thing” is. “That’s what you gotta figure out,” replies Curly cryptically.

Speculation has abounded ever since as to exactly what old Curly really meant. (Spoiler alert: in the movie he dies not long after sharing this deep insight. “The man ate bacon every day,” said fellow tenderfoot Phil. “You can’t do that!”) But Curly’s quote came to mind the other day when I was thinking about how good leaders are able to maintain their focus in spite of a relentless rash of distractions. I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. You and your team embark on a major project. Things get going with energy and enthusiasm. But soon other projects, other priorities, other agendas begin to pop up like moles in the old Whack-a-Mole game. The team gets distracted. Or worse, the leader gets distracted! He or she begins to take the old eye off the ball. And when the leader begins to lose focus, inevitably momentum grinds to a halt, progress evaporates, and frustration becomes the mood of the day.

When it comes to effective leadership I like to consider the example of one of my favorite Old Testament characters, Nehemiah. His book, especially the first 7 chapters, represents a terrific, highly practical manual on effective leadership. Nehemiah had been sent from Susa, 800 miles away, to the ruined city of Jerusalem, intent on rebuilding the wall that had been torn down decades before when the city was sacked. Without the wall the city could barely function, but with the wall intact Jerusalem could once again become a viable commercial and spiritual hub — so getting the wall completed was a huge priority. And as we read when we come to Nehemiah chapter 6, the big project was almost finished! The wall was practically done!

Doesn’t it seem like things can unravel the fastest as you get closer to the finish line? That’s when a handful of powerful opponents, made up of people who preferred the status quo (sound like anyone you know in your office?), really began to ramp up their opposition, trying to stop the work on the wall. They first tried to distract Nehemiah with pleasant invitations masking sinister motives. When that didn’t work they resorted to rumor, innuendo and false accusation. Finally they even threatened bodily harm as a way to deter this highly focused leader and those working for him. But Nehemiah refused to take the bait and become distracted. He said, in essence, “Sorry, guys, no chance — I have a job to do and a wall to finish, and my team and I are not going to be deterred.” And they got it done, an accomplishment that finally silenced the critics.

For Nehemiah the “one thing” was finishing the wall around Jerusalem. For me, I’ve come to realize that it’s reaching the financial goal for the alternative high school I raise money for. What’s your “one thing”? It could be personal or professional, a team effort or something you’ll accomplish solo. Whatever it is, I’m learning a valuable lesson from Nehemiah — and from Curly! Don’t get distracted. Figure out the one thing. Remember the power of focus!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Clueless…and Proud to Admit It!

Confused  I don’t know whatever happened to Leslie, but if she’s still out there I have a message for her: “Thank you.” Leslie was the first real media buyer I ever called on, back in the early days of radio (I think it was during the Carter Administration). I remember sitting in her office on Capitol Hill asking about an upcoming buy and hoping I would get the chance to present my radio station for her consideration.

Finally she said, “Fine. Here’s what I want in the proposal.” I think what she asked for was your basic reach and frequency and gross rating point and cost per point and exclusive cume proposal. But to me, having been a radio rep for about twenty minutes, it sounded like she was asking me for the formula for nuclear fission. As she rattled off all the data points she wanted, I dutifully nodded like I knew what I was doing and wrote everything down, or tried to.

After a few moments, Leslie stopped and stared at me.  “You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, do you?”

I swallowed hard. “Um…nope,” I answered. Fortunately she was a patient sort — she probably appreciated my honesty — and she proceeded to give me a basic primer on a few of the tidbits of information she needed, and why they were important. She also made sure I got the terms written down properly so I could look them up on my own. Instead of leaving with my tail between my legs, I left feeling much more confident.

Did I get on the buy? I don’t remember, to be honest, but I do remember that Leslie did me a huge favor: she didn’t make me feel stupid. She could have fussed and fumed and complained that the station had sent her a useless rookie, and thrown me out of her office just to show how irritated (and important) she was. But she took the time instead to educate a new sales rep, give me valuable information, and help me learn the business. I have always appreciated that!

A lot of proposals have flowed over the dam since then, to mix a metaphor, and I’m an older and somewhat wiser man today. And I have learned a valuable lesson: nothing is more disarming than the truth. If I am faced with a situation in which I don’t understand what someone is telling me, I have learned that it’s infinitely better to admit it upfront, with confidence and even with humor. Invariably when I speak up I find that I’m not the only one for whom some of the important details are less than clear. Do I understand what the client wants? Am I clear on what the boss needs in the report? Is it obvious what the donor expects? Do I fully comprehend the next steps and relevant deadlines? If I don’t know, I would rather ask now than wait and be wrong. I can much more easily take the hit to my ego by admitting confusion early on — because I’ve learned the hard way that it’s way better than the pain that comes later from refusing to admit I was clueless at the outset.

So thanks, Leslie! You probably don’t remember but you did me a big favor. As a result, my occasional motto has been “Clueless — and proud to admit it!”

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Primum Non Necere = “Don’t Lose What You’ve Got!”

hippocrates       I’m sure we all recognize the name Hippocrates. He was the father of modern medicine. He was also the father of modern sales and fundraising.

You say you never heard that last part before? Well, it may not be entirely true, but there’s one thing old Hippocrates said that we in fundraising and sales would do well to remember. In Latin the saying is rendered, Primum non necere — in English we say, “First do no harm.” I would prefer to translate it, “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

If you’re in sales or fundraising you know all too well the relentless need to bring in new business and new donors. In order for our organizations to grow, or even to avoid shrinking, the pressure is more or less constant to generate revenue from new sources. I’m not arguing with that — but I am suggesting that, as we focus our efforts on new clients and new donors, we must not overlook the ones we already have. Just because a donor has supported your organization for years or a client has given you their business season after season doesn’t mean we can ever take them for granted, not for an instant. If you’ve ever had a steady client decide not to renew because someone else came along and took away the business while you weren’t paying attention, you know what I’m talking about.

For me the truth behind the axiom “First do no harm” is simple: it means, first, pay attention to the relationships you have. Shore them up. Keep them vital. Keep reminding these clients and donors why they want to do business with you. Avoid relationship complacency at all costs! Seems to me that there are at least four reasons why it’s imperative that we work hard to avoid losing what we’ve got.

Current clients can decide to go away. This seems obvious but it bears emphasis. Let’s say you have an In Kind client who gives your organization $25,000 worth of goods and services every year. Because it’s not cash, it’s easy to take it for granted and assume that In Kind gift will always be there. But one year that client is going to be preparing their budget, and if you haven’t done a good job of keeping the relationship active and reminding them of the benefits they enjoy by doing business with you, they may decide to terminate that deal. Your boss may suddenly have to start writing a $25,000 check every year, and she is going to wonder why you blew the relationship! So I need to continually re-sell the clients I have.

Current clients can be encouraged to grow.  Again, this is obvious to those of us who have been around the sales/fundraising block a time or two. Generally speaking, which is easier to find — a brand new dollar from a brand new source, or a dollar increase from a source who already has a relationship with you? As you cultivate current relationships, you clearly need to avoid pushing too hard, but you also need to avoid being fearful. Asking for a larger gift or a larger sale, when done properly and appropriately, can be your quickest route to increased revenue.

Current clients can be encouraged to refer. Few things are more gratifying to a sales rep or fundraiser than a referral. It means someone we already call on felt good enough about our relationship to tell a friend! But let’s not assume that referrals will happen in a vacuum — instead, I have to be reminded of the need to stay in touch with current donors, give them success stories, and reinforce the importance of their gifts. Then I’ve earned the right to ask for those golden referrals! But if I’m not cultivating those current relationships, I’ll bet those referrals will be few and far between.

Current clients provide a vital base of support. Even if present clients or donors never change their spending or giving from one year to the next, those dollars are vital to your success. Treat them with honor and care and attention! Again, reminding donors why they give, or clients why they do business with you, helps keep those current dollars flowing. If that flow stops, your work just got a lot harder!

So let’s all get out there and find those new sources of revenue! But in the process, remember, friends, Primum non necere — “Don’t lose what you’ve got!”

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Toxic Power of the “Downer Club”

Negative Co-workers      I was once the newest member of the “Downer Club.” I didn’t realize it at the time, and we never called it that, but that’s exactly what it was.

We all worked for the same company, and I was the brand new sales rep, naive and eager to please. So after a few weeks on the job when I was invited to join a co-worker for breakfast, I jumped at the chance. After all, I wanted to make friends and fit in, and here was a great opening to do just that. And it got even better, because when we arrived at the restaurant I was surprised to see three or four of our co-workers already at the table. Apparently this group get-together took place on a regular basis, often every week, and now I had been invited in!

We re-introduced ourselves around the table, placed our orders, and started to chat over coffee. And I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that this wasn’t just a periodic gathering of colleagues — it was a 90-minute-long gripe session. Sometimes it went even longer, as one after another my new co-workers started dredging up a litany of issues: times when the boss had chewed them out unfairly…times when accounts had been shifted arbitrarily…times when commissions had been calculated incorrectly. Two things became clear to me: first, that my fellow salespeople hated their jobs; and, second, that they loved getting together to talk about it. I sat there silently absorbing this endless list of corporate malfeasance on the part of my brand new company, and before I had finished my scrambled eggs I was wondering — “When I took this job, did I make a terrible mistake?!”

Welcome to the Downer Club.

Did I have the good sense to stop going after that first negative encounter? Are you kidding? Of course not! I wanted to fit in, to be part of the group. I had been a sales rep for maybe twenty minutes and I figured hanging around with my so-called colleagues would be a good, productive way to spend my time. And after a few of these breakfast gatherings I got to where I could come up with negative sob stories just like everybody else. The Downer Club had initiated a new convert. What I soon discovered was that I felt great during those breakfast sessions, hanging with my so-called friends, but I felt lousy afterward — negative about my job, my boss, and myself. The false high of being part of the peer group quickly gave way to the hangover caused by an overdose of negativity.

I lasted in that job about six months. Could I have stayed longer, done better and not violated my boss’s trust in me when he hired me? Probably. But whether or not the job was the right one isn’t the point. I see now that my desire to run with the pack caused me to make toxic decisions. The so-called “power of positive thinking” may not be absolute, but I can attest to the power of negative thinking! It is guaranteed to be corrosive to your enthusiasm and productivity!

So here’s a question for you: when it comes to your work, who is on your “Mental Committee”? Do you surround yourself with people who pick you up or who bring you down? I suggest that some self-examination may be in order. As for me, I changed jobs, got into a much healthier environment, and quickly came to realize that I had been part of the problem, choosing to surround myself with the wrong crowd. How about you? Is it time to turn in your membership card to the Downer Club?

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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