An Open Letter to Amy Klobuchar
Dear Amy -
It’s hard to be a great boss. Often, we get promoted or become successful in our careers - including in politics - not because we are phenomenal managers or have great people skills, but because we are ridiculously smart, super competent, and can get the job done. And, most of us never get taught how to be a great boss: we’re just expected to figure it out as we go along. However, most of us never have our bad boss skills plastered and dissected all over the national media (well, to be fair, most of us will never run for president either, but I digress…).
I mean, Amy, I get it. Your job seems extremely stressful, and there have been times when I’ve been stressed out and throwing a binder seems like an outstanding idea. And, part of me totally gets why grammatical mistakes might send you into a rage: have you ever been on Tinder? I have known many a woman who has unleashed her full wrath and fury over a misused ‘your’ or ‘there’. And, if I lived in Minnesota, a place that is only slightly warmer than the Arctic, perhaps someone packing my suitcase with a light spring trench instead of my Canada Goose might also cause me to have the same reaction that you purportedly had.
But, in the spirit of development, I want to share a few tactics that you may want to adopt in order to become a better boss. Here are my top five ways to manage better, specifically tailored to some of the challenges you seem to be facing, and because I know you're stretched for time, here are easy-to-use templates for each suggestion:
The Top Five Ways to Be a Better Boss - Political Edition
1. Set Clear Expectations for Your People: Amy, you recently stated:
“I have high expectations for myself. I have high expectations for the people that work for me. But I have high expectations for this country.”
But, an unarticulated expectation is a disappointment guaranteed!! Have high expectations for your people, but make sure you clearly and explicitly articulate what the objective of the task is, what good looks like, timing, and if possible, provide an example. Here’s a handy template that can help you with setting expectations for your employees.
And while you’re at it, it’s super helpful to set expectations for how you all operate collectively as a team. Here’s a template for that too!
2. Give Frequent Well-Structured Feedback When Your Team Doesn’t Meet Expectations: In response to comments made about you yelling and throwing office supplies, you said, “Yes, I can be tough, and yes, I can push people.”
Often we all struggle with being clear why someone didn’t meet the bar. We often get frustrated about people’s performance, but don’t provide well-structured constructive feedback that helps them to understand how to get better. Might I suggest trying to use this super-simple but super-effective feedback process?* It starts from a place of data and makes your employee know why his / her action impacted you or the team. And, don’t forget to suggest how someone can improve - it sure beats throwing staplers!
3. Motivate Your Team Through Ongoing Learning and Making Their Work Meaningful: Amy, it really stinks that the turnover on your team is so high. I guess, from what I’ve read, you had: “the highest staff turnover rate in the Senate, with an annual turnover rate of 36%.”
What often happens is that we think we can motivate our people through money or vision. And, I’m sure you have vision in spades, as you aspire to impact the US populace. But, motivation is tricky: individuals are motivated more strongly by other things, including ongoing learning and development, and autonomy and job variety. People leave jobs often because they don’t have those things in their work.
So to tackle your turnover problem, perhaps you could think about rotating people through different roles in order to increase ongoing learning, or maybe you could have your team put together individual development plans that help them each identify the capabilities they want to build?
4. Be Aware of How Power Changes Your Behavior and The Behavior of Those Around You: Yikes, Amy, I was dismayed to read that one of your former staffers said: “I've always been taught that your true character shows in how you treat those with less power than you, especially behind closed doors.”
Given that you aspire to gain even more power, it may be helpful to better understand the challenges that arise when you are in a position of power. When we get power, we stop listening to people who are different from us, and end up spending more and more time with people who validate our existing opinions and ideas (and there are lots of examples in the government where this has happened - like the Challenger and the Bay of Pigs).
Make sure you bring people onto your team who are not just like you! Use a structured interview process that focuses on behavioral interviewing to ensure you are getting diversity of thought and experience. Here is a set of behavioral interview questions that I love!*
And, it’s hard for people to speak up or speak out to people of power. Actively solicit feedback from your team and praise (and reward!) dissent.
5. Focus on Servant Leadership - Amy, despite the challenges you seem to face, I was heartened to read that, “Senator Klobuchar loves her staff — they are the reason she has gotten to where she is today.”
When all is said and done, we all want to know that our manager cares about us and is doing everything he / she can to make us successful. This is the core tenet of Servant Leadership.
Servant leaders focus on serving others and inspiring a culture of generosity and giving on their teams. Servant leaders give power away, enabling their teams to take on more and more responsibility. Don’t believe me? Here’s some research that proves how powerful giving is.
Amy, being a boss is a tough job. But, I have no doubt if you follow the above tips, you’ll be great and you’ll no longer comb, I mean, come up short in your management abilities. And, in between policy briefings, campaigning, and fundraising, if you want to read more about each of these tips, check out the links below.
Bringing Up The Boss
People often get in positions of management because of competence, smarts, and savvy; not because they are great bosses. Therefore, it’s understandable that someone so senior, like Amy Klobuchar, might be a terrible boss.
But, to be a great boss, there are five easy ways Amy could improve.
Set clear expectations. It's important to be explicit with what you expect of people.
Give frequent and well-structured feedback. It helps to understand why it's important to deliver feedback and use a process to do so.
Find ways other than money or vision to motivate your people. Individuals are motivated by learning (see post here!) and well-structured work that provides meaning (see additional post here!)
Power can change how you operate and can prevent your team from speaking up and speaking out against your ideas. There are some ways to get your teams to speak up and speak out when you're in a position of power.
Lastly, focus on being a servant leader. Servant leaders aim to serve their teams first, and aim to inspire generosity and giving. Here are some ways to build servant leadership into your day-to-day.
Thanks, Erin Kehoe and Ken Bork for the idea behind the open letter! Only in DC do Friday night drinks turn into a discussion of management blogs and the Democratic primaries.
*The links don't seem to be working for these templates (blame Google Drive!). Shoot me an email and I'll send over the templates if you'd like them.