Employees are the family you choose, not the ones you were given.
Not everybody is cut out to be a parent. Not everybody wants to be a parent. Same with management. Sometimes people become managers from a very intentional career path they have crafted over the years. Sometimes someone who never once expressed a desire to manage gets promoted and finds herself leading a team of 15 people. Regardless of the circumstances, when you think about leading and developing people, you’ll have better outcomes if you throw the traditional hierarchy out the window. Treat your team members like you would treat your family. In this case, treat developing employees like you would treat your kid. Keeping in mind a few guidelines I’ve picked up at work and at home over the years, you can build both a better team and a higher quality of life for everyone involved.
This post is part of a three-part series. Stay tuned for Part II and Part III.
1) Different kids walk at different ages.
Some kids walk at 9 months. Some kids walk at 18. Not every kid walks at the same age, but you don’t get mad at them. You say let’s take it slower, let’s take our time. If your 11-month-old kid hasn’t started walking yet, you don’t set him at the top of the stairs and say “Son, it’s time to sink or swim.” You coax, you practice, you encourage. You celebrate every effort, no matter how small or fumbling.
2) Yelling doesn’t get you anywhere.
No one learns by getting yelled at. You think if you yelled louder, your baby could suddenly stroll down the street? No. Nor will your employee better learn to prioritize if you just make it clear how angry his mistakes have made you. Instead, have conversations. Together, figure out what went wrong. And together, make a plan to move forward.
3) You let your kids fail — to a point.
I am firmly in the camp that says it’s okay to let your kids run with scissors, just don’t let them fall. Similarly, your kid will fall once or twice as she learns to climb a tree. You don’t fire her. You nurse her wound, cheer her bravery, and encourage her to try again. Your child might touch a hot stove once — but just once. As tortuous as it is for parents, kids have to learn the hardest lessons on their own. When similar growing pains happen at work, help employees process what happened. Let them suffer enough of the consequences that they learn from their mistakes. But always, always, cheer them on to do better next time, letting them know they still have your support.
4) The relationship changes, it doesn’t end.
When you bring somebody onto your team, you’re building a relationship for the long run, whether they work for you for ten years or six months. Overtime, your relationship will change. Just as toddlers turn into teenagers, sales interns become analysts at competing VC firms. Your child isn’t abandoning you when she goes off to college, and neither is your COO when he starts his own company. I had coffee the other day with Steve*, an intern who came to me straight out of grad school in Tallahassee. In 2013, I brought him on to do sales (he also helped me assemble furniture in my new apartment fresh after my divorce, but that’s a different story). As I better understood his strengths and weaknesses, I coached him to find something with more structure, more repetition, to get his bearings on the job. Three years later, he is Director of Innovation at a boutique consulting company and I’m mentoring him on how to better communicate with upper management.
We so often overcomplicate things. Thousands of books, articles, and blog posts have been written on management theory, just like on parenting. But as is always the case, it’s hard to mess up too badly — either raising children or developing a team — if you come at it authentically from a place of genuine caring. And keep an eye on the scissors.
*Steve is not his real name.