Jan 11, 2018

25 Lessons After 3 Years

This week kicks off my fourth year at Conveyor — and with it, a renewed desire to write more. So here are 25 lessons I’ve learned about building a team, managing people and enjoying work.

  1. It’s never easy. But just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Some of the hardest and most painful challenges have also been the most rewarding — and enjoyable when it’s all said and done.
  2. The to-do list never gets shorter. The more we get done, the more there is to do. Knowing when to sprint, and when to slow down is an art. Don’t find reasons to procrastinate just because. Get it done as soon as you can, but accept that not everything can be done in one day.
  3. It takes a village. Any company is as good as its people. Take care of your people. It takes a team to produce great work. (But! It takes skill to build the right team.)
  4. Hiring fast is tempting. But hiring the right people takes time. This, however, requires first taking the time to define what “right” means — and that will vary depending on the company, the role and the culture. Take the time to know who you are as a company, and what you need before you hire.
  5. Shoot for the stars. There are so many things that will limit our ideas — budgets, time, other people, priorities. Don’t limit yourself unless you have to. Always start with a clean whiteboard, and allow the lame parts of life to tame your ideas.
  6. Create time to fuel yourself. We’re human. Taking time to make sure we’re fit — mentally, emotionally and physically — is the best thing we can do to boost our productivity. Whatever you need to be energized, take the time to do it.
  7. Always seek a win-win. Negotiating well is not about winning or being right, it’s about finding a solution that satisfies both parties and sets up the engagement for long-term success. Taking into account the other side’s needs and wants will yield a happier ending.
  8. Own it. Often and out loud. Whether it’s a mistake or that you’re having a crappy day — be honest with yourself and those around you. Pretending doesn’t do anyone any good.
  9. Communication is everything. The easiest way to avoid any problem is to communicate lots and often. But first, know your audience and adapt. If the recipient wants short and concise, then keep it brief. If they need details, take the time to explain your thinking.
  10. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Most of us have good intentions for what we do and what we say. But, there’s a significant difference between how we intend a message to arrive, and how it actually arrives. Try to not take things personal. Pause, and ask what they meant or give them time to explain before you react. Sometimes a little cushion of time is all we need to co-exist happily.
  11. Find inspiration. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day. Most of us live incredibly busy lives. Taking time to let our curiosity run wild may seem counterproductive. It’s not. Read that article, color that drawing, bake that cake or take that walk. Our brains need space to refuel and come up with new ideas. If you manage your own schedule, don’t tell yourself you don’t have enough time. We have time for whatever we set time for — so take the time to find something that inspires you to be a better version of yourself.
  12. Be a pleasure to work with. This doesn’t just mean keeping your boss/client happy, meeting deadlines or checking off the task from the to-do list. It means being friendly and easy to work with. No one wants to work with that person that complains about everything, and sees everything as a problem. The answer that makes most of us the happiest is always “no problem.”
  13. Show up. The expectations have most likely been set. Strive to exceed them, but at a minimum do your best to fill the shoes you’ve been given. Be truly present and bring your A-game, every time.
  14. Listen and empower. We do a lot of talking, but we rarely slow down enough to really listen to each other. If you manage anyone, take the time to get to know your reports. Listen to their dreams, aspirations, fears and desires. Then, empower them as much as you can. Help them build upon their strengths and tackle those fears. Sometimes all it takes is someone else believing that we can do it for us to take that leap.
  15. Say thank you and mean it. Genuine appreciation for the work and each other will always make the experience worthwhile. Take the time to thank your team (bosses, colleagues and employees) for everything they do to make your day a little easier and your life a little happier.
  16. Ideas evolve. Let them. We all think we have great ideas. The beauty is that they can become even greater! Be flexible and let your idea take on a life of its own. If you do, most of the time you’ll be amazed at what became of that thought you had.
  17. Check your happiness level. We spend way too much time working to not be happy at work. If you hate what you do, find something else to do. If you are watching the clock, focus on the things that make you happy about the work. If your boss doesn’t listen or appreciate you and/or the company doesn’t support you, change jobs. As human beings, we’re designed to smile and be happy — don’t let a job take that away from you. Find joy in what you do everyday, or change it until you do.
  18. Be part of the team. Don’t ask your team to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do. If you’re asking them to work an 80-hour week, work it with them. If there’s nothing you can do, become their personal cheerleader and bring them snacks during the 80 hours. It will only strengthen your ability to be a leader.
  19. Trust your people. If you’ve provided clear direction, set expectations and hired the right people, then all they need is space. Give it to them. Let them run the show, and trust they will do their best. They’ll come find you if they are stuck, and if/when they do — jump in and help.
  20. Be yourself. Diversity comes from different opinions, background and stories. Take the time to share your truth and story with the people you spend most of your day with. Building personal relationships, friendships, trust, admiration or at least mutual respect allows the work we produce to be better.
  21. Care, truly. The people that change the world, the ones that inspire us, the ones that empower and nurture us to be better are the ones that care. They are the ones that are passionate and invested. So whatever it is that you do in life, care about it and show it in everything you do.
  22. Be reasonable. If there’s no reason to be upset, don’t get upset. If you would have done the same in their situation, don’t judge. If you had forgotten about it, don’t get mad because they, too, forgot. Sometimes all it takes is to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. Once you do that, it’s pretty easy to be reasonable and understanding.
  23. Actions speak louder than words. If you’ve been telling your employee they are amazing for a few months, give them a raise or a present or a thank you card or a vacation — or something that shows them that you actually mean it. If you’re preaching work/life balance, don’t get mad when your team wants a day off or when they leave after a day’s work. Our actions will always be more transparent and better at communicating than our words. Use that to your advantage.
  24. Details matter. You never know who’s going to catch it. So, dot your i’s and cross your t’s (and delete all those oxford commas!). There is a reason that we have an idiom about the devil being in the details. Paying attention to the little things goes a long way, and it’s the thing that may land you a client or lose you one.
  25. Keep learning. Every industry is different — but in ours, every day, there are new developments that make it more dynamic, more challenging and more interesting. Be aware that to stay on top of your game you have to know the latest tools, technology and trends. So, keep on reading books, articles and trying out new things. There’s always something new to learn.

And ... when in doubt, dance it out. Most things can be fixed easily, so there’s no need to stress. Take a deep breath, dance a little and remember that life is a beautiful thing — and work doesn’t have to be painful.

Happy 2018!

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