14 Rules For Getting the Best

 Wanna grab the brass ring every time? Read this.

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You've built the perfect system. You've nurtured the perfect office simpatico. You've charted the perfect path.

I don't care if you've batted a thousand for 10 months in a row – at some point, there's going to be a glitch.

That's just life. And how you handle the unexpected is the measure of a manager and editor in many ways.

Here are few rules I've come to live by to hit that thousand-for-a-thousand mark every time:

Make yourself a staff whisperer. Get to know everybody well – and I mean EVERYBODY – starting with the very first moment you meet. Find a spot far from the madding crowd, just you and one other person at a time, and ask them how they work best. Ask them what they hate and what they love. Ask them what's worked in the past, what hasn't worked and what they'd say if there were no chance of retribution. Notice their subtleties – how their eyes beam when they say, “I just love proofreading;” or how their lips tighten when they say, “I like proofreading just fine.” Look them in the eye, connect on their terms as well as you can and tell them exactly where you're coming from, too. Above all, check back regularly and often. This is what coffee shops were made for.

Match your system to your players – or at least to the players you know you can get. A baseball manager wouldn't emphasize the speed game when the team's packed with power hitters. A director wouldn't pick a tragic opera when comic geniuses dominate the cast.

Match your game to the market, your budget and your goals. Do a little triage here: Here's what we've got; here's how we're positioning ourselves; here's what we can do now; and here's what we can do down the line.

Take charge in no uncertain terms, but remember: It's about the product, not your power. I rely a lot on management-by-example here. If you've ever lived in New York City, you know that the way you carry yourself is everything -- people can smell both fear and confidence. I try to exude a controlled, commanding, yet open and empathetic presence. Nobody's ever come close to messing with me yet.

Don't expect anybody to do what you wouldn't do. Deadlines, for example, should be sacred. And they will be – as long as you stay on top of them all and, no matter what, don't dare to miss one yourself. That way lies madness.

Outwork everybody. Be the first one in every morning and the last one out every night. And SHOW everybody that you expect the very best of yourself. Believe me, this works wonders on its own.

Objectify your system. I always cast mine as a reliable train schedule that we all have to meet – not stretch or control. Then, when somebody tries to test your limits, you can always say, “Remember: It's our job to make the train's departure time; it's not the train's job to make ours.”

Plan for glitches. Deadlines are a good example here, too. I always tell my writers: “I know stories sometimes spin out of control. And I promise I'll never get mad -- as long as I get a good explanation and time to adjust before the 11 th hour.” Do discreet, diplomatic progress checks along the way, and always – ALWAYS – have a back-up replacement ready just in case. Rejecting just one idle limits-test is usually enough: “Hey, I've had to stay up all night to make a deadline, too.”

Find the best in everybody – and build on it. I don't believe in negative reinforcement. I've used it extremely rarely -- and only as the very last resort after calm, clear feedback and documentation. I do believe, though, that a motivated staff will march happily to hell and back with you. Remind people often that you know what makes them special, and you'll never get shot by your own troops.

Delegate, but don't hover. Engender respect and trust, and let people be master of their own work as much as possible. This makes for maximum work efficiency, too.

At the same time, as a former presidential candidate's wife once said: “Trust but verify.” At least, in some cases, until a reliable pattern's been set.

Two short shuttle-diplomacy check-ins are worth five 90-minute staff meetings. I think staff meetings should be as quick and painless as possible. They're best for verifying, progress-checking, some extended brainstorming and maybe even some venting -- but not for setting an agenda in stone on the spot. Short pre-meetings work wonders here. As a former state legislator once told me: “If you don't know what's going to happen at a meeting, it's better not to even show up.”

NEVER let tempers flare in public. This is a no-win for everybody – especially you. Cut it off calmly, and set a private meeting if you have to – well away from prying ears and possibly with assurances of confidentiality.

Just because it's stupid doesn't mean it's not important. A big-picture gem that I owe to legendary Wisconsin political strategist, Bill Kraus. Thanks, Bill! I use this one all the time.

Website By Chuck Nowlen