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August 15, 2014
Three Master Skills for Managers
 
By the time managers and small-business owners call me, they’re pretty frustrated and discouraged. They’re a good fit for their job. They’re well respected. And they’re struggling.
 
Although each struggle is unique, there are three skills that every new and seasoned manager can fine-tune for better results:
 
1. Taking decisive action.
2. Delegating well.
3. Setting clear boundaries.
 
Taking Decisive Action
 
Everybody procrastinates.
 
It’s natural. When we are facing an unpleasant or unclear task, have a large project looming, are concerned about getting it perfect, don’t have a clear deadline, or are just plain uninterested, we put off action.
 
Getting things done well in the eleventh hour works for some of us. But if your procrastination is hindering your or your team’s effectiveness, it’s time for a tune-up. Here are the most useful ways to combat procrastination:
  • Set a firm deadline for each decision or deliverable. Tell others about it.
  • Imagine the benefits of getting the task done. See yourself on the other side of the project.
  • Do the most unpleasant task first, followed by something you enjoy.
  • Honestly assess whether making the end product “perfect” is worth the extra time.
  • Break large projects into very small tasks and make appointments with yourself to do them.
  • Finish a task as quickly as possible with no interruptions. Set a timer if you need to.
  • Keep your thinking specific and factual (“I can finish two more reports before 3:00”) rather than abstract and emotional (“I hate these #$@%* reports!”).
Delegating Well
 
There’s an art to skillful delegation.
 
Done well, you select the right people for the right tasks at the right time to get the right results for everyone.
 
You may not feel like you have enough time to properly delegate, because it would take too much time to train someone, or you may feel safer holding onto the keys to the kingdom all by yourself.
 
However, as you advance into more strategic positions in your career, your ability to delegate well becomes crucial to your success. To fine-tune your delegation skills, keep these tips in mind:
  • Know your team members’ strengths.
  • Start by delegating small and low-risk tasks and projects.
  • Clearly communicate directions, resources, deadlines, and your expectations.
  • Be available for questions.
  • Immediately coach people through problems or errors.
Setting Clear Boundaries
 
Your time is an asset, so manage it well.
 
Too often the managers I work with are constantly interrupted at work, take work home every night, respond to texts at all hours, and hardly see their families. They are approaching burnout fast.
 
They do all this because they believe that their jobs depend on it, that the culture requires it, and that there’s no alternative way to manage time. Very often, they have never even tried to set even the smallest boundaries on their time.
 
When you set boundaries on your time, you’re telling others that you’re not available to address everything with everyone all the time. Every workplace is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to setting boundaries. But even small shifts can lead to big results. Here are techniques that work:
  • Block off time in your calendar to work uninterrupted during the workday.
  • Limit most communication with staff to weekly one-on-one meetings. 
  • Negotiate priorities and deadlines with your manager in favor of your time.
  • Don’t check your mail or phone after a certain hour in the evening.
  • Schedule enjoyable activities during weekends.
  • Take your paid vacation.
Practice all three of these skills early and practice them often. Check in with how you’re doing in one area and set one specific goal for enhancing that skill.
 
One final step: Find mentors who demonstrate mastery of one of more of these areas. Usually just finding one role model can give you the permission and inspiration you need to pursue these master skills for yourself.

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Heather Mundell is a life and career coach and founder of dreambigcoaching.com and mominthebalance.com. Formerly a corporate HR director, Heather helps professionals become masters in their careers, balance their work and family life more effectively, and make strategic career and life decisions that reflect what they truly desire.
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