It was a tough week. For all of my positive energy, pro-client attitude, and traveler’s stoicism, this week completely ran me over. Meetings going awry, data being wrong, unmet expectations, mis-communication among the team, cancelled flights, false accusations, 3am data crunching that does not work, re-scheduled client meetings, the list goes on and on. At one point, a really boring desk job (anywhere) sounded good.
Stay calm. When you are under stress, the first reaction is to try to do more things. Make excuses or make promises that you cannot keep. Some of the smartest things I did this week was to listen, nod my head, and ask clarifying questions:
- So, the data is wrong. Got it. Sounds like we should ABC to get it right?
- Uh huh, right. You made a mistake. Okay what do you think next steps are?
- Hmm, still not fixed. What do you propose?
- No, we did not promise that, but would it make sense to complete it by Wed?
- No, that is probably not good enough. How about XYZ, thoughts?
Be a leader. When things go wrong, I believe that managers should first blame themselves. Suck it up, and admit that there are things that could have been done differently. Don’t blame others, that usually does not solve problems. Some of the humbling / embarrassing that I said this week:
- Okay, so I will apologize first.
- Right, we will take 1/3 of that blame for mis-communication
- Look, frankly I was not happy with the follow through. Some of it was our fault, but some of it was yours too. Is that fair?
- Yes, we are absolutely going to do a post-mortem on that (why it failed), but not now. First things is first, let’s get the graphics to the client.
Being a leader also means showing through example. I sat with my analyst until 3am while he crunched numbers because 1) he needed the guidance 2) he needed the moral support 3) I talked him into playing tennis – as a break from the work.
Take a break from yourself. In spite of all that, I made time to play tennis twice while at the client site. Crank up the forehand. Run my teammate around. Get tired from exercise. Get the blood flowing to my brain. My poor brain. It was the highlight of my week. It does not hurt that I have a side bet with a buddy on who can exercise more.
Do what you have to do to get away. Take a walk at the client site. Get some hot tea. Call your spouse. Play 2048 on your phone (currently obsessed with this game). Write an email to your parents. Go stand in the sunlight. Order something on Amazon. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Stay objective, stay above the fray. Have a $10,000 day.
Learn from the mess (later). We all have to learn from our mistakes. No surprise there, but we have to debrief after the crisis is over. Throughout the week, I had to catch myself from doing “root cause analysis” on why the problem occurred. Yes, we need to understand why this happened, so it does not happen again . . .but not now.
As soon as the client deliverable is over (and everyone sighs relief) put time on the calendar to pick-apart the reasons for the mess. It is professional, smart, and the way we learn. As a I told someone this week, the goal is to make as many non-fatal mistake as possible. . . that you only make once. Fall, stand up, don’t fall that way again.
Say thank you and motivate others. Chances are your team is just as stressed as you are. The only difference is that you (being a seasoned manager) know that it will be okay. They do not. Say thank you for their efforts, and keep them motivated. You need their best work, week-end work, and full brain power.
Live to fight another day. We are often harder on ourselves than our clients are. Make it up to your clients, your team, and yourself – another time in another way. Give yourself some grace. Forgive and forget. Think about nice places – this is the lobby of La Concha Renaissance hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Highly recommend.