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How to Keep Improving as a Manager and More Questions for April

Including ways to get over that embarrassing customer encounter.

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My husband is conservative by nature, but it can be hard when your partner is so pessimistic about every new project you suggest. How can I convince him that growing a business involves risk?

Don’t be too hard on pessimism — it has its uses, especially in business. The key is to know when a situation warrants caution and when it calls for take-that-leap bravado. Ask yourself, “What’s the cost of being wrong here?” If it’s high, such as you’ll lose a lot of money, be sued or someone will possibly get hurt, then optimism is the wrong strategy. If it’s simply a loss of your time, energy or even a threat to your self-view as someone who never makes mistakes, then go for it. We expect that when you put it like that, your husband will get behind most projects. And if he still can’t stop worrying, suggest he learn worry postponement techniques, which often involve setting a later time and space to think about these worries (just not now when there’s work to be done).

How do I keep improving as a manager?

Set smart, achievable goals (progress is a huge motivator), keep learning, and finally, get feedback, even if it’s self-generated. In his timeless classic on management, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker argued monitoring yourself was the best way to gauge how you are progressing. “Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations … Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie — and this is the most important thing to know,” he wrote.

e I’m thinking about doing a pop-up at a seasonal shopping fair about 20 miles away this spring. It’s not all that cheap but I figure it’s an easy way to meet new customers, raise brand awareness and maybe make some money. Am I being too optimistic?
Perhaps only about the work involved. That’s the first thing to appreciate about pop-ups. They seem like an almost spur-of-the-moment thing — throw up a tent or park a container and have some fun under the spring sun — but they can involve some serious work, both in the preparation and staffing. There are also lots of extra costs aside from rent — such as advertising, promotional giveaways and possibly extra employee costs. If the fair is in the common area of a mall don’t expect the competition to welcome this blow-in with open arms.
Still, at INVISION we never like to discourage anyone looking to get out of the store and out of their comfort zone. So, if you can avoid a tar and feathering, do your marketing correctly and get the product and the demographics right, pop-ups can reap you nice rewards. They are also an effective way to test the local market if you’re thinking of expanding or have started as a primarily online business.

What should I look for in a mentor?

The most important thing is you and your mentor click on a personal level. Such a relationship should be undertaken with a long-term view and you need to want to spend time together. As for more specific things to look for, Daniel Coyle’s excellent book The Little Book Of Talent: 52 Tips For Improving Your Skills, suggests the following:

  1. Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter. You want someone who pushes you to take risks.
  2. Seek someone who scares you a little.
  3. Seek someone who gives short, clear directions.
  4. Seek someone who loves teaching fundamentals.
  5. Other things being equal, pick the older person.

And when it comes to asking for help, don’t be too backward. Advice-seeking is a powerful way to make a connection with someone. Most people love to help and to know they’ve made a difference in someone else’s life. Of course, know there are limits to people’s time and generosity. Don’t exhaust them.

I had an excruciatingly embarrassing encounter with a customer earlier this week and now can’t get it out of my mind. It’s tormenting me. Help!

The psychoanalyst in us says we need to revisit this in punishing detail (These thoughts of perfection, where do they come from?) but it doesn’t sound like you want to go there. Instead, we recommend substitution (come up with a funny version of the story) or distraction. The latter gets a bad rap but studies show it’s pretty effective. Want to forget that screw-up? Do data entry for 30 minutes. Or start plotting dinner. Your brain has trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time so a new action interferes with recollection. And running the same scene over and over in your head really helps no one.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at [email protected].

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