One of the most important things you can learn as a professional – and as a human – is to see the world through other people’s eyes. One could argue that empathy is an innate skill, but I think that there are aspects of empathy – and how to act on empathy inside of organizations – that are teachable. That’s why, twice a year, I lead a workshop for our interns on managing up, down, and sideways. It’s one of my favorite workshops to lead, and here are the principles we cover:
If you want to change the world, you can start wherever you are.
You work on a team. The team contributes to an organization. The organization impacts an issue. What you do in your position – no matter how junior it is – impacts the team, the organization, and the issue your organization cares about.
Understand your SELF first.
You have a personal brand. If you aren’t managing it, someone else is. All personal brands are different, and all personal brands are valuable. A creative, good-humored, team player and a responsible, results-oriented, problem solver are totally different, but both have an important contribution to make. Think of three words that describe you. Ask three peers to provide three words to describe you. See if they line up. If they do, you have landed on your personal brand.
Make your boss’ life better – cure cancer.
Ok, maybe you won’t cure cancer, but you will have a better working relationship, more chances to advance professionally, and you will improve the organization. The first step to making your boss’ life better is to understand what her priorities are, why they are her priorities, and what pressures she faces in her job and within the organization. Then figure out how you fit in. Adapting to your boss’ personal style is YOUR JOB, and if you get good at flexing styles, you will be able to work on all sorts of teams with all sorts of people. For example, does your boss prefer emailing in the morning or at night? Does she have to leave the office at a certain time? When is she rushed? What are her communication preferences – phone, in-person, email? Figure it out, and if you can’t – ask.
Be efficient with time – it’s the greatest gift you can give.
How you manage meetings with your boss and colleagues speaks to how you understand the priorities of the organization. Always keep a to-do list that is written down – it’s a way to communicate what you are working on, how you prioritize, and demonstrates that you are contributing to the organization. I show up with an agenda for all of my 1/1 meetings with my boss and always have supporting documents handy. A 1/1 meeting is an ideal way to stay aligned on priorities, remind your boss to do the things you have asked them to do, and keep work moving forward. Depending on your boss’ style and scheduling issues, I also keep my list handy and mentally divided into several categories (short decisions, things I need reviewed with feedback/advice, and broader organizational questions/things I want to learn) so I can maximize found time – before a meeting starts, traveling together, etc.
A good attitude goes a long way.
Early in your career, it’s SO EASY to get swept up into the melodrama of office politics – who has power, who is making out with whom, who has what set of personal problems. If you want a soap opera, watch it on TV. At work, keep your eye on the prize. Remember that you are managing your personal brand – and always have a story or two handy that illustrates why you are so fabulous. Most of the time, internal conflicts are driven by not understanding the other person or if there is a disagreement about priorities or power at a fundamental level. If a conflict arises at work, keep your eye on the prize. There are few true jerks in life – and most of them crash and burn on their own. If you find yourself working for or with one of them, remember that it’s a fantastic learning experience. But if it starts to impact your physical or mental health, get out before you crash and burn too.
In the end, you will figure out your own personal style to managing up, down, and sideways. And when you do, I hope you will share it with others!