Management is a contact sport.

When things go poorly, it hurts. Hell, sometimes it can go right, and it still hurts.

Adam Thomas
May 22, 2018 · 4 min read

Why is that?

Management exists mostly in the minds of people. It’s a mental game, pretending to be anything else. Often, we fall for it, focusing on output instead of outcome, as if we were robots. And when things go wrong, we try to fix our teams as if we are.

Our brains are complicated. When we don’t treat them as such, everyone loses.

Most people don’t leave companies; they leave their managers. Companies lose money and the people leaving lose confidence.

Since engagement is tied in with retention, I think we can assume that most managers could use help in self and team awareness. In fact, I think its a significant coup if your company is forward thinking enough to consider it.


It isn’t sexy, the results aren’t explicit, and you have to mention your weakness. Trying this is hard. Most people don’t do it.

So, the reason you are reading this is that you want to be the different type of person, the one that wants to improve their self-awareness.

Well, I am here to help.

I’m going to give you a question that can help you get in line with both those you manage and those who manage you, but first, story time. I need you to know that I am not just talking about blog posts, but experience.

The Walkout!

When I was running my first startup, I focused on output most of the time. You created a post, great. If you didn’t, why? Explicitly, what tactic can I teach you to pump things out?

It was 2007, and it was the war of content regarding blogs. The more at-bats you had, the more you thought you would win, and as a 20-year-old first-time founder, I wanted to win.

Because of that, I didn’t have time for emotions, in fact, I thought that was something that people needed to leave at home (even though I brought them with me every day, ugh — I was phony).

As leaders, the first reaction we do when we lead is bringing a fake version of ourselves, one that is almost robotic, and expect others to do the same.

Avoiding this idea didn’t harm the work at first, but as time went on, it led to burnout. It was burnout for me, and exhaustion for the others around me.

People mimic.

As the founder, I had the most power to condition people. So, instead of conditioning them to feel warm, and in control, I conditioned them to be cold. That reflects in work, and soon, there was either burnout or abandonment.

When your team is abandoning the work, they are not engaged. Management is about engagement, period. If your organization isn’t involved, you aren’t a good manager, period.

That startup ended up collapsing, and I sold it for pennies on the dollar, hoping to get out and get into Corporate America where I could leave it alone.

Well, after six years, I couldn’t.

Fast forward to my second startup.

I was more mature than the first time. I had six years of mainframe work in my pocket. Again, I was sitting in the CEO chair, working on building an ed-tech solution to the engagement problem in education.

Funny enough, I was doing a poor job fighting it in my organization.

So, luckily enough, in those six years, I matured enough to have a few mentors and advisors to call on.

I got breakfast with an advisor ASAP and gave him the whole spiel.

He gave me a question, one that I didn’t forget.

He asked me one question that I think about, even today, one that I am afraid most leaders are scared to ask and even more so, follow through.

“When you realized that a teammate was angry or upset dealing with someone, even if it may have been you, what did you show them at the moment and how did your behavior change?”

I dropped my eggs and changed my behavior the next time I went to our coworking space.

Think about this for a moment.

Ask yourself, how did you change your behavior based on what someone told you, and more importantly, how did you communicate that they made you change.

Engagement starts and ends thinking you can make a change. One of the reasons I had people who experienced burnout and a reason I felt it with my work is that I didn’t feel engaged.

Heuristic: I can tell you how much burnout your company has based on your engagement rates.

What is the end of this story?

I got back to my startup and started asking questions. The work got better than before, and so did the output. Unfortunately, the business wasn’t ready for primetime, and we shuttered it.

However, the lessons I learned I took with me and got better at making something.

Now, sometimes I find myself in that advisor and when it comes to emotional intelligence, I ask that same question.

Now I ask you the same:

“When you realized that a teammate was angry or upset dealing with someone, even if it may have been you, what did you show them at the moment and how did your behavior change?”

You might find it helpful to start the conversation and keep things moving. I know I have.

Adam Thomas

Written by

Adam is afraid of bees. But the future is impossible without them, so he is going to not only have to live with them, but embrace them.

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