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A Compliment I’ll Happily Take


There’s plenty of gloom going around right now, so in the spirit of counterprogramming, I’ll reflect a little on a compliment I got recently that really made me smile.


“You’ve got a really good team.”


It’s true.  It’s the second college in a row where I’ve inherited a mixed bag, and gradually developed it into a damn good group. 


Some of that is luck, of course; any given hire (or promotion) carries some risk.  But even acknowledging that, there’s some method to it.  A few suggestions, based on experience:


  • Hire/promote people who know things you don’t know, and who have skills you don’t have.  They’ll shore up your weak flanks.  Everybody has weak sides; there’s no shame in that.  The key is in being self-aware enough to know where yours are, and not to get defensive about them.  

  • Demographic diversity can be a component of that.  Groupthink is a danger anywhere, but it thrives in homogeneous environments.  Bring in people who are different from you.  You don’t need a mini-Me.  

  • Let your team disagree with you, and with each other.  If you routinely shoot messengers, people will stop telling you things you need, but don’t want, to hear.  

  • When someone who reports to you has the better argument, acknowledge it, thank them, and adopt it.  Showing by deed that you’re open to persuasion makes it likelier that people will make good-faith arguments — since they aren’t futile — and will reduce the felt need for political shenanigans.  Over time, that pays off in explosions avoided.

  • As a corollary to that, if you’re having one of those days when your emotional reserves are spent and you’re on your last nerve, it’s okay to acknowledge it to the group and reschedule discussion of an issue.  If that’s not possible, at least asking for a considerate tone can make the discussion easier.

  • Make your priorities clear.


  • Give credit where it’s due.

  • When you mess up — which will happen — own it, apologize, and do better.  It shows respect.


These should all be baseline expectations of managers — they boil down to “don’t be an ego monster” — but they can’t always be assumed.  The key is that they allow smart people with different angles on questions to be smart people with different angles on questions.  


That’s the point of having teams in the first place.


Wise and worldly readers, what would you add (or suggest)?


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Advice Newsletter publication dates: 
Monday, January 11, 2021
Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Monday, January 11, 2021