12 Rules for New Managers – #1: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

There are 12 things I wish someone had told me when I first became a manager at the young and impressionable age of 20. It would have made the next few years a lot easier.

The bright side is, I learned those 12 lessons for myself, inside and out. And over the next 12 Mondays, I get to pay those lessons forward in a little crash course: 12 Rules for New Managers.

If you know any first-time managers, or seasoned managers looking to re-focus and revitalize their leadership, please share!

Rule #1: Keep Your Eye on the Ball

If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, I know you can relate. Whether you’re managing projects, a team, customer relationships–the same 3 things will burn you out if you let them: Hurt, distraction, and overwhelming details.

Hurt: You are going to be criticized and pushed around. No matter how progressively you go about it, your job will still include pushing things around and calling shots. That’s not going to make you popular with everybody. When people aren’t happy, the manager will get blamed. When results are missing, the manager will get blamed. That was one of the toughest things for me about management. I had no idea just how much emotional and verbal abuse could be directed at one person. And it’s almost always the manager.

Distraction: Just as inevitable as offense, distraction can quickly become your entire life as a manager. Paperwork, voicemail, inbox, post-it notes. Goodness, post-it notes! Those can quickly drive the most productive person insane. Nobody else on the team has your special job description: Managing. Keeping things organized and running. But nobody else gets more distractions and superfluous junk thrown at them, either. One of the hardest tasks of the manager is also at the very heart of their job: Staying focused.

Overwhelming details: Your team has lots of specialists. In fact, you might be the only one on the team who is not supposed to be a technical specialist. Your job is to facilitate the work of a bunch of other people who are doing the details. As a manager, though, it’s hard not to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Especially when you’re being held responsible for a project or team as a whole, it’s hard to let go of the details, so you can see the entire forest instead of just a few trees. But if you don’t–if you instead let those details overwhelm your vision–if you focus narrowly on a few specifics–the rest of your project and team will fall apart before you even notice.

Hurt and discouragement, countless distractions, and detail after narrow detail. They threaten to completely overwhelm you as a manager, leaving you burnt out with no results. So what’s the solution?

Your first rule as a manager is to keep your eye on the ball. Remind yourself, every single day, what you’re being paid to do.

When unhappy people and miscommunication are discouraging you, keep your eye on the ball! Comfort and acceptance are not always in your job description. Sometimes you have to let insults and criticism roll right off your back. If you stay focused on what your real goals are, you’ll be able to beat the discouragement, developing mental toughness instead.

When too much noise and stuff are threatening to steal your time and swallow your life, keep your eye on the ball! Prioritize. You might have to have a talk with the team or your own boss. Your job cannot be to pick up little pieces all day. When you try to field every play, answer every question, work every station, your productivity comes to a screeching halt. If instead you stay absolutely focused on the results you’re seeking and the exact tasks that will most strategically accomplish them, that focus will beat the distraction and your productivity will soar.

Finally, when you feel yourself getting lost in the details, keep your eye on the ball! Take a step back and look at the big picture. Grab a notebook and re-organize your thoughts, tasks, and goals. You manage a team, not a corner. You manage a project, not a detail. Instead of losing the forest for the trees, you can develop the ability to see big picture, regain a little sanity, and get back to being a real manager.

Keeping focused was one of the most important lessons I learned as a manager. I found that both my productivity and my own personal life were affected in big ways by my ability (or lack thereof) to stay focused on the big picture.

Takeaway: The very nature of a manager’s job tends towards personal discouragement and offense, distraction, and narrow-sightedness (or tunnel vision). If you want to stay sane and productive, it is vital to stay focused in the face of all of that. Build mental toughness and a little thick skin. Be able to say no to distractions. See big picture. Keep your eye on the ball!

What helps you stay focused on your real work as a manager?

Too Many Promises

How many promises have you made? Can you remember each one? Are there any promises you’ve forgotten? How would you know?

When I fell in love with my girlfriend, I made a lot of promises. Which was sweet and everything, because they were from the bottom of my heart.

But then three years later, I would suddenly remember something. Didn’t I promise her I wouldn’t do that? Or, didn’t I promise her I’d be doing this, instead?

Truth is, I really didn’t know. I’d made too many promises.

Maybe I should have written them down–kept a journal of promises I’d made.

Then again, as we both grew older and continued to change, we decided some of the promises were downright crazy.

Just how much does a promise mean when you’ve made too many to remember?

And just how seriously can your promises be taken when you make and take them lightly?

Promises are great, but they need to mean a lot.

Are you being careful when you make promises?

When you feel like making a promise, slow down and think. Do you really mean it?

What is a promise you shouldn’t have made?

3 Strengths You Had as a Kid

Staring up at giant sky-scrapers. Riding glass elevators. Feeling absolute awe and excitement. It’s one of my earliest memories. I don’t even remember what city it was. Maybe Chicago or Atlanta. But I always remember what it felt like to be a child.

When I was a kid, I had a very big outlook on life. At 7 or 8 I would wake up in the morning and sprint full-tilt around and around our big house, dreaming of the day I would run like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire.

I wanted to be a zoo keeper when I grew up. An airline pilot (or spacecraft maybe?). A cowboy. A baseball player. Even a WWII soldier.

What did you want? When you were a kid, what did you dream of doing one day?

And why did you stop?

Most of us, as we grew up, were pressured by people around us to “be realistic.” To let go of some of those dreams. To face the cold, hard reality of life. That we’ll probably never amount to much.

Well with that attitude, we won’t!

There are 3 things most of us grew out of as we grew up. Well, there are lots more, but 3 things we probably shouldn’t have grown out of:


Do you remember how energetic and excited you were as a kid? About simple little things like going to the playground or on a roadtrip? Do you remember how obsessive you got over little projects and hobbies? And how shamelessly you expressed your excitement, happiness, and love?

Where has our genuine enthusiasm gone?


Do you remember how much everything amazed you when you were little? How you couldn’t stop staring at a squirrel, wondering how and why it does what it does? How you just had to know what was hidden in that closet, just because? How you wanted to know everything? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Do you remember how open-minded you were as a kid? Open to anything?

When did this incredible world stop interesting us?


Remember how unstoppable you were as a toddler? Fireplace, balcony, kitchen table, bicycle. It didn’t matter. And you knew if you fell of your bike, you’d pick yourself up and try again. Until you made it. Remember how intent you were on making your dreams come true? How you didn’t care that you didn’t know how to do something yet, you were determined to figure it out? Remember when you believed in yourself?

When did we decide it’s bad to hope and expect great things of ourselves, others, and this incredible world?

Reconnect With Your Inner Child

I miss being a kid. I miss the feeling of awe and excitement in a big, awesome world. I miss the enthusiasm. I miss the curiosity. And I miss the confidence. And goodness knows we could all use a boost of each!

Imagine the power and productivity, the excitement and energy you’d feel if you brought childlike enthusiasm, curiosity, and confidence to your life and work!

The past couple of years I’ve been getting back in touch with my inner child. It’s been awesome! “Growing up” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

What do you think?

Create a Powerful Speech in 2 Minutes (Step 2 of 5)

Last week I shared a few tips for deciding what to speak about (quickly when necessary) and why that’s the most important part of the preparation process. It’s important to end up with a very specific point to your speech.

The next step is picking your introduction. Once you know what is the main thing you want to tell your audience, it is time to persuade your audience to listen.

Pick a Catchy Intro

There is one and only one purpose to your introduction: To grab and keep your audience’s attention.

(Just keep in mind, it can’t just grab attention–it has to make sense: If you use Subject A to introduce your speech, and then give a speech that in no way connects to Subject A, your audience will spend the first three minutes thinking “Wait, what?” and the rest of the time daydreaming.)

So how do you grab your audience’s attention? Well, what grabs your interest? Picking an intro isn’t nearly as tough as people think. The options are endless. Here are a few:

• An interesting and memorable personal story.

• A shocking statistic.

• An experience everyone shares and can relate to.

• An activity the audience can participate in.

• A hilarious or dramatic story that engages people emotionally.

Just ask yourself what is the first story or memorable concept your subject reminds you of. And then ask yourself how you can present it in an effective way.

Make Them Want to Keep Listening

As I touched on earlier, your opener can’t just be interesting in and of itself. It has to make sense: It has to end up convincing the audience they should listen to the rest of the speech.

For instance, I can tell a fascinating story, with dramatic flare, about an adopted child. And then I can say, “I want to speak to you about adoption today.” Well the story was great, but why should that mean the audience wants to hear the rest of the speech?

Instead, you might tell the same story about adoption, and then connect it to the audience. Whet their appetite! “Have you ever met an adopted child? Have you ever wondered what memories they might be dealing with? Or how you might be accidentally hurting them? Let’s talk about how adopted children need you to talk to them!”

Make it Memorable

There’s a statistic I don’t remember that says lifeless information like statistics aren’t as easy to remember as stories. When your audience gets home, they probably won’t remember the outline of your speech or all its details. But what they will remember is an awesome story or a shocking revelation.

So it’s absolutely vital to make your introduction not just momentarily amusing, but very memorable. If you want your audience to remember why being thankful is important, give them an incredible story they want to share with others, so that every time they recall the story, they are reminded of all you had to say about it.

Your Intro Matters Almost as Much as Your Subject

When I have to prepare a speech quickly, though I pay the most attention to choosing my subject and purpose, the intro is a close second. There are two reasons:

First, you can have an absolutely fantastic speech prepared, but if your audience isn’t still fascinated by the end of your intro, that fascinating speech will do no good. So your second highest priority in preparing your speech is planning your intro so well that your audience will definitely be listening to the rest of your speech.

Second, when you’re crunched for time, and possibly nervous, you can get away with being unsure of what all you’re going to say, as long as your intro is solidly prepared. At times, my intro is the only clear thing in my head when I actually start speaking. But then I have an extra minute or two of delivering the intro I’m already comfortable with, to think up the rest of my outline, even if I can only think of 1 or 2 quick points.

Takeaway: After you know your subject and purpose, your introduction is the most important part of your preparation. It must be fascinating and engaging in the moment, and it must interest the audience in hearing the rest: e.g: Dramatic story + how it applies to each audience member. It must be memorable. And being sure of your intro ahead of time frees you to use your first minute or two of speaking to decide what you’ll say next. As far as the actual content goes, your introduction is your highest priority–especially when you only have a couple minutes to prepare.

What is the most effectively an introduction has ever drawn you into a speech or presentation?

Scaring the New Guy

You can win or lose a great team member in a day.

First impressions, ambition, insecurity, judgement–there’s a whirlwind of variables inside the new guy’s head. Variables that none of us older teammates really wonder about anymore.

So we criticize each other, criticize our leadership, criticize our employees, criticize our systems, criticize our tools–to us, it’s no big deal. We’re just having fun and blowing off steam. But we’ve been here a while. Our criticisms come with a bigger perspective: After all, we’ve found a reason to stick around.

But the new guy hasn’t. The new guy doesn’t know what it feels like to be a part of your company for six months, a year, five years. All he knows is the chatter going on around him on his first day.

So be careful what you say around the new guy. Silly banter can turn into a make it or break it moment for an unseasoned pair of eyes and ears.

Before you criticize, argue, make fun, or roll your eyes about anyone or anything, ask yourself: “What would this say to the new guy?”

Have you ever been given a disappointing or misleading first impression on a new job?