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managing

When Claire Hughes Johnson was hired in 2014 as chief operating officer of the Stripe payments platform, she wrote a document, “Working with Claire.” She then shared it with those working closest with her and also made it available to everyone in the organization.

It’s part guide, part manifesto, an idea borrowed from a former senior vice-president at Google, where she previously worked, which she invited her new colleagues to emulate. “I’ve even had folks who are not managers, but are on my team, write me these guides to [dealing with] them,” she noted in an interview with High Growth Handbook. She considers such guides a best practice for companies and managers to consider, particularly when you are a newcomer to an organization, in a leadership role, and people are worrying about you.

She kicks it off with her operating approach, and the fact she favours bi-weekly or weekly one-on-ones with direct reports, trying to keep times consistent so those people can plan. She’s a big fan of a joint document from those sessions to track agendas, actions, goals and updates. She wants weekly team meetings, as appropriate. “I view these as both update and decision-making/work review forums. I expect people to be prepared and to participate, even though we’ll have to manage video conferences and time zones,” she wrote.

After a few hundred more words on her operating approach, she moves on to management style. “I’m very collaborative, which means I like to discuss decisions and options and whiteboard big stuff in a group. I will rarely get stuck in one position or opinion, but the downside is that you won’t always get a quick judgment out of me - I need to talk it through and see some ideas/data/options. Due to this bias, I can sometimes be slow to decide and if you need a decision quickly, make sure I know it,” she wrote.

She advises she is not a micro-manager and won’t sweat the details unless things are off track. If so, she’ll state her concern so they can work together to make sure she understands and plan together on how to communicate better or correct the situation. “I expect you are making decisions a lot without me and if you come to me I’ll usually put it back on you with, ‘what do you want to do?’ or ‘What should you do?’ and just help you decide. That said, if there is a big one brewing, I’d love to know about it and I’m always here to talk it out. I like to know what’s going on with you and your team,” she adds.

It continues in that fashion, open, folksy, covering issues such as accountability, her data-driven and intuitive sides, strategic sensibility, communication style (“I read fast but I have slight carpal tunnel in my left arm and I don’t love writing super-long e-mails, nor do I think they’re very productive, although watch me break this rule on occasion!” and ends with cherishing humour (“I like a good laugh and to have fun with the people I work with.”).

Should you have a similar document about your management style? Could you produce one that would be comprehensive and accurate? It’s scary to consider sharing one, both because most of us don’t know ourselves all that well and we might fear coming across as arrogant. Besides, is it a manager’s job to tell people how to deal with the boss, or the boss’s responsibility to learn how to deal effectively with others?

You may also fear revealing yourself to the extent she does. After all, you’re perfect, aren’t you? Realistically, people fairly quickly pick up on your quirks and foibles, so acknowledging them brings it out into the open, not leaving it to be whispered by everyone out of your earshot. It’s harder to criticize your idiosyncrasies if you admit them.

At Google, others had such statements and now they are part of the Stripe culture. But to become the first one in your workplace to issue such a manifesto might seem daunting if not dumb.

Daily work revolves around autonomy and control. That’s a good place to start any such guide – how do you balance those two factors in managing others? How do you handle the issues that derail leaders, such as insecurity, perfectionism, becoming a bottleneck by requiring all decisions to come through you, authoritarian impulses, inability to develop others, accepting mediocrity, resistance to collaboration, inconsistency, resisting new ideas, not learning from mistakes and lacking personal skills?

What’s your approach to co-ordinating others, delegation and communication? How do you like to give and receive information? Ms. Johnson was quite precise: “If it’s urgent/important/timely or super short, feel free to ping any time, even when I am ‘red.’ Short questions on ping are fine, but I might be inconsistent in response times since I am often in meetings. If it’s a long topic and not time sensitive, maybe just wait for our one-to-one.” You probably have similar preferences and experiences to share about your own style.

Maybe it’s not something you write initially for others, but something to help you understand yourself. Writing a managerial manifesto and keeping it in the top drawer of your desk can help you to understand yourself better and improve as a manager.

Cannonballs

  • When you’re training or coaching, it’s common to give people a general principle and follow that with applications. But consultant Wally Bock says we learn best when we get a concrete example first and then the principle. Even better: Give your team several examples and let them develop the principle.
  • Consultant John Sullivan issues caution on the trend to push gender-neutral pronouns in organizations. He argues the negative backlash it precipitates may actually decrease the inclusion of non-binary people. He also notes that gender-revealing efforts run counter to many years of minimizing the focus on gender and thus could make the goal of becoming gender-neutral more difficult.
  • Start-up advisor Ken Goldstein warns that Elon Musk doesn’t know everything: “A thought leader with demonstrable success in one category has no de facto claim to distant adjacencies. A celebrity, even a business celebrity, doesn’t become a subject matter expert beyond their recognized success simply by claiming the public microphone and turning up the volume.”

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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