Tag Archives: people matter

Make Sure Someone Holds You Accountable.

I’ve only ever lost weight once — from 2012 to 2013, when I decided to compete against my Dad in a $1,000, winner-takes-all competition we called The Belly Challenge. It worked for a few reasons:

1) I didn’t want to lose to my Dad, and I definitely didn’t want to write him a check.

2) I moved into a building with a gym on the ground floor, so I never had the excuse that it was too cold outside to go to the gym, or too far away.

3) I was living in Columbia, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., working a ton, and too busy to drink much.

But mostly, one thing changed that helped me lose the weight: Other people started holding me accountable for my actions.

That was the year I started working out a few times a month with a personal trainer. Having someone there to push me and encourage me really helped — I was willing to try workouts that I would never have tried without a workout partner. I also tried harder knowing that someone was watching (and judging!) me. With someone else there for my workouts, I couldn’t be lazy, and I couldn’t quit.

The other thing that helped: Dad and I held each other accountable. I’d text him after my workouts, and he’d text me after mine. If I found out that Dad had gone for a long bike ride or a swim, I knew I needed to make time for the gym, too. One of us couldn’t let up if the other one was still working hard.

Accountability is what I love most about working with a team — your colleagues are the ones who hold you accountable and make sure you’re performing at the level you’re capable of. They can encourage you when you need help, and help push you to do better work. They can be honest with you when your work is holding the team back.

It can be hard to take on big tasks on your own — but with a team, a shared set of goals, and a sense of accountability, you can really do great work.


That’s me and Dad, back in 2011 before we started The Belly Challenge.

How To Pick a College.

I remember the first time I visited Mizzou. It was towards the end of the winter — maybe late February or early March. There weren’t flights to Columbia back then, so you had to fly to St. Louis, and then take the MoX shuttle to town. (Meet near the mural of astronauts at baggage claim, grab your complementary 8 oz. bottle of water when you board the van, two hours to Columbia. I’d eventually learn that ride by heart.)

I was riding in the back row of the MoX, sitting next to a man in his 50s. We struck up a conversation. He’d gone to Mizzou, and he loved the place — loved the teachers, loved the school spirit, loved Columbia. If Mizzou had sat me down next to Truman the Tiger and played the fight song for two hours, they wouldn’t have found a better cheerleader for the university.

I went into the weekend curious about Mizzou — but not sold on it. I had always wanted to go to school in a college town. I loved schools with school spirit, and with big sports programs. I wanted to go to a place with a great J-school, and I wanted a place that was a little different than the D.C. suburbs.

Columbia, Mo., was certainly all that.

But I didn’t really know what I liked about Mizzou until I started talking to the people who knew it best.

It was that guy in the back of the MoX, telling me why he loved Mizzou. It was the reporter who took time while traveling on assignment to call and tell me what the J-school had done for him. It was the friend of a friend who made sure I knew about the lifelong friendships he’d made at school.

They helped reveal something special about the culture at Mizzou — and it’s only through hearing the stories of the people who’d been there that I knew where I wanted to go to college.

If you’re reading this and you’re picking a college, here’s my best advice: No matter where you go, your experience at school will be shaped by the people around you. Even at the biggest schools, you start to break down a campus into smaller communities: Clubs, teams, classes.

It always ends up being about the people.

So when you’re picking a school — or for that matter, a job, or a place to live — talk to the people who’ve been there. They’ll reveal far more about the place than any college guidebook or tour will.

One more story: I remember when my little brother was visiting colleges. He was down to two final schools: Michigan and Southern Cal. He visited Michigan in the dead of winter — early February, temps far below freezing. He visited USC a few weeks later — I don’t believe the temperature went below 72 or above 75 degrees all weekend.

We were sure he was going to pick USC.

And then he told us he was going to Michigan.

Why? Because, he said, he’d thought a lot about the types of kids he knew who were at Michigan, or who’d gone to Michigan. They were the kind of kids he wanted to be: Passionate, hard-working, humble, smart.

And if kids like that belonged at Michigan, then he did, too.

Look to the people, listen to their stories. They’ll guide you to a place that’s right for you.


I took that photo back in 2007 at a Mizzou baseball game.

Make The Hockey Assist.

Here’s something I love about team sports: Credit’s given not just to the person who scores, but also the players who set up the score. In basketball, an assist is only given to the player who makes the pass that leads to a basket. But in hockey, there’s also a secondary assist, given to the player who makes the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.

Here’s what it looks like in action, as illustrated by my Washington Capitals:

The whole play is set up by #19, Nick Backstrom. He draws two defenders to the center of the ice, then makes the pass to #8, Alex Ovechkin. But because Backstrom’s already drawn the defense in, the goalie and defense have to be extra aggressive in defending against a shot from Ovechkin. Instead, Ovi surprises everyone by passing back to the middle of the ice, where #2, Matt Niskanen has a tap-in at the empty net.

It’s a beautiful goal — but none of it is possible without the play from Backstrom. The pass that led to the pass set up an easy goal.

I love the hockey assist. It’s a reminder that the big play often isn’t possible without a lot work first to set things up.

When you’re a manager, a lot of your job is making hockey assists, and trying to set up the conditions for success. That might mean getting your team the resources — technology, money, additional team members — do to work. It might mean setting the goals or giving your team the training so that they can do their work. It might mean figuring out a way to divvy up tasks so that your team can focus on doing something big.

You might not get the credit for your team’s win, but that’s OK. Being a manager isn’t about getting credit — it’s about putting your team in position to do its best work.

So make the  hockey assist — and set your team up for success.

How To Do Better Work, Faster.

Here’s something I’ve been told: You can do work well, or you can do work quickly — but you can’t do both.

I don’t think that’s true.

I believe you can learn how to do quality work with speed. The way to get there is through process.

If routines are the habits that individuals use to get through their day efficiently, then processes are the series of routines that a team uses to accomplish a goal quickly. Think of those processes as an assembly line of tasks — each member of the team has a specific set of responsibilities within that process. The goal is handle those tasks as quickly as possible, and move things along to the next person to handle their role. If everyone does their job, good work gets done quickly.

When you’re building out a team, you’re doing more than just hiring. You’re actually building out the processes for that team to do its work. And every time those processes get put into action, you start to see the gaps — what isn’t covered, what needs refining. There are always holes to plug, and always ways to move through the tasks more efficiently.

When things go wrong, sit down with your team and talk about your setbacks: What happened last time? What got lost in the process? What do we need to do better? Who can own those new tasks?

Over time, by creating these processes and putting them into practice, and by tweaking the processes when things go wrong, you start to accomplish quality work quickly.

Here’s what I believe: You can’t go fast when you’re working alone, and you can’t go fast when you’re working with a group but not truly working together.

But when you build out those series of steps to work together, you can do quality work, and you can do it with speed. That’s the power of process.


That photo of a crew team — each with a key role in the process to make their boat move as fast as possible — was taken by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash,

How To Network The Right Way.

It took me a decade to figure out what “networking” really meant: Meeting lots of people, being kind to them, and staying in touch.

That’s it.

Meet lots of people. Go to events involving people in your field. Reach out to leaders you admire. Talk to friends of friends — the network of people at your level may not be very powerful yet, but one day, they probably will be. Don’t ask them for stuff right away — after all, you just met!

Be kind to them. Write these people thank you notes when they help you out. Send them kind, congratulatory notes when they do something great. Just be nice.

Stay in touch. It doesn’t have to be much. Sending someone a note on their birthday counts. Emailing them a link to a story they might like counts. Reaching out every so often to grab lunch counts.

I know I’m using the word “networking” to describe this behavior, but that doesn’t really get at what I’m actually trying to do. All I’m really doing is meeting interesting people.

Sometimes, I can help these people. Maybe in the future, they can help me. But here’s my advice: Don’t go into this looking for favors — just try to meet as many interesting people as you can. You never know where those relationships might lead you.


That photo, which, admittedly, is a more obvious stock photo than I usually use here on the blog, is from rawpixel.com via Unsplash.

Direction Is More Important Than Speed.

A co-worker asked me this week: How busy are you these days?

I’ve been at this job for four months, and my co-worker knows that we have a thousand things to do. We have to improve the way we drive newsletter growth. We have to launch new products. We have to improve our existing products. We have to work more closely with our sales and marketing teams to serve their needs. We have to improve the types of data we collect, and find and build better tools to work with.

That’s why my response seemed to catch my co-worker by surprise: I have a list a mile long of things to do… but I’m not crazy busy.

Yes, there’s a lot to do. And yes, I want to get these things done as quickly as I can.

But I can’t make all these things happen at once. I don’t have the team in place yet to take on all these projects, and I’m still getting buy-in from other teams in the office that we’ll need to work with.

Sure, I could try to run through walls to try to get stuff done. But I know I can’t get past those walls by myself. The only way to get through them is with time, teamwork, and money. But I don’t have those things yet — and if I push too hard, too fast, I’m going to drive myself insane.

Instead, I’m trying to work smarter — not faster. I wrote about this last week in my annual Things I Believe post:

“Direction is more important than speed. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re headed the wrong way.”

Building something new is going to take time. For now, the best thing I can do is help point the team in the right direction. I’m spending a lot of time meeting with other stakeholders, figuring out what they want and how it lines up with what I want. I’m spending a lot of time asking questions, and a lot of time listening.

We’re not moving as fast as I want to, but that’s OK. We’re starting to move in the right direction, and it’s OK to take slow steps towards progress. If we’re heading the right way, and if we’re working with the right people and tools, we’ll build up speed over time.


That photo is by Robin Pierre on Unsplash.

Here, Read This.

One of my former BuzzFeed colleagues, Millie Tran, put together this fantastic presentation about how to visualize your career. It’s full of wonderful advice for people in their 20s and 30s — especially if you work in media. Take 5 minutes and give it a read here:

Just Tell Me What’s Going On.

airplane sunrise

Here’s something I’ve discovered about managing a team that I learned at — of all places — the airport:

We’ve all been on a flight that gets delayed. Maybe you’re at the gate, still waiting to board. Or you’re on the plane already, and there’s going to be a delay. I’ve discovered there are two types of airline crews in that situation:

1) The Crew That’s Vague About What’s Happening — They tell you, “It’ll just be a minute” or “We’re just waiting on one thing, it shouldn’t be that long” — even if that’s not really the case.

2) The Crew That’s Overly Transparent — They tell you exactly what’s happening (sometimes in great detail, even if most of the passengers don’t understand the airport-speak) and how long it’s going to take before you get moving.

And 100 times out of 100, I’d prefer the second crew.


At an airport, transparency means one thing: Knowing what shit is about to hit the fan before it hits.

It means that if there’s going to be a delay due to weather or mechanical failure, you want to know what’s happening and how it’s going to affect your plans. With the second type of crew, you’re informed: You know that you’re going to be stuck on the tarmac for an extra 20 minutes because the pilot said, “We’ve gotten moved to 15th for departure, so it’s going to be a 20-minute wait,” and then he checked back 15 minutes later to say, “We’re 5 minutes away, sorry for the delay!” I’ve been on that flight before — even though they’re upset about the delay, passengers usually seem pretty calm when they know everything that’s going on.

I’ve also been on a flight where the crew is way too vague — and I’ve seen how panicked and frustrated passengers can get when they feel like they’re not being told the whole story.

Here’s what it means for a leadership role: In most cases, if you can be overly transparent, you should be. Just by saying, “This is something that might be hard to hear, but I’m going to share it with you anyway because you should hear it from me first”, you’re accomplishing two goals: You’re building trust with your team, you’re making sure your team isn’t surprised by bad news.

Don’t let shit hit the fan first. Get out in front of it — even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation. When everyone has all the information they need, it’s much easier for all parties to talk about what happens next.


That photo,“#sunrise #tampa #airport”, by Mighty Travels is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy The Ride.

A post shared by BuzzFeed Marketing (@buzzfeedx) on

There are days at BuzzFeed when I have to stop to remind myself: Can you believe you’ve been a part of this thing?

We’ve grown so much and we’ve grown so fast — from 30 million unique visitors to more than 200 million, and more than a billion page views per month. I’d argue that we’re one of the most successful media startups ever. And somehow, I ended up with a seat on this insane ride.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work at a place like BuzzFeed again. How many times can you step onto a rocket ship just before it takes off? I’ve been lucky to work with smart, curious, and talented people. I’ve gotten to work with leaders who’ve been able to see what’s around the corner in media just a bit faster than everyone else. I can’t even believe how much I’ve grown in my 4+ years here.

Which is why I have to remind myself to enjoy it. There are days when I get bogged down in work or politics. There are days when I don’t feel the joy of coming to the office. There are days when it’s just another job.

And those are the days when I have to remind myself: Dan, you’re working at one of the most remarkable places in media. You’ve been a part of growing this thing into the company it is today. And who knows if you’ll ever get to be a part of something like this ever again?

So: Enjoy it. Pitch big ideas. Work with people you may never get to work with again. Ask for what you want.

Enjoy it, because the ride will end one day — and you don’t want to look back and wonder if you left something undone.

Five People You Meet In Every Office.

lego firefighters

Baseball season begins next week, and there’s buzz around the league about one player and his potential impact on the game.

The player is Andrew Miller, a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. Miller is one of the best in baseball: He’s unhittable on the mound, and teams rarely eke out runs against him. For decades, a pitcher like Miller would have been moved into the closer role. With the Indians winning a tight game in the 9th inning, Miller would have been the one to get the final three outs.

Except that in Cleveland’s run to the World Series last fall, Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t use Miller as a closer. Francona realized what statisticians had been saying for years: that you want to use your best pitcher at the moment when the game is most in doubt. It’s what’s known as a high-leverage situation. If it’s the 5th inning, your team’s up by 1, but the opponent has runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, the next few pitches might decide the game. Instead of holding your best pitcher for the 9th inning, use him right then, when the game’s on the line.

Baseball has a term for pitchers who enter games in those middle-inning pressure situations: The fireman. If you desperately need to get outs, and there’s no room for error, bring in the fireman, and let him put out the fire.

And it’s not just baseball that has that sort of job. Every office has a firefighter — and one of these four other roles, too:

The Politician — They’re the ones building coalitions at your office, trying to use their networking skills to launch big projects. They’re in every meeting, talking, listening, and trying to broker deals. They’re the ones who get the credit when their teams bring something to launch, and they’re the ones who might get the axe if things go south. Great politicians can inspire teams to take on huge challenges; bad ones leave turmoil and confusion in their wake.

The Firefighter — They’re the ones who get called in to put out the biggest fires at an office. If a deal goes horribly wrong; if a team goes off the rails; or if turf wars sprout up, they’re the ones who come in to handle the problem. They’re fixers. They can keep a bad situation from escalating even further, and they’re the ones who can put an end to something when you need it most.

The Garbageman — There’s always grunt work to be done at an office, those unglamorous tasks that just need to get finished for a team to complete a project. It’s nobody’s favorite work to do, but if it doesn’t get taken care of, the work piles up and nothing big gets done. The garbageman is always there to make sure those tiny-but-important tasks get done.

The Construction Worker — Taking an idea and turning it into something real takes a lot of labor. The construction workers are the ones who build the systems and processes to make those visions a reality. They put in a lot of work and are often most responsible for making things happen — even if the politicians get most of the credit.

The Teacher — Every office needs someone who can help teams get better at their jobs. For employees to improve their skill sets, or for managers to grow into leaderships role, you need teachers to develop those skills. Teachers come in all shapes — mentors, coaches, managers, leaders — but no office can grow without teachers to aid in that development.

If you look around your office, you’ll notice these roles in action. Think for a second: Who’s the woman at your office who always knows how to handle the diciest situations? Who’s the guy who takes care of the little tasks on a project? Who’s the one who’s always there to offer coaching and support?

Now think: Which one are you?


Those Lego firefighters are from the photo “Fire brigade” by mac_filko, and licensed under CC BY 2.0.