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:
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.
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.
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?
We’re interviewing candidates for a new member of my team right now — exciting, I know! And that’s gotten me thinking about what I wish I knew when I was on the other side of the table, trying to get that offer.
I’ve written before about things recent grads should be doing to get an offer:
- Telling a great story with your resume
- Writing a thank you note after the interview
- Searching for a great boss
- Asking lots of questions
Let’s add another to this list: Utilizing your network of peers.
When I was interviewing at BuzzFeed, I was wading into brand new territory. I’d never worked at a start-up like that before. I didn’t have a good sense of how much they’d pay, what my hours would be like, or whether or not their offer of stock options was something I should take seriously.(1)
I’d made this mistake once before: In the final months of my senior year at Mizzou, I’d been offered the chance to run a blog network, and I turned out it down without talking to my network. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the size of the opportunity I’d refused. As I wrote back in 2012:
What I’ve learned since is the importance of a really good conversation. You need people who can advise you, guide you and — most importantly — ask the kind of questions that will help lead to you the right answers. When you have an opportunity, talk about it with smart people. It’s amazing how a good conversation can really open your eyes to your full potential.
I made a similar mistake with BuzzFeed. I talked mostly to my family during the interview process, and I accepted BuzzFeed’s offer. But I ended up accepting an offer for less than I was worth.
What happened? I didn’t utilize my network correctly. I should have also been talking to:
1) Colleagues a few years older than me — They could have told me more about what to expect from a growing company like this, and helped me understand how to approach a difficult salary conversation.
2) Peers my age — They could have told me more about what they were making doing similar jobs in the same city, and made sure I understood how much I really needed to make to live in New York.(2) That would have helped me set a salary floor for the negotiations.
Why didn’t I talk to my network? Honestly, I was just a little nervous about bothering people. I was worried that it might sound like bragging if I told them about the exciting new offer I had on the table. I was scared that they wouldn’t want to open up about their personal experiences.
I was wrong on all counts.
Five years later, let me offer this simple advice: You should always ask for help. Utilize every resource you have to make sure you get the best offer at the right company.
This is your career. You should never be afraid to ask for the help you need to get it right.
A friend forwarded me an email the other day — Mikki Halpin’s Action Now newsletter. It’s an email series geared towards inspiring progressive activism, but she said something so wonderful that I wanted to give it a little shoutout here.
Think about all of the things swirling around you, all the opportunities you have to do things and act on your values and choose these three things:
• One thing to be a leader on
• One thing to be a follower on
• One thing to make a habit of
I love this so much. If I had a cubicle wall, I’d print this out and hang it beside my desk. It’s so simple, yet potentially so powerful.
I’ve been trying to think about how to adapt this for my team. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:
One thing to be a leader on — There are always so many projects in the works. Instead of centralizing power among just a handful of leaders, why not spread the responsibility around and give everyone something to take charge on? Even a smaller project — overseeing some design fixes to our newsletters, for instance — could be a great opportunity to give a junior staffer the opportunity to lead.
One thing to be a follower on — As teams gets stretched thin with additional work, it’s easy for a team member to be left alone on a project. And that should never be the case. Everyone should have someone to bounce ideas off of, or to support the work. It’s true that when two people work together on a project, their total output far exceeds what you’d expect from adding 1 + 1 together. Every leader needs a follower to support them.
One thing to make a habit of — Building good habits matter. Whether it’s making time to read in the morning or starting a new routine at the gym, I really believe that building good habits can change your life. And you don’t need to wait for New Year’s Day to resolve to build better habits. You can start today!
That 1-1-1 model — lead, follow, and build good habits — is an amazing example. I can’t wait to bring it to my team.
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That photo of someone to follow comes via Unsplash and photographers Danka & Peter.
Can we talk about “Fiddler on the Roof” for a second?
I love “Fiddler.” I love the music, and I love the story.(1) And as I grow into a leadership role at my office, I’ve been thinking a lot about the main character of Tevye, and how his role in “Fiddler” has partly inspired the way I try to make decisions at work.
If you’ve never seen “Fiddler,” here’s the 15-second version: It’s the story of a humble milkman (Tevye), trying to lead his family and his Jewish community through a period of huge upheaval in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Over the course of the story, Tevye’s homeland rejects him for his religious beliefs; his daughters grow older and marry, but not to the men he’d once envisioned for them; and his family is uprooted from their home. It’s a fascinating — and heartbreaking — story.(2)
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tevye’s role in “Fiddler” story — specifically, the way Tevye adapts to the realignments happening around him. As his world changes, Tevye deals with every new issue by moving through the same four steps:
1) Ask — Tevye asks a lot of questions, seeking to understand the “why” behind changes that affect him.
2) Listen — He listens carefully to what the people he trusts most (his family, his fellow villagers, even some Russian officials) tell him.
3) Learn — He’s receptive to a variety of viewpoints, and willing to accept ideas that aren’t his own. He challenges himself to see things through other people’s eyes.
4) Decide — He tries to make the best decisions he can with the information he’s been given.
And by using the same method for every major change — ask, listen, learn, decide — Tevye consistently makes good decisions. He surrounds himself with people who support him, but who are also willing to challenge him. And Tevye has the humility to understand that by listening to those perspectives, he can push himself towards the best possible decision. In his family, the decisions are always ultimately his, but Tevye never makes a decision without going through that decision-making process first.
All of this matters when you’re making decisions as a leader in your workplace. You have to surround yourself with smart people who are willing to confront you with hard truths. On a team, dissent and disagreement can be a good thing — as long as you’re willing to recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Together, the team can always get to a better solution than you will alone.
The next time you watch “Fiddler,” watch it with Tevye’s process in mind. I think you’ll be impressed at how such a humble character can show such wisdom as a leader.
That photo of a “Fiddler” playbill was taken by Deb Nystrom and used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.
- I especially love the Lin-Manuel Miranda version of “To Life”, but that’s for another day. ↩
- For Jewish families like mine, watching “Fiddler” can feel like watching a biography of our ancestors. ↩
I’ve lived in New York City for four years, and in those four years, I don’t believe I’ve ever gone all Tom Friedman and written a post in which I take a tiny public transportation experience and make it into a big thing.
That, sadly, ends today.
So with apologies to the Times’s op-ed page, here’s a story:
I’m riding the subway down to work this morning, and the arrival board on the downtown 6 train has one word on it: “Delay.” I wait for a few minutes, but the subway still hasn’t arrived.
And then a voice comes over the loudspeaker: There’s a sick passenger on the train one stop away, and it’s not moving. If you want to go downtown, please go to the other side of the tracks, take a 6 uptown one stop, and then take an express train back downtown.
It’s annoying. But it is what it is.
So I start walking to the uptown platform, and a handful of people are walking there, too. But everybody else on the platform is just standing there.
The voice comes over again to repeat the message, but most people still aren’t moving.
I get to the other side of the tracks, and I look back at the downtown platform. There must be a hundred people still standing there, completely oblivious to the message from the loudspeaker. I look up and down the platform. Everyone’s in their own world, listening to something via headphones, or loudly locked in conversation with someone else. The trains aren’t moving, and they’re too busy to even notice.
Now here’s where Tom Friedman would make a profound statement about the state of the world based on that one story, and since I’m already this deep into my anecdote, here goes:
We all have ways of building little bubbles for ourselves, and shutting the rest of the world out. You throw on headphones. You hide in our offices, doors closed, or in corners of the building where you won’t be bothered. You tell yourself that you need the quiet, or you need to be productive. You need to get away.
But here’s the downside: That leaves you isolated. You miss out on the things happening all around you — sometimes little, sometimes big and obvious.
I used to laugh about a manager at my office who was infamous for a leadership style called Management By Walking Around. It seemed like such an odd way to lead. But I’m starting to see the benefits. Being visible and keeping your eyes open exposes you to what’s happening around you — at least at the surface level. It opens the door to serendipitous conversations, and as a manager, it’s certainly not a bad thing to be a noticeable presence around the building.
But first you have to open your eyes and ears. Things are happening all around you — it’s up to you to decide if you want to pay them notice.
That’s a photo of my subway platform, taken by yours truly.
I love learning about the way other people work — not just what they do during their day, but how they do it. A few years ago, I remember grabbing a burrito at Chipotle late in the afternoon, in the dead time between the lunch rush and dinner. The manager was training a team of new hires how to move customers through the line. The new hires were taking a full minute to get a customer from “Hi, what would you like to order?” to the cashier. The manager wanted them to get it down to 22 seconds. He explained that if there were a dozen people in line, serving a customer in 22 seconds meant that last person in line would be paying for their burrito in a little over 4 minutes. At their current pace, that last customer wouldn’t pay for 12 minutes — and would probably abandon the line for another lunch option long before then.
So I watched as the manager trained each member of the team in ways to shave seconds off of every step of the burrito-making process. The manager kept driving home this message: One person’s work impacts the success of everyone else on the team. It was fascinating to watch.
Which brings me to this video that the “Saturday Night Live” YouTube channel posted a few days ago. Watching the “SNL” crew tear down an entire set in two minutes, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the way everything moves. Four seconds after the actors finish saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”, the crew is already on stage dismantling the set. Then the crew starts dismantling the walls of the set — a set, I should say, that was built specifically to be assembled and dismantled as quickly as possible. And all along, you hear the voice of the director, imploring his team to get the stage clear. We have a family friend who likes to say, “Don’t rush, but hurry up” — and that’s exactly what the director is conveying here.
In less than two minutes, the “SNL” crew manages to make everything on set — the actors, the walls, the fake fireplace, the carpeting — disappear, and those of us watching at home on TV never notice it at all. It’s an impressive bit of teamwork. I don’t know how they move so fast or stay so calm, but they do. I’d watch an entire “SNL” episode just of what happens behind the scenes — I’d love to know more about how their crew trains for the live show. There’s a lot to learn from a team like this.
It’s okay to say, “No.”
It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.
It’s okay to ask for what you want.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.
It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.
It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)
It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.
It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)
It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)
It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)
It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.
It’s okay to feel completely lost.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.
It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.
To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.
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I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.