If you’re someone’s Manager, you can’t be their Mate

Being a manager of people is not a particularly easy job. If you are best mates with your subordinates you’re making the job a whole lot harder. Another mistake that lots of managers make is to think they have to be liked by their subordinates to be effective. You should be respected but you don’t have to be liked, it’s not the same thing …. and when I say respected I don’t mean feared.

It is a fine line to be walked; respected but not feared. It can also be hard on some personalities to not seek to be liked. The problem is that if you don’t get this balance right, you will have problems getting staff motivated and engaged. So the question is how to get it right.

There is an old saying:

You should command respect, not demand respect

As a manager, this basically tells you that you have to earn that respect from your peers and subordinates to be effective at your job. It also says that expecting to be respected purely because you are the manager never works.

You won’t earn that respect from fear, neither will you get it from being best friends.

Be friendly without being a friend. Share a joke, participate in the office banter, have a chat at the coffee machine. Don’t confide, don’t put yourself in a position of having to trust subordinates with personal information about yourself. Keep their personal lives at arms length; don’t get involved beyond things like giving help and advice, don’t let yourself get sucked into their problems. If you’re involved in their personal lives and find yourself having to initiate something like disciplinary proceedings or fire them, you will find yourself in a very messy, conflicting situation.

Stick to your word. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. If you can’t or have no intention of doing it, don’t make the promise.

Be Strong but with neutrality. If you say no to something, be strong, polite, to the point and say it in a neutral way. Don’t let anger, sarcasm or any other negative emotions creep in. If you are able to, back it up with a brief explanation.

Sorry, you can’t have tomorrow off because I won’t have enough people to cover

Don’t show favouritism and don’t pick on people. Treat all of your subordinates the same. If you don’t like someone, they should be completely oblivious to that fact.

Be fair and reasonable. Don’t make rules just because you can. Pick your battles. If someone needs to finish early and their work can be covered, let them. That show of flexibility won’t cost you anything, but it will save you a potential argument, and most of all you will keep them on your side and all so easily. That said, don’t let anyone take advantage of your good nature. Work out where the line is that can’t be crossed and stick to it.

Be predictable. Always react the same way to the same situation, no matter what mood you may be in, the same mistake should illicit the same level of response.

Be open and honest. If something is your fault, own up, without excuses. Even with the best intention in the world, sometimes you can’t follow through on a promise. If that happens, make a point of finding that person you made the promise to, apologise and explain.

Accept that you’re not always right. If someone has a better idea than yours, go with the better idea and with good grace, no matter how junior the person with the idea is. If you’re proved wrong on something, own it and accept it with humility.

Never share personal information. It may be a bit obvious but this happens far too often. When your subordinates and/or peers tell you personal things, those things should never be repeated to anyone else, even if the person you’re telling doesn’t know who it is about. Think of yourself as a Doctor and it being about patient confidentiality. The only exception is when this has a bearing on their work and you need to involve HR or your own manager.

Accept that your subordinates may not like you. It doesn’t really matter. If you don’t let someone get away with sitting on Facebook all day, they will resent it and they probably won’t like you. They will probably try and convince their mates that you’re an arsehole. If you’re aware of this going on, rise above it, act like you don’t really care even if you do care. Treat them the same, treat them fairly and don’t give them any ammunition by picking on them and the resentment will die a natural death.

Don’t hide from decisions. If something needs to be decided, and it’s your call, don’t hide from it, no matter how hard a call it is to make. Usually the longer something is left to drift, the worse the situation will get. A little pain early on is better than lots of pain later on.

This is not an exhaustive list of rules to follow but you won’t go far wrong if you stick to them.

A situation where you get promoted from being one of the team to being the manager makes things much more difficult. The only thing I can say really is it may help to adopt the above rules gradually. Each situation will be different and will need a different approach to implementing the rules above.

If you get being a manager wrong, you will be resented, your staff will leave and/or undermine you and you will have a high stress workday fighting fires, micro managing to make sure the work is done and trying to recruit new people to replace those leaving.

Get it right, you will retain staff, if they leave it will probably be through promotion and you will be able to trust your staff to do their jobs so that you can get on with your own.