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Self-Accountability not Self-Criticism

Four simple questions that easily help to develop more self-accountability and avoid falling into the trap of self-criticism instead

What do you notice about your own self-accountability? Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The best way to be true to your word is to be more self-accountable, and *less* self-critical. Click To Tweet

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Asking in the Right Way

Creative step-by-step ways for Leaders to successfully ask people to do stuff without hitting a problem

Leaders spend a lot of time asking people to get stuff done.

But how much time do you put into targeting the way you ask somebody to do something?

And particularly, how much time and attention do you pay to which is the right way to ask that specific person?


Asking someone to get something done in a way that avoids their unconscious barriers and makes the most of their natural predilections is incredibly helpful in maximising opportunities at work and in not discovering when its too late that there’s actually been no progress!

One approach that can easily help is to think about two of the dimensions that have a big impact on people’s behavioural and thinking styles at work:

  1. their preferred Motivational Direction; and
  2. their preferred Operational Mode.

For 1, their preferred Motivational Direction, that simply means do they prefer to:

  • look for goals and opportunities to achieve things (“Towards“); or
  • look for problems to solve or avoid (“Away From“).

For 2, their preferred Operational Mode, that means do they prefer to:

  • develop and create new ways of doing things (“Sponanteous“); or
  • follow established procedures (“Procedural“).

Put these two dimensions together and you’ve already got four possible combinations of how people respond to and think about the world around them. You can see this in the matrix at the top of this post.

The very best leaders already know which preferences their team members have in the way they think about and respond to the world about them. They can then adapt their approach so that when they ask somebody to get something done, HOW they ask also supports them and doesn’t actively get in the way.


Try it yourself.

Think of anything that you need to ask somebody to get done, and see if you can ask it in each of the four ways I’ve outlined in my matrix above.

  • Who do you know at work who would respond well to one of these approaches?
  • Who do you know who would be overwhelmed or annoyed at being asked in the wrong way?

What is your OWN preferred way of being asked – which of those approaches in the matrix would be most persuasive with you?


“Understanding people is much deeper than knowledge. There are many people who know us, but very few who understand us.”
Unknown


Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Leaders should pay more time and attention to the WAY that they ask people to get stuff done. Click To Tweet

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The Intersecting Tracks

To make progress, great coaching runs on two intersecting tracks: Understanding – expanding what’s possible; and Doing – creating practical results

First, there’s a Doing track.

The Doing track is important because great coaching has to be a practical, tangible thing – to result in something useful that you can see or touch or hear. It’s not possible for clients to arrive at that destination without actually Doing something.

Second, there’s an Understanding track.

The Understanding track is important because great coaching should take people beyond what’s currently possible. And that requires new ways of looking at ourselves, more understanding about how best to relate to the world around us, and a deeper sense of what’s possible for us, both as individuals and in concert with others.


Clients often have an expectation that the coaching work will only focus on one or other track – sometimes they’re unaware that there even is a second track.

They might be struggling to get something done or to make a significant change, without realising that the reason they’re struggling is that they first need some new or deeper understanding. At other times, they can be flailing around, looking for the magic bullet to make things easier, when they simply might not have tried enough different ways, or even have tried hard enough.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s not easy to tell if something we’re attempting is difficult because (a) we lack some crucial insight; or (b) we should just be trying more things, or just trying harder. This is where our tracks need to intersect and why the coaching space, somewhere to reflect on those points, is such a powerful one.


So, intersecting tracks:

  • Track 1: discover some new Understanding because that then makes possible a different type of Doing; and/or
  • Track 2: try more or different ways of Doing, because the results from that doing will lead to new Understanding.

Once you become conscious of the intersecting tracks and the need to be both Doing and Understanding in a way that’s pretty close to simultaneous, all kinds of fantastic breakthroughs start to appear.

“Action without knowledge is useless and knowledge without action is futile.” Abu Bakr


What’s been your experience of this – can you understand without doing? Or push what you’re capable of doing without also getting new understanding?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Great coaching has to run on two intersecting tracks – Understanding and Doing – more or less simultaneously. Here’s why: Click To Tweet

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The “What if … ” Game

Plan for unknown, risky or even magnificent situations using the “What if … ” game. A tool for helping people venture into the unknown with their eyes open

I like my coaching with my clients to be rooted in real, tangible results, and to relate to actual experience.

So at first sight, the “What if … ” game might seem very different to that – abstract and make-believe. But here’s why it’s such a useful tool both for getting real results and for helping people to properly ‘live’ their day-to-day life and work.


First, people sometimes fail to take action, or fail to really be ‘present’ to their actual experiences, out of fear, embarrassment and shame around what could go wrong, or where they don’t feel good enough, or out of self-criticism about how things ‘should’ be.

At those times, the “What if …” game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together.

Leaders and coaches can ask:

What if your situation IS as bad as you think – what would you do about it?

What if you DID actually need to get better at doing X; how would you go about that?

What is actually the worst that could happen – and what’s the first thing you’d do if it did?

Nine times out ten, asking these kind of “What if … ” questions results in somebody really quickly reconnecting with their choice and personal agency (ability to get into action). You’ll get answers like, “Actually, if that did really happen, I’d just do X;” or, “The worst isn’t really as bad as I imagined, the really bad stuff is way, way beyond where I am!” On the tenth time, you might find someone who isn’t ready to re-empower themselves just yet, and the “What if … ” game will just get vague, non-concrete answers. Best strategy then is to simply explore more about what’s currently going on: “Tell me some more about how things are for you right now?” Give it time and space.

The 'What if ...' game can be a great way of safely looking at and planning for the scary stuff together. Click To Tweet

Second (and just as often), we can fail to take action, or forget to be in the moment, because our big, audacious goals, if achieved, would result in radical changes to our situations. This is true even though it seems really counter-intuitive – why would we not take action to make a radical change, or fail to fully experience the process of doing it, when it’s something that we wanted all along!?

But any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary – it lies deep into the unknown territory.

At those times, leaders and coaches can use the “What if … ” game as a way of safely exploring that unknown territory together. We can ask:

“What if this actually works – then what happens?”

“What if you find yourself changed in some way – how would that be?”

“What if you can’t tell how it will be until you get there?”

Any kind of change, even positive change or growth is by definition scary - it lies deep into the unknown territory. Click To Tweet

It’s human nature to either see only the outcomes we want or, more often, to not look at outcomes at all, because there’s a chance they’ll be unpleasant, scary or beyond our capabilities.

The “What if … ” game is a great tool for exploring what we might find and how we might feel when we do choose to venture into the unknown. And to go there with our eyes open to the risks and the benefits and our ability to deal with them.

Let me know if you’ve used the “What if … ” game, or something like it yourself please? What did you find?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Leaders and coaches can help people to reconnect with their choice and personal agency using the 'What if ...' game Click To Tweet

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You’ll Be Fine

If there was one thing that I most want people to understand, right down in their bones, it’s that they will get through tough, difficult and challenging situations.

Sometimes, the noise of self-doubt in people’s heads is so loud that it can drown out everything else; including their sense of perspective (how difficult, really, is this thing?), and their memory of just how resourceful they’ve been in the past, and can be again now.

At those times I can see the noise of self-doubt as a little flicker behind their eyes, or a sag of their shoulders, a drop in their chin, or a reduction in their spirit.

At other times, people don’t realise how loud the self-doubt noise is. Instead of hearing it for what it is, they’re compelled by it to fight their way out or to sprint away. For those people, it’s not a loss of spirit, but a loss of reasoning and balance that the noise of self-doubt can lead to. I notice this if I find myself asking why they approached something in a strange, irrational or sub-optimal way.


As a leader or a coach, it can sometimes take you a while to grasp just how important it is to tell people really, really simple things like:

“You’ll be fine,” “I know you’ve got this,” “You’ve come through before, you can do it now.”

Saying this in the right way literally can make all the difference to someone.

It has to be said in a way that has significance:

  • First, you have to mean it; you have to ‘see’ just how resourceful and capable people are. And if you can’t see how amazing any one person is, then you’re not looking (or leading or coaching) properly.
  • Second, you have to believe it about yourself too. Perhaps this is the hardest part, because the right to tell others that they’ll be fine has to be earned by doing your own development work; properly hearing your own self-doubts for what they are and not being ruled or directed by them.
The right to tell others that 'they’ll be fine' has to be earned by doing your own development work Click To Tweet

If you can do that, if you can say to others in their difficult moments, “You’ll be fine,” and say it with significance and meaning and self-belief, it’s a fantastic gift to both of you. You can help silence the noise of the self-doubt and help return someone to their full power. That’s proper leadership.

Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re discovering about how important it is to remind others of their brilliance?.

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The importance of telling people they'll be fine - and saying it with significance, meaning and real self-belief! Click To Tweet

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Six Things that Great Time-Management is about NOT doing

“#1 Will Surprise You!”
(It won’t – that’s just my silly way of highlighting that #1 is about NOT getting distracted.)

I’m writing this as the world re-opens, in stops and starts, post-covid lockdown.

And I notice that a lot of people are struggling with their Time Management. That’s understandable. So much of how we’re doing things now has had to change, that it can be difficult to find our old patterns of effectiveness. Worse, nearly everyone else is in the same situation, so that when my time-management misses a beat, it can affect several other people’s timing too.

In case it helps, here’s my six things to NOT do, if you want to have great time-management. None of these are necessarily easy by themselves, but if you or the people in your teams are finding it tricky to manage their time just now, these are the things to focus on first:

  1. Not getting Distracted
    A lot of great time-management is actually about Attention-management. Give some attention to how you can block, control, ignore or manage those things that might otherwise steal your attention – and therefore your time.
  2. Not feeling Overwhelmed
    One of the key reasons why people aren’t effective and don’t work at their best is the sense of feeling overwhelmed by all that’s required; to the point where it’s either difficult to see where to start, or hard to believe it’ll ever be finished. Start anywhere and go step-by-step if that happens.
  3. Not being Bored
    Human beings are generally hard-wired to go off and look for interesting stuff. I think it helps to not fight this. A meditation teacher once described the mind-sharpening part of meditation to me as being like training a puppy to sit still. When it wanders off, you can just gently bring it back again.
  4. Not forcing Creativity
    For most people, creativity is a process that requires inputs and some system of stirring around, before it can produce an output. Nothing wastes time quite like trying to force a high-quality decision to come or to force a deep insight into a knotty problem to arise without that process happening first.
  5. Not confusing Immediate with Important
    This is often the starting point for a lot of writing about time management. And with good reason, as it’s so easy to get into fire-fighting and so much harder to justify fire-prevention. But once you’ve dealt with the immediate priorities, don’t just focus on preventing bad stuff in the longer-term. What are the long-term benefits that you could be working towards too?
  6. Not overlooking Sequence and Task-Dependency
    Some things need to be done in a certain order to be successful. Or are dependent on other things happening first, before they can take effect. If you can avoid the paralysis sometimes caused by over-planning, then a project-management approach is often also a brilliant way to have great time-management.

Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re finding out about time-management in the “new normal”?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

What is your Time-Management NOT about? Click To Tweet

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More on Outcome Focus

Is this the most powerful question you can ever ask?

One of the best things a leader or a coach can do for somebody is to ask them:

“What do you want to have happen?”

This simple outcome-focussed question can do so much:

  • It can raise someone’s head up and out of whatever problems they’re stuck in
  • It can focus effort and attention in a really personal and energising way
  • It can create unique moments of clarity and even stimulate big changes in direction.

You can use this when you want to address conditions in someone’s personal or professional life; when they’re working on a project and need to plan and progress it; and you can use it when you want to motivate and build on success, or even when things aren’t going well.


Sometimes you need to ask the same question, maybe in a slightly different way, several times in a row.

People can avoid answering it, they can be stuck in the problem, they can even be wedded to a possible solution (rather than being clear about what they actually want).

Keep asking until you get a clear outcome statement of some desired future state that doesn’t reference the problem itself or a solution. Then you know you’ve got to the heart of what they want.


And how about you?

Thinking about what you’re working on now, or about where you find yourself, what do you want to have happen?

And who around you needs you to ask them this kind of question? Who needs that clarity and powerful attention from you just now?


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know what you want to have happen or how you’re getting on at asking other people the same.


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Behavioural Choice and Change (2/2)

Nine strategies for adopting new behaviours at work. For when you need a different way of doing things.

I wrote in a previous post about the principle in my kind of coaching that:

the person with the most flexibility is the one most likely to succeed.

That is, if leaders can adapt their approach, change their behaviours, in a way that remains authentic, then they’ll be more likely to overcome obstacles and to influence people positively. It’s also a very important consideration for those times when the way you’re currently going about things just isn’t working anymore.

If my previous post focussed on what needs to go on, inside your head, while you’re figuring out how to find and adopt new behaviours, then this post offers a simple menu you can pick from, anytime you want to try doing things differently.


First, think of something you’re trying to get done.

Maybe something which has a higher-than-usual level of challenge? Perhaps a task that involves people you find it hard to relate to? Or something which is a little outside your comfort zone? Or maybe something where you know that your usual way of doing it isn’t going to work now?

Then, go through these options – and see my notes at the end on how to choose the best one for you.

1. Think of a person who has one or two personal qualities that you either admire or reckon might be useful. How would that person behave in this situation?

2. Take a moment to reflect on what you are like at your absolute best. How would that version of you set about doing things?

3. If you remember your Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition sketch, here’s an easy one for you – how would nobody expect you to behave?

4. When they’re faced with a task like yours, how do most people set about doing it?

5. Temporarily set-aside something that might be limiting your thinking. For example, how would you behave if time/money/quality [delete as applicable] wasn’t an issue?

6. How would you behave now if you already knew how things would work out?

7. How would you set about doing this task if you knew you couldn’t fail?

8. What’s the smallest, easiest, quickest way of doing it and how would you behave in that case?

9. If you were being outlandishly, outrageously ambitious in your behaviour, how would that change the way you do things?

The idea with this approach is to shift from only having one way of doing things, which sooner or later gets you stuck, to having a whole range of different ways of behaving. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible for just about everyone. And don’t be constrained by my list – if there’s a new way of behaving that you’ve already got in mind or which isn’t covered by that list, test it out for yourself.


When you’re choosing which (new) way to behave, people often like to think about these issues:

  1. Which new way of doing things feels most authentic, like the ‘real’ me?
  2. Which way of behaving is going to be most effective given the task at hand, the people involved and the wider circumstances?
  3. Which is the most ethical way for me to behave now, all things considered?

Hope that helps? And remember, change is the only constant!


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Empowering Beliefs (part 3)

How to get real about empowering yourself, by training your mind to filter and focus your attention

If you want to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that get great results and satisfaction (to empower yourself), or to help other people to do the same, here’s the third article in my series which looks at what we call ‘Empowering Beliefs’. These are the unconscious thought processes that can either really help or really hinder us.


This part is about how we can selectively focus and filter our attention towards the ways of thinking that empower us.


An immediate side-benefit of this kind of approach is that it tends to crowd out or silence some of that self-doubt that can otherwise creep in and undermine us.

What I’ve set out here for you is a really simple and effective approach. The key to why it works is that:

a) We rarely actually stop and consider what exactly we want to be ’empowered’ about. Just pausing and consciously putting into words the kind of ability or capability or attitude that we’d like to be operating is itself a powerful act;

b) This approach breaks things down into steps. You don’t need to follow them exactly, some back and forth is OK but, generally speaking, the steps I’ve set out here move from a kind of general sense of wanting to be able to do something, or behave in a certain way, towards getting a real concrete feeling of what that means;

c) It starts with getting clear about what kind of ability, capability or attitude you would like to have. If you’ve read some of my other stuff, you’ll know that this getting clear about what you want is an “Outcome” – and being clear about desired outcomes is the single most important thing you can do (in my not-so-humble opinion). It isn’t what you want to stop or be less of. It isn’t what you might feel you’re not good at. It’s about asking ourselves, “In what way do I want to empower myself?”

d) Lastly, because it works in steps and helps direct our focus in a positive way towards what we want, you can use this process, pretty much as it’s written here with other people, whenever you want to help them to empower themselves.


Here’s how you can use this approach.

1. Empowering Ability

Start by thinking about what you want to be able to do, or to be capable of doing, or what kind of attitude of mind you’d like to adopt. I’ve put it like that, in three slightly different forms, just so that we cover all the ways that people tend to think about these things. If you want to be really focused, or just to have an easy way of remembering how to do this with others, you can simply ask:

What do I want to be able to do?

And let’s call your answer to that question the [Ability].

I’ll put it in square brackets like that below as well, so you can track through what’s going on.

We can also use a real-life example from a client I worked with last week, whose answer was, “I want to be able to concentrate.”

2. Focusing and filtering our attention towards empowerment

Once we know a little about what it is we want to be able to do, then we can start using the way that our minds naturally focus on what’s important to us and filter out other stuff to start getting a handle on empowering ourselves. And since everybody approaches things in a slightly different way, you can use this approach to help somebody else apply an ability even if their best way of doing it would be different from yours. For this step, we would ask:

When I’m [doing Ability], what’s important to me?

And I’m going to call your answer to that question the [Criteria] because it reveals how you’ll judge whether you’ve got that ability.

Now we’re starting to get a real handle on what is wanted and to reveal the way that this person wants to approach having it.

To continue the example from above, I asked my client, “When you’re concentrating, what’s important to you?” And the answer came back, “That I’m working through until it’s finished.” So that’s how he’ll judge whether or not he’s concentrating – is he working through until it’s finished.

3. Defining the way we want to empower ourselves

Next, we get even clearer about what this means. We’ll ask:

What is [Criteria]?

I hope you can track through all this stuff in square brackets OK easily enough. To continue with that example from my client, I asked him, “What is ‘working through until its finished’?”

I could also have asked what does it mean to ‘work through until its finished’, or something like that. The crucial things are to (a) use the same words as him and not paraphrase; and (b) just to start getting more and more meaning and definition. What we’re doing here is taking a desired capability, an ’empowerment’ out of the vague and unconscious and into the real world. That’s where the power is in this work.

4. Focusing our minds on the evidence that will tell us we’re empowered

The last step in this part of the empowering beliefs process, is to get as concrete and real as possible about what kind evidence we want our minds to be scanning for. It’s almost like we’re programming ourselves to put aside doubts, fears and fantasy, and to start getting real.

The way to do it is to take that [Criteria] from above and ask something like this:

What do I see, hear or feel when I’m [Criteria]?

I’m going to call your answer to that, the [Evidence].

And to continue that real life example, I asked my client, “What do you see, or hear or feel when you’re ‘working through until it’s finished’?”

5. Next steps

After you’ve gone through steps 1-4 above, that’s often enough to shift things quite some way towards having that ability or capability or attitude of mind. My client who wanted the ability to concentrate, which meant working though until it’s finished, was able to use the evidence part as a kind of series of signposts to help him concentrate.

Usually people need a bit more than that and it’s necessary to ask something like this:

Now I know that the [Ability] I want is about [Criteria] and that I’ll recognise it from [the Evidence], what are the next steps I might take to empower myself?

Try some of this for yourself. Think of an ability, a capability, or an attitude of mind that you’d like to have, and track it through the steps above. Let me know how you get on please.


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The Fast and Furious Guide to Great Rapport

How rapport and great relationships at work start just like brilliant stunt-driving

Imagine that you’re starring in an episode of the popular movie franchise ‘Fast and Furious’. You’re in a scene involving two speeding cars, possibly chasing a third vehicle, or a train or something. For some reason your task is to get somebody to step or transfer from one of those moving cars, into the other. And they’re both moving at high speed.

If you can do this, if you can successfully facilitate that step between these two speeding cars without crashing, then the day is won, or the bad guys are defeated, or something similar; anyway, in the movie it’s a good thing if you can do it.

This act, of transferring successfully between those two moving vehicles, has a lot in common with the way that great rapport starts. Roll with me on this.

Rapport: ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are in sync with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.’


If you can get great rapport between yourself and another person at work, everything you need and want to achieve together just becomes so much easier.


But what if that rapport is not coming naturally, or if you’re unsure how to go about it, where should you start?

This is where our Fast and Furious car transfer comes into its own.

Imagine for a moment that you and your colleague are the two moving cars and that the act of stepping successfully from one car to the other is your relationship. Will it transfer successfully? Or will it plunge to its doom between the two and be left in the wreckage on the highway?

If you really did have to facilitate that rolling transfer, how would you go about it?


Before you did anything else, you’d make sure that you came alongside each other, and were then travelling at the same speed and in the same direction. In a real-life rapport-building situation this is the equivalent of:

  1. Reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State; and
  2. Matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

Let’s drive along that road in a little more detail…

First, reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State.

People want to be understood. This is why we say things like: “He just gets me,” when we’re talking about our best relationships. And the best way to understand other people is to observe and listen to them.

In the early stages of a rapport-building situation, this is easier to do than you might think. Research shows that humans are evolved to recognise at least six separate basic emotions just from seeing facial characteristics alone – and possibly as many as 21. And more recent research shows that hearing the emotional content in what people say might actually be even more accurately evolved in humans. I’ve put some links about this stuff at the end of the article, in case you’d like to read around a bit more.

The key to doing the early stages of rapport-building well is just to give your naturally-evolved abilities a brief moment to operate. Think of yourself as the second car in our Fast and Furious episode. Your colleague is driving along as the first car. If you wanted to pull alongside them at speed, it’d take you a moment or two to judge how fast they were going and in what direction they were headed.

If you want to have better rapport with people, make sure you take that moment to look and listen and assess their Emotional State before you do anything else.

Second, matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

It seems to me that this is the point where a lot of people come unstuck in trying to have better rapport. What if the other person’s current emotional state is different from yours? What if, for example, they seem quite grumpy, but you’re feeling good about things and would just quite like to get on with whatever work task needs their input? Or what if you think that the task you both need to be getting on with requires one emotional state – “steadiness” for example – but the other person seems anything but ‘steady’?

In these situations people seem to tell themselves that they can’t suddenly change their emotional state to match the other person’s because that would be like lying or faking it, and (a) I don’t know how to do that and (b) they’ll see through it anyway. Or we throw our hands up and ask why, just for once, the other person can’t be the one who changes their emotional state to match mine!

These are important issues and I’d definitely want to tackle them in order to have better relationships at work. But in a context where your immediate goal is to start having great rapport, it’s futile to address them now. They’re the equivalent of pulling almost alongside the other speeding car and shouting over at them: “I want to head in a different direction.” Or: “Change your speed to match mine.” But they can’t hear you – they’re in a speeding car!

Better, to nudge your speed and direction closer to theirs, and then have the conversation about where you’re headed, and how fast you should be going.

And instead of worrying about looking or being fake when you’re seeking to match someone else’s Emotional State – find your own real close equivalence, and then be that; it’ll be close enough to work.

So, if the other person looks and sounds like they’re ‘grumpy’ and you’re not feeling the grumps yourself, find something close to it that you can relate to, like ‘sombre’, or ‘serious’. Find the part of you that truly is at times ‘serious’. You know what that looks and feels and sounds like and there will be times when you’ve genuinely been that. This’ll be a close enough match; your cars will be wobbling and twitching at high-speed, but you’ll be close enough to connect in a way that really counts. And you won’t end up too fast, or too furious.

Drive well people 🙂

Off-site research and article links:

Evolution of facial expressions

Mapping facial expressions for 21 emotions

Does your voice reveal more emotion than your face

 


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