Kathleen Escarcha, senior staff writer
Today’s leaders have a lot on their plate. They not only have to ensure work gets done, they also have to engage and retain employees, manage their own (ever-growing) workload, and set strategic goals.
Many organizations expect new leaders to figure out how to—well, lead—all on their own. To help fill the gap, Alison Green, the HR expert behind the “Ask A Manager” blog, doles out advice that walks managers through the ins and outs of leadership. Since she began her blog in 2008, she’s answered 535 questions about being the boss. Here are the three answers every leader needs to read.
Lesson 1: How to handle low-quality feedback—gracefully
Leaders need to be able to ask for (and listen to) constructive criticism. But how do you respond to poorly thought out or inaccurate critiques? As a leader, you might receive low-quality feedback that lacks perspective, writes Green. “But if you want to be a good manager, and if you want to be a manager who people give honest feedback to, you need to welcome it all, show that you’re taking it seriously, and engage with in a real way.”
That doesn’t mean you should act on every piece of feedback you receive. Instead, incorporate responses, like “I’m really glad to have your perspective” or “Let me explain my own thinking in why we do it this way,” to take your team’s comments into consideration, suggests Green. Remember, feedback should be an ongoing conversation—and no one wants to follow a leader who blatantly ignores negative criticism.
Lesson 2: How to say no to something you don’t have time to do
It’s easy to say “Yes” at work: “Yes” to joining a committee to re-write your mission statement or “yes” to planning the office potluck. But saying “yes” to every request will quickly lead you to burnout and exhaustion.
To decline a request politely and firmly, Green recommends these phrases:
– “I’m pretty swamped with X and Y for Fergus, and can’t take on any other work today without delaying those.”- “Oh, I’m sorry—I can’t. My plate is completely full right now because of X and I’m not able to take on anything new.”
Lesson 3: How to navigate a sensitive conversation
Leaders have to navigate tricky conversations that can spiral into tense exchanges or emotional blow-outs. In these conversations, tone really matters, says Green. In her advice column, Green usually offers a sample script readers can use with their coworkers or manager.
But in a recent podcast, she demonstrates how to deliver those phrases. Your tone should always be “calm, matter-of-fact, and collaborative,” she explains. If you sound nervous or accusatory, your employee may respond defensively. But if you sound warm and collaborative, your employee is more likely to trust and act on the feedback (Green, Ask A Manager, 6/15/2018; Green, Ask A Manager, 10/16/2017; Green, Ask A Manager, 4/25/2018).