Hard-Won lessons from a very shrewd adviser

Top CPA and longtime Bottom Line contributor Edward Mendlowitz has worked closely with thousands of clients during his 40 years in the business. He’s seen firsthand why some people and firms get ahead — and why others don’t. Among the hard-won wisdom he offers his clients…

If you feel constantly under pressure, your planning needs to improve. A certain amount of pressure is inevitable in business and life. There will be busy days and tight deadlines. Occasional pressure can drive us to work harder. But frequent or never-ending pressure is unhealthy and prevents us from doing thoughtful work.

What to do: If the pressure on you never seems to let up, don’t blame your fast-paced career or your numerous responsibilities — examine your planning habits. Ask yourself: Am I starting projects as soon as I could? Am I allocating enough time to projects to complete them without deadline pressure? Am I spending time on unimportant chores? Am I building time into my schedule to allow for problems along the way, or am I assuming that everything will go perfectly? Am I delegating everything that can be delegated? Am I hiring additional staff or paying employees to work overtime when appropriate?

Managers solve problems… leaders anticipate them. Putting out fires isn’t enough to get you to the top. Middle managers who wish to make the leap to leadership must start thinking about what could go wrong before it does and what the smart response would be.

Example: A company is bidding on several large contracts that together would challenge its production capacity. A manager who wishes to show leadership abilities might quietly contact temp agencies to explore whether the company could add staff rapidly if all the bids are successful.

If you frequently fail to get what you want, you need to be clearer with others about precisely what you are looking for — and that nothing less will be accepted. Most people can and will meet our high expectations, but it’s up to us to ensure that they understand what those expectations are. It’s also up to us to consistently and steadfastly refuse to accept anything less… and to hold ourselves to the same high standards we ask of them.

Example: If a supplier consistently misses important deadlines, you could send back all deliveries that miss deadlines or insist that future contracts include financial penalties for missed deadlines. Also, ask what you can do to help the supplier meet your deadlines. Perhaps you could submit your orders earlier in the day or in a particular format… or provide warnings when rush orders are imminent.

Trust in chemistry. When relationships don’t feel right, projects tend to go wrong. Each of us has a particular style. When styles clash, it’s usually best to extricate yourself from the relationship. If the relationship is important, however, first take a stab at overcoming the lack of chemistry. Lay out the problem without blame, and ask the other person to work with you to solve it.

Example: “I feel a bit threatened when you start shouting. We need to find a solution to this if we’re going to work together.”

Don’t apologize for who you are. People judge us based on the way we judge ourselves.

What to do: If we acknowledge our shortcomings yet act with confidence because our strengths more than balance out our weaknesses, others will have confidence in us, too.

Know your role, not just your title. People often define themselves by their job titles… or define their businesses by the industries those businesses are in. This tends to constrict the opportunities they see for themselves.

Instead, think of yourself and your business in terms of the role that you play for your employers or customers. You might start to see opportunities to play a similar role in different sectors.

Example: A century ago, the owners of railroad companies defined themselves as being in the railroad business. Had they thought of themselves instead as simply providing shipping and transportation services, they might have expanded their businesses into trucking and airplane transport as those technologies developed.

Losing your temper mortgages your future. It can feel good to blow up when people let us down, but venting anger at others forever damages our relationships with these people and costs us the respect of anyone else within earshot as well. I’ve seen it time and time again. When a manager blows up at someone who works for him, that person never works as hard for that manager.

What to do: Always keep your cool in the workplace and with loved ones. When you feel like getting angry, try exercising for a while… or type up a letter venting at the person you are upset with, then file it.

View mistakes as part of the process of success. Mistakes are not a sign of incompetence — they are a sign of having made an attempt. Without attempts there can be no successes, no learning and no growth. Bosses in particular should avoid routinely treating mistakes by underlings harshly. Otherwise, the employees will learn to stop taking chances.

Create excitement in those around you. If you want to get the most from the people who work for you or with you, make those people look forward to coming to work every day.

Examples: Be free with compliments… share progress updates… give awards to top performers.