ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES

After my last post about the 10 mistakes you can count on making as a manager, one of my colleagues asked me what advice I had about avoiding them. Since I said — and believe — making them from time to time is inevitable if you manage long enough, it is more a matter of not making them over and over; being what I call “a chronic offender” that drives his or her subordinates crazy.

In my next series of posts, I will address each of these mistakes and offer what advice I can. Trust me, most of what I learned as a manager about these mistakes, I learned the hard way. But we often tend to learn the most important, long-lasting lessons by first getting it wrong.

In an earlier blog I entitled “The Mind-Set of a Manager” , I specifically addressed mistakes one and two: failures to delegate and micromanaging. My advice on these matters involves first, regularly reminding yourself exactly what your job is; to stop being a doer of something and focus on helping others become the best doers they can be. Second, when you must from time to time get involved in the doing, check your motivation. If it is to teach, mentor, coach, or develop subordinates, you are acting as a manager. If, however, your reason is an inability to let go, fear of accountability for the mistakes of subordinates, or your own arrogant belief that you will always do it better than anybody else, then you almost certainly will become a chronic offender on both counts.

Minimizing mistake three, having the wrong priorities and leaving more important things undone, is usually one of a manager’s biggest challenges. In my zeal to succeed as a young line manager, no problem seemed to unimportant not to warrant my full attention at the moment it arose. Consequently, I wasted much time on trivia — to say nothing of energy — and ignored some rather important matters along the way.

Establishing your priorities as a manager involves making decisions about where to focus your energies in a work world of far too many choices and limited hours per day. Those decisions, in turn, reflect your JUDGMENT about what matters more at any given time. Moreover, the judgment you demonstrate over time in making your priority decisions is one of the key performance criteria your superiors are likely to consider in determining your advancement.

While there is no magic formula that will insure you get your priorities right all the time, four things will help:

First, visit you priority list every day. In the hectic pace of most workplaces this is essential as unforeseen events constantly change the landscape you face. Yesterday’s priorities may be the wrong ones for today.

Second, work at being flexible. Many of us have difficulty letting go of some things or of leaving something undone. But you only have so much energy and quality thinking time per day. That needs focusing on what truly matters and that is your call.

Third, learn to say things like “no”, “not now”, “not my problem” and “when I have the time“. Simple as this sounds, for many managers, this must become learned behavior.

Finally, be sure you experience some down time regularly. A little distance can do wonders in helping you sort out what really matters from the rest you have on your plate.

In my Workshop I use a scenario that confronts managers with a crisis in their company or organization that impacts their work unit, accompanied with a call from a superior criticizing them for having missed seeing it coming. There are always some participants who chose to focus on self-defense before addressing the crisis. Why? Because they are human.

To manage well is to know you cannot always get everything right. But the more you work at establishing the right priorities given your level of responsibility and the precise nature of your enterprise, the keener your judgment calls will become.

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