Being a Good Manager: Nature or Nurture?

Recently, there was a story in The New York Times‘ business section about Google’s quest to build a better boss, an initiative called “Project Oxygen.” The wildly successful technology company, whose algorithms have changed the way we use the Internet, applied its scientific methods to analyze what makes a good manager and then mapped out a series of tenets called “The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.”  These commandments, which include “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team” and “Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented,” sound pretty obvious to us — but then again, we’d like to think of ourselves as good managers. Most people, in fact, are not.

In a survey by Business Insider, 41 percent of respondents said that disliking a boss was a driving force in quitting their jobs. And according to a CareerBuilder survey, the top issues managers struggle with are dealing with issues between co-workers; motivating team members; performance reviews; finding the needed resources to support the team; and creating career paths for their employees. No one said managing people was easy. For many, it’s the most challenging part of a job.

So, is Google right? Can simple analytics make a bad manager into a better one or are some people just born to lead and others aren’t? We actually think that the eight guiding principles Google has devised make a lot of sense. (Frankly, many seem like common sense — did they really need to apply deep analytics to arrive at “Be a good communicator” and “Help your employees with career development”?) But even Google admitted in the article that one of their more difficult and disliked managers showed improvement but didn’t become a great manager after following these rules.

So we’ve decided to offer up a few of our own “unscientific” tips for being a good manager that we try to ascribe to when overseeing our own staff:

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How to Avoid Simple Career Mistakes

In an interview we did with personal branding expert Dan Schawbel for our blog, he said that he’d recently “received the worst PR pitch…ever seen. Instead of saying ‘Dan, would you be interested in interviewing the CEO of XYZ,’ they made it very impersonal and said ‘Hi [FIRST_NAME|Colleague].’ What this does is notify me that I’m on their list without permission, that they didn’t take the time to speak to me personally and that they are careless.”

Everyone makes mistakes but when you’re trying to impress people in the workplace, you want to do your best to avoid those that are simple to sidestep.  Here are a few tips to dodge common errors that can derail your career goals:

1. Check your work (twice!): In our book, Be Your Own Best Publicist, we share multiple stories of people who made careless mistakes that cost them a potential job. One anecdote we didn’t include in the book is about a young woman who interviewed well in person and put a lot of effort into her writing/editing test, which was printed out in color and hand-delivered to Jessica’s office. Only problem: She forgot to proofread her work, along with the “press release” she wrote to go along with it, the headline of which read, “[Her name] Hired as Publicity Maganger of Heast Magazines.” She obviously hadn’t spell-checked because as far as we know, the words “maganger” (we assume she meant “manager”) and “Heast” (instead of Hearst, the company where Jessica runs PR) are not found in the dictionary. Lesson: Before you send an important letter, presentation or memo, ask someone else to proofread it. If you can’t get another person to review your work, set it aside for a while and then look at it with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at what you might catch on the second round. Reading it aloud also helps you catch mistakes in grammar and style.

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From Miss Manners to Jimmy Fallon, people have touted the importance of giving thanks. And, considering the time of year, you’ll undoubtedly hear and read lots (and lots and lots) about the importance of showing gratitude in your day-to-day life.

Given today’s instant-gratification-one-click-checkout-abbreviation-using world, where 140 characters has become the norm, it’s tempting to truncate already tiny phrases such as “please” and “thank you” to save space and time.

IOHO (in our humble opinion), it’s more important than ever to avoid abbreviating such important sentiments. Substituting “pls,” “TY” or “thx” for the real thing is like swapping Seitan for a Steak, or better yet – Tofurkey for its traditional holiday counterpart (no offense, Vegan friends!). It takes the space, but isn’t close to being as satisfying.

If you want to say a truly powerful “thanks,” Psychology Today says it should come in three parts:

  • Part 1: Thank someone for something specific they did for you. (It can also be something they refrained from doing that would have hurt you.)
  • Part 2: Acknowledge the effort it took for them to do it (by saying something like: “I know you went out of your way to do XYZ…”)
  • Part 3: State the difference it personally made to you
  • So we’d like to offer up an official thank you to all of our friends, family and colleagues who have supported us during the process of writing Be Your Own Best Publicist and in our lives in general.  We really, truly appreciate you.

    TTFN (Ta-ta for now) and HTD (Happy Turkey Day)!

    Tell us: What are you thankful for this holiday? Share your thoughts at Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).