I’m “the boss” in two major areas of my life: at work (I’m the Executive Director of a nonprofit), and my running club (I’m a co-founder and co-organizer).
The best part about being in charge? No one tells you what to do.
The worst part about being in charge? No one tells you what to do.
I’ve always been pretty obedient, but have a tendency to question authority. So being the authority makes it easier for me to get work done, because I understand what’s important and why (usually). But I’m not omnipotent (gasp!), and rely on my team (work and running) to bring up issues and suggestions.
Here’s where it gets really hard for me: I often take these issues, suggestions, and even random comments as directives. For example, a runner in my group might say something like, “I missed out on the last t-shirt order, so I’m looking forward to the next one” and I hear, “It’s time for another t-shirt design and order, so get on that, will ya?”
It’s even worse at work. I work really hard to create and maintain a culture of transparency and openness, which means people speak their minds all the time. And I love that! But it can be hard to hear what’s on someone’s mind without making it into 1) a complaint about me/my leadership, or 2) an urgent task that needs to completed, or at least spearheaded, by leadership.
So what’s a boss to do?
In some cases, those comments really should be directives, and I’m grateful for them, especially when I feel like I’m not sure what I should be doing. But how do you know the differences between those and the ones that are truly ideas for mulling over, projects for the backburner that you get to eventually, or maybe never?
I think back to the Harvard Business Review Guide to Getting the Right Work Done, which I’ve written about before. A lot of the book is discussion on concrete tips for managing your day, minute-to-minute, with the purpose of focusing on your priorities—or, the right work. What it doesn’t have (if I remember correctly—I don’t have the book in my possession anymore) are tips for identifying those priorities or filtering feedback from other people advocating for their own priorities.
So, here’s my stab at a simple trick for doing exactly that: the next time someone makes a comment/suggestion that you’re not sure should be a directive, ask yourself, “Is it FUN?”
While I wish I mean “FUN” as actually fun, I don’t this time. This time, it’s an acronym for: Feasible, Urgent, and Necessary.
Feasible – Does the complaint come with a built-in, doable solution? Is there a solution, and is it even possible?
Urgent – Is the problem (or root cause of the problem) an emergency?
Necessary – Will not fixing or acting on this comment result in disaster, or least continued discomfort/inefficiency/negativity?
Depending on the scope of the comment/suggestion/complaint, this system might be too much (not everything needs to be analyzed before taking action) or not enough (something might be feasible, but require a longterm plan with lots of moving parts). You might also want to ask yourself if it’s mission-driven or on-brand, but I think a lot of those extra questions could be collapsed into the categories FUN provides (I think those two examples fit in with Necessary).
And you know what? Writing this post and boring myself a little, I’ve changed my mind. Might as well make it FUNF, with that second F standing for Fun, even if it’s not as catchy. Because we could all use a little more of that, even before the working day is done, right?