People management has become only tougher after the pandemic. As a manager, it’s your job to find the right balance for your team. Should your team work from home or in the office? Or why are your team meetings not getting the results you want? If you’re having those problems, then stay tuned to today’s episode. Join Dolores Hirschmann as she talks to Mamie Kanfer Stewart about being a people manager in the post-COVID world. Mamie is the host of The Modern Manager Podcast. She is also the founder of Meteor, a training firm focused on productive meetings. Listen to her story on how she became a maker, from podcasting to course creating. Learn how you can make your team more efficient so you can reach your goals together.
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People Management In A Post-COVID World With Mamie Kanfer Stewart
I am excited to bring you Mamie Kanfer Stewart, who is a host of The Modern Manager podcast and Founder of Meeteor, a training firm focused on productive meetings. She spends most of her time helping managers and entrepreneurs develop the habits, skills, and mindsets they need to effectively manage themselves and their teams.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been called to a meeting that you have no idea why you are showing up for the meeting or are you hosting meetings, and you are not seeing either the results nor the outcomes coming out of those meetings? Read Mamie’s interview because she is going to bring us her insights and knowledge around helping people make the most of their teams, how they support, interact, and organize the work with their teams to get the outcomes and goals that they want for the business. Tune in to this episode. You don’t want to miss it.
Mamie, how long has it been since we last spoke? We were saying this. It feels like it was yesterday, but it was several years ago.
My show is coming up on 200 episodes, and you were still in the first hundred.
How is that show going?
I am loving being the host of The Modern Manager. I learn something every time I get to talk to people like yourself. It has been a wild ride and a lot of fun.
How did you get to this modern manager path? I always ask the same question. Tell me your clarity journey, which is an oxymoron because sometimes it is in clarity. There was a lot of confusion that brought me to where I am. I’m clear but not really, whether it was crystal clear or not so much, how did you arrive now?
I have one of those journeys that do not make any sense on paper. It was not clear at all. I started as an artist. I went to art school and had a degree in Ceramics and Art History, a BFA. I thought I wanted to be an artist. I discovered along the path that I love being a maker but art is not the thing that I want or need to make. I do love crafting but it was not about making art. It was out being a maker. Through a variety of luck, I’ve got to work inside my family business. I learned how organizations work, and I worked in a nonprofit.
I stumbled into this place of realizing that the other thing I love to do was translating, taking the idea as frameworks, concepts that are out in the world, and helping people make sense of them in their own work, in their lives so that other people can take advantage of these skills, ideas, and frameworks. They activate them in their work so they can be more effective. They can be a better manager, a colleague, a parent, whatever it is. Combining those two things is where my podcast came out.
It is almost like people are your medium.
It is taking these ideas and helping people apply them in a way that is like molding people into a better version of themselves.
Let me pause here because you are saying something that is important, especially for younger generations that are still in that thinking mode of, “I like to make things. I’m going to be an artist. I like to do the math, so I’m going to be an accountant.” I love your exploration and discovery that being a maker, a creator or creative, call it an artist, they are all similar words of, “I create something out of nothing in some way.” It is like the essence of most successful people, not just artists.
There are many thoughts that are bubbling around in my head. We all have that creative spark in us. When we are kids, we dance, sing, draw, build sandcastles, makeup stories, and play makes belief. We all have that. It is continuing to hold that as we get older and hone in on the form of creativity, expression or making that most resonates for you. It is not that we all have to be painters or bakers to find that thing but we all should have something that helps us tap into that, and then we can bring that into whatever job we have or career path we take.
In 2022, if creativity is not embedded in your day-to-day, I do not know how we would have navigated COVID. Every accountant, doctor, artist or teacher had to go way deep inside and say, “How do I navigate this and be creative?” There are many amazing success stories of people who figured it out in a way that we had never done it before.
You are a maker, and this medium or this space that you are making is this capacity to help people, leaders or managers be more impactful, powerful, lead better or create better at the end of the day. As a Founder of Meeteor, let’s talk about that work. What happens there? Who do you have an impact on, and how do you do that?
First, I want to make a quick distinction because, for a while, I thought that I wanted to be an executive coach. That was the way to do this work. I still do executive coaching, and I enjoy it. I love getting to work one-on-one with people and seeing them transform. I also realized that being an executive coach was not being a maker in the way that fed my soul, and being a podcaster was the way to create being a course creator making workbooks.
It sounds silly but those were the things that I could sink my teeth into in a way that was more scalable, so I could help more people and feed into this desire to physically make something in a way that was more like on the artsy side. All of that is to say that I bring all those things together in the work that I do but the Meeteor and with the Modern Manager is designed to help managers, in particular, be their best version of themselves and create a work environment where their team gets to be their best selves and do their best work.
That sometimes comes in the form of training people, training around effective meetings since that is one of the most important jobs a manager has. It is to bring their team together, to collaborate effectively. We know, especially after several years of Zoom meetings, how horrible meetings can be, the terrible costs and they take on people.
Continue to hold onto creativity as you get older and hone in that form of expression.
Also, through to all other kinds of things like, how do people delegate? How do you give feedback and create a culture of inclusion? There are many different aspects of being a manager. I get to work with my clients on that wide variety of things, and hopefully, they are impacting their entire team and potentially their entire organization.
You have been doing this for a while, and 2020 took us for a loop. How did you navigate 2020? What was the impact on your business? Many of my guests, their businesses have been thriving since 2020. Was that your experience as well? What shifted or changed?
My business experience was surreal, and it did not change all that much. What changed was what we talked about. I was already meeting with all of my coaching clients virtually before that. I was already podcasting, which I do from home. There was not a lot of in-person that I was doing other than speaking at conferences occasionally and leading some in-person workshops.
The conversations that I was having with my clients drastically changed because suddenly, they were trying to figure out, “How do I lead a virtual team? How do I deal with my kids at home, who I’m trying to homeschool now over Zoom while also doing my work and supporting my colleague who is having their own internal challenges and struggles?” That was the biggest thing. What I had never experienced before, as a coach, is I was dealing with all those same things myself. It was a whole new world to try, support, coach, and advise my clients while also experiencing the same struggles that they were in the same moments.
I’m a coach as well. It is a whole other experience because they say, “In coaching, you do not want to be in the water with your clients.” You want to have that perspective, that bird-size view, to be able to guide or coach powerfully but when you hang up, and you are in the same waters, it is a tricky one. What is next? Now that we are in a new world, there is no other way to say it, you have a podcast for The Modern Manager, and we are in a modern world, what does life look like now as we go into the 2022 era?
People call it post-COVID. It is a new world. What is coming up? How are people evolving? Are people going back to work in the offices? Is that required? There are many conversations around D&I, Diversity, and Inclusion. All of that is tapping into the vaccine or no vaccine because now vaccine is part of an inclusion conversation coming back to the office. Are we effective or are we not? There is research around it. It is messy. Help us clarify what is going on there.
I’m not sure I have any brilliant answers but I will share what I’m seeing and what I have been talking about with my clients, which is that we are in a new world, which is our new reality. There are worth a while where we think about we will get back to normal. After a few months of COVID, we realized that there was not going to be a going back that this was going to be a new reality. There is no one right answer for any organization.
There are some teams who cannot wait to get back together in person. They are not facing nearly the same number of challenges around vaccine status, health worries or childcare. They are excited to be back together in person and ready to go. There are other organizations and other teams where people have moved. They picked up during the pandemic and relocated. They are like, “I’m not coming back.” People have discovered, “I love working from home. I do not want to have to go back into the office where there are many distractions. I do not want that 45-minute commute each way that I used to do. I enjoy getting that extra hour of sleep or anything else.”
Managers are now trying to figure out how to create a hybrid structure for their team, where sometimes they are together, sometimes they are not. Some people are fully remote, some people are always on-site and figuring out how do we do all those things that we used to do when we are now in this new construct where we are dealing with a hybrid. At the same time, navigate whatever it is that their company is telling them they have to do, which is not always the same thing that they want. That has been a big point of contention.
If you have an organization that says, “We demand that you are vaccinated, and you are on-site four days a week.” You, as a manager, are like, “That is not going to work for my team. That is not what I want.” Managers end up in a tough position where they have to sometimes hold the line of their company, go to their HR and advocate for policy changes and work with their team to figure out how do we make the best of this situation so that we can continue to do the best work that we can do under these conditions.
It calls for a lot of personal leadership on managers and for them to tap into their voice and their capacity to listen, make decisions, and take a stand for their team.
If you are a small business owner and the one who gets to be making these decisions, you have an opportunity to include your team, the people who you work with, in those decisions, like this does not have to be, “It is all resting on my shoulders.” A lot of my small business on our clients often feel like everything in the business is always resting on them.
This is one of those opportunities where they do not have to have all the answers. They can come to their team and say, “What do we want our work world to look like going forward? Do we want to have flexible work? Do we want to have work from anywhere policies? Do we want to have FaceTime where we know we are going to get to see each other and build those relationships that only come deeply from being in person together? What else? How can we do this together so that you do not have to do it on your own as a manager and leader?”
Let’s talk about your big goal. You have been doing this work for a while, and I know you have a lot of things coming up but at the end of the day, if several years from now and you look back, what did you accomplish?
On a grand scale, it feels like my purpose or my mission in life, specifically when it comes to my work world, is to elevate the role of being a people manager to the same level, quality or degree at which being a people leader is. We talk so much. There are a billion books. There are all kinds of courses you can take on being a people leader, how to galvanize people around a vision, and all of those wonderful things, which we need that leadership out in the world, businesses, nonprofits, and politics.
We do not give enough attention to the idea of being a people manager, being in the trench in some ways day-to-day. Working with people who are not always like you, who have different personalities, backgrounds, and perspectives, bringing those diverse sets of people together and creating an environment where we thrive, that is critical to actual implementation, whatever it is we are trying to create in the world. Managers, no one cares about them. They do not get the training and the respect.
They have the chart done, the KPI organized, and the reporting done on time. I love that because there is a call for leadership at all levels, personal responsibility, and leadership, for sure. I agree that if that manager can spark their team can leave from a place of tapping into the vision of the organization or tapping into understanding that the diversity of their team is where the magic happens and enhance that. We are not going to have creative, powerful implementation. I love turning managers into leaders. What is cooking for the next several months?
I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. The podcast is running strong. I’m continuing to do that weekly. I restarted working on my second book. I had big plans to work on it during the pandemic, and like many things, plans got foiled. I’m finally getting back into writing my second book, doing more coaching, hopefully doing some more meeting training and some in-person training. I would love to get back into the swing of things, and otherwise, I’m humming along. After several years of the pandemic, I do not want to have a crazy year.
It’s time to elevate the role of being a people manager to the same degree of being a people leader.
I want to have a year of stability where I can enjoy my work. I can enjoy the clients I work with. I can get back into the swing of life without too much pressure. We are seeing it around the world with the great resignation and people jumping off the ship because work was so much over the past several years, life was so much, and people were ready for a break. I am fully on board with a little balance in our lives.
I am in the same boat. This is a big year for us. I’m turning 50 and 25 wedding anniversary in 2022. We are thinking of big plans and big trips, which I love. We went to Israel for a vacation. I heard in my back and I was like, “What if we get the backyard beautiful.” We plan a lot of dinners with friends in our backyard. I do not get on a plane. I go to the beach in summer and take time every Friday off. There is something about keeping it cool and not high pressure. I’m there with you.
Happy birthday and congratulations. Those are exciting milestones.
It is a big one because I’ve got married at 25 but that will mark the day where I would have lived half of my life in Argentina and half of my life here because we’ve got married and I moved here. It is like, “Where are you from?” By August, it is like, “I do not know.” I now have lived longer in the US. It feels strange because I will always be a foreigner here, and I’m always going to be a foreigner at home as well. Now I have an accent, even in Spanish. What is a book, podcast, Netflix series or something we must follow or watch?
I have to say my podcast. If you like podcasts and you are reading this one, check out The Modern Manager. One of the books that were most influential and helpful in my own personal development and growth was a classic David Allen’s Getting Things Done. There are many good things in the book but a particular concept that I like to hear is my mantra in my head every single day, which is, “Our minds are for having ideas, not holding ideas.”
I write everything down because otherwise, I will forget it. I used to think, “Only old people have to write things down.” If your brain is strong, you can remember everything. That book reminded me or taught me this lesson that we need to have clarity in our brains. Speaking of clarity of purpose, you have to have clarity in your mind if you are going to be effective in your daily practices or whatever it is and get your daily work done.
The more that I can get ideas out of my head or get my to-do list out of my head and onto paper, the more effective I can be in my work as a parent, as a friend, as a community member, etc. That book, if you have not read it, it is a big one but it has many wonderful concepts and practices that apply to anyone in any role. It is David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
I love what you shared because my next question is, I love to leave our readers with action because the show is all about the clarity journey but what is clarity without intentional action? Let’s give our readers the request to take action and to bring things from their head, by the paper, iPad, and there are many ways to bring your ideas down. You can not overcharge your brain with thoughts that you are trying to hold, and then there is more room for clarity.
I will give one more action because I can’t help but throw in an effective meeting practice here, especially when it relates to clarity. This is the number one thing that I teach and anyone who asks me anything about meetings. This is the number one practice you can do to make your meetings more effective, and it is about having clarity.
For most of us, when we think about, “Why am I having a meeting?” The answer is always a verb like to catch up on this, to check in on this, to discuss this, to review this, and those are great activities. They are not the objective of their meeting. They are not the outcome the meeting is driving towards. The question you want to ask yourself is, “What will this meeting achieve?” At the end of the meeting, when we have spent 25 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour, “What will we walk away with? What will the outcome be, and if you can clarify what the outcome is?”
It could be a list of questions that we need to go answer. A decision on how to move forward, a plan for our next steps of who is going to do what by when, it could even be like, “We are all on the same page. We have alignment on this complex situation.” Whatever that outcome is, if you know what you are trying to achieve in the meeting, you can then make sure you have got the right people there, agenda and activities of things you are going to discuss, the whole meeting can drive towards that outcome. You will often discover that if you can’t figure out what the meeting is going to achieve, you probably do not need to have the meeting. If it’s a discussion, it could have been done as an email. It did not need the meeting.
The number one action I would recommend is to look at your calendar, see what meetings you have coming up, and ask yourself, “What is this meeting going to achieve? At the end of the meeting, what are we going to have?” If you are not the meeting leader but you were invited to the meeting and you are looking at that on your calendar and going, “I do not know what that meeting is going to achieve.”
I encourage you to reach out to that leader who the organizer and says, “I saw this coming up on the calendar. I want to make sure I’m prepared to contribute. What do you hope the meeting will achieve or accomplish?” Let them figure out for themselves and respond back to you so that you know what they are driving towards.
This is all around the leadership on an intention that every single thing that you embark on a daily basis is geared towards the intentional outcome. Where can people find you?
You can find my podcast, The Modern Manager, pretty much anywhere there is a podcast. It is also the website, The Modern Manager. You can find out about my coaching at MamieKS.com. You can find about meetings at Meeteor.com and social media pretty much all the good places.
Any parting thoughts before we part way?
I loved this conversation. I’m glad that we’ve got to chat again, and I hope you will link to your episode where I’ve got to interview you on my show so that people can hear all of your wisdom in that space.
Thank you so much, Mamie, for showing up, for bringing your energy and your insights around turning managers into leaders.
It has been such a pleasure.
I finished this amazing interview with Mamie, and here is what I want you to pay attention to as you read this episode. She gave two specific tips. One is around the effective meeting, which you cannot miss. It is simple, and it will change your life around hosting and attending meetings. The other tips she gave were all around how to get our minds to clear up. We can continue having creative ideas while moving forward. If you have been struggling with an overload head with so much stuff that you can’t make sense of it or you have been struggling with meetings that do not get the outcomes that you want, read this episode. You do not want to miss it.
- The Modern Manager
- Getting Things Done
About Mamie Kanfer Stewart
Mamie Kanfer Stewart who is the host of The Modern Manager podcast, author of Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings and Founder of Meeteor, a training firm focused on productive meetings. Mamie spends most of her time helping managers and entrepreneurs develop the habits, skills and mindsets they need to effectively manage themselves and their teams.