Being a manager isn’t a job that starts with a sacred oath but it’s a shame that it doesn’t, because you do hold a responsibility for the people that you manage. The gravity of the position is something you should embrace. Your actions can and will have impacts on others. I’ve noticed a few easy to avoid mistakes that I believe those of us in management can avoid and make work life better for those that we serve.
Start acknowledging feelings
This one comes almost directly out of an amazing book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Not only did this book change how I communicated to my then 2 year old daughter but it also reframed how I listened to what people said at work.
One of the key parts of this book is understanding that acknowledging a feeling is not the same as permitting a behavior. Let’s go through an example that could happen in many workplaces; an employee is upset and very unprofessional email to an external party. Hypothetically and conveniently, your next one on one with that employee is in an hour so you plan on addressing the behavior then.
In the one on one with the employee, they express that they were very upset and rather triggered by certain circumstances in the interaction prior to them sending this email. Should you acknowledge how they feel? Absolutely, yes. You can and should even go so far as to say that it’s OK to feel that way and you might even feel that way. If you wouldn’t feel that way, do not be inauthentic but also do not judge how they feel. Feelings are never wrong.
In that same one on one, you should also address the behavior after listening to the feelings. It is your job to provide this feedback to your employee that the behavior is less effective than some alternative. The specific situations will vary but given the hypothetical, some coaching about Emotional Intelligence or not sending emails when emotionally activated would be appropriate.
While the referenced book is about communication with children, as adults we are responsible for our actions and channeling our feelings in a productive way as part of our professional life. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a dose of understanding and compassion is also required. It has been a hell of a year with many things personally impacting people in ways we wouldn’t have thought possible five years ago.
Leaving context off
You’re the boss and what you say goes. Right. Let’s move past the positional authority crutch you’re using and focus in on the lack of context that often happens in this situation.
When we tell an employee to do a task without context, we can end up with a wildly inefficient solution. Of course, Task Relevant Maturity is a factor here so don’t blindly take this advice but context never hurts. Simon Sinek phrases this as “Start with Why” in his book by the similar title.
Giving someone the background and context empowers them to find the optimal solution for a problem versus just doing what you’ve decided is the best solution. One of the biggest differences between the two is that you, as a manager, are further from the work the the person implementing the solution and thus you have less visibility into what the nuances of the problem are.
Moving Meetings without warning
Your managerial day is likely more skewed towards more meetings than the individuals that report to you. While it’s understandable that some meetings must move due to various overbooking and priority shifts, try to minimize shifting meetings as much as possible.
As a person with role power, you’re shifting around and changing events that might have been planned around. Yes, the work day is generally reserved for work but also while many have shifted to working from home, we have a more coalesced life occurring. For parents with children in the home, the meeting you moved might now interfere with a child care arrangement that didn’t seem important enough to be blocked out on that employees calendar. Another possibility is that your sudden meeting could now be breaking up a block of focus time that an engineer had really looked forward to.
To prevent this, prefer keeping existing meetings and reschedule or decline double booked meetings. Prepare for your meetings tomorrow, today. Show up to the meetings you run and attend prepared.
Friday impromptu meetings
No matter your company culture or level of transparency, you are working with people who have had prior experiences. Those prior experiences might have involved a Friday conversation in which they were told that they no longer had a job. Even if a report hasn’t had this experience, it’s a common understanding that these last-minute Friday conversations are when you’re told this part of your career journey is over.
If at all possible, do not schedule a meeting on Fridays last minute without an agenda. Give context (see above) for the meeting and make sure that you’re not activating the reports flight or fight system. An unguarded and prepared meeting atendee always shows up better than a person on edge.
Criticizing in public
There is a saying “praise in public and criticize in private”. Generally, I’d agree that’s the most productive way to handle giving feedback. Ideally though, you should understand how your reports want to receive feedback and be understanding of how they, as people, best hear the feedback. After all, if you give feedback and it’s not received or understood, you have failed at delivering that feedback.
Let’s say that an employee has clearly communicated that they receive the criticism in public. What do you do? I’d consider how effective it would be and if they insisted on this still deliver part of it in public and make sure that you’re modeling how good feedback is given. I would also encourage you to understand that what they desire and what is the most effective might be two different things. It is very possible that there will be a level of defensiveness and posturing in public feedback that wouldn’t be seen in private. I’d suggest that you start with something minimally critical if you go this route and wade slowly into those waters. Also, if you go this route, I’m curious how it worked out and what you learned from the experience.
Be careful and kind
You’re job, as a manager, is very important. You lead direct reports and those that look to you. I hope the above points resonate and help you be a better manager. If you’ve made mistakes, don’t forget that you also must be kind to yourself and that we’re all still learning.