A Genuine Approach to People Management
This article first appeared on LinkedIn.
Like any good challenge, managing people is incredibly rewarding. As a people manager and leader, it’s your job to represent the company to its people and help build a strong, satisfied team. To do this effectively, you must earn trust and build rapport. Trust is earned when you are (among other things) reliably compassionate, fair, and well-informed.
Below, I’ve documented my people management philosophies. These are mantras that ground me in my values and guide my approach. These are lessons learned; and admittedly, re-learned. And of course, just like people themselves, people management is always a work in progress. You can spend your entire life honing your people skills.
People Management Philosophies
Take the high road every time
Put your emotional needs and ego aside. Your goal is to guide conversations to a more productive place.
Bad news is best told face to face
If you’re having trouble composing an email, it might be because it’s not an appropriate conversation for email.
Be the first to express compassion
Picture this: you’ve just learned that someone on staff was talking smack about you. Instead of being defensive or talking smack back, try saying something compassionate, like: “well, it does sound like he’s dealing with a frustrating situation”.
Give lots of high fives
We’re a winning team, so we should act like one. High fives will boost your mood, try it.
Move on / move forward
Let’s say Bob screws up, big time. In fact, Bob screwed up so badly that another team member quit over it. Management decides not to fire Bob; he’s given a second chance. In these situations, it’s tempting to continue punishing Bob for his screw up (by giving Bob the cold shoulder, or noticing more of his flaws, etc.). Don’t do that. You have to move forward and give Bob a real chance to make it right again. A second chance should be a real chance. Remind others of this principle.
Acknowledge good work or effort
Go ahead, make someone’s day.
When it comes to professional development, the devil is in the details
Don’t be afraid to give very specific, very tactical feedback to your team. Don’t ignore bad habits. Take a close look at everything and speak up. Think of your team members as athletes: all skills can be improved. Don’t confuse this with micro-management, we’re focusing on skill-building (not generating tasks).
Hear everything first, don’t form an opinion too early
There are multiple sides to every story, make sure you hear it all. Just listen carefully and follow up later.
Acknowledge the circumstances: people are influenced by their environment
People don’t operate in a vacuum. The work environment isn’t perfect and it influences people’s actions, so that must be taken into consideration.
Know exactly what you’re talking about — when in doubt, do your research
If a question or conversation comes up that you’re not completely prepared to answer, don’t answer it. Winging it in management can lead to a lawsuit (or just a pissed off employee) and that’s just amateurish. People won’t forgive you for being an amateur when it’s your job to represent the company. Just recognize you don’t know the right answer and say something like: “interesting, I’ll look into it and get back to you.”
Stay aligned with other leaders/supervisors, they are your partners
If someone (who does not report to you) comes straight to you with a problem, your first question should always be: “what does your supervisor think/say?” Empower other leaders to do their jobs and make sure you’re aligned on decisions. This is how we scale leadership.
Treat the team how you want them to treat each other (and the clients)
Don’t be mean to the team. It’s traumatizing.
Never play favorites: say “no” if that’s what’s fair
When team members aren’t treated fairly, the side effect is that individual team members feel obligated to advocate for themselves alone. Your team members will waste time comparing themselves to their peers and negotiating with you/HR (instead of being productive and team-oriented). Avoid this by being fair in the first place, no means no for everybody.
And, if you don’t have a good, well-informed, reasonable explanation as to “why” your doing something, that’s a signal that it might be the wrong decision (or that you haven’t done your homework).
Believe in second chances
People are people, we all have our flaws. So long as the behavior isn’t obviously immoral or dangerous, be open to giving people a chance to improve. And, if you’re going to give someone a second chance, make sure they KNOW it. Sit them down and say: “you did this thing that negatively impacted the team in a serious way, but we believe in you and want to give you a second chance, please let us know how we can support you.” Then, be supportive and check back in.
The power of reputations: a negative attitude spreads like cancer
As a leader, it’s your job to represent the culture. It’s a problem if a leader has a reputation for being “bored” or “disengaged.” Sit your leaders down and explain how toxic it is for the culture; ask them to champion an uplifting working environment. It’s easy (and lazy) for people to connect over negativity, venting, or blame. People look to leaders (including informal leaders) for cues on how to behave, but not all leaders recognize (or want to recognize) that they have this power.
Share the true story
During any transition or change (whether you’re letting someone go or giving someone a promotion or changing the org design), share the true story behind why the change is happening. Stories allow us make sense of things; they comfort us and give us a sense of safety. Stories allow us to move forward with a sense of purpose and understanding. Facing the true story isn’t easy. It takes proper reflection and perhaps some soul-searching. Being truthful is usually worth the risk. Make sure your leaders believe in the story and agree that it reflects the truth.
I don’t care who you are, everyone needs to vent sometimes
Although you want to promote a culture of positive thinking, every human (no matter how professional or seasoned) needs to vent sometimes. Provide a safe space for this kind of venting: let folks know it’s okay to vent sometimes (to an appropriateaudience), but simultaneously encourage positive thinking.
When solving a problem, start with your values
Values guide decisions. This is an important way to test your values or discover new ones.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses
As a leader, you must be self-aware and continuously re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. It’s your job to be mature, professional, and take the high road. If you don’t know your weaknesses, you’ll over-compensate. If you don’t know your strengths, you won’t take the risks you’ll need to take.
Admit to your mistakes and learn your lessons quickly
You will make mistakes. When you do, take responsibility, fix the problem, and move on.
Never send an email in frustration
If you find yourself typing an angry email, just stop. Seriously, stop. Walk away. Don’t do it. It’s completely unprofessional and should never happen. Be the voice of reason and guide discussions to a productive place.
Learn to laugh when you’re overwhelmed
At the end of the day, it’s just work. It’s not everything. Most people’s jobs are not life or death.
Give notice, everyone needs a reminder sometimes
Look, people want to succeed in their jobs. People don’t accept job offers thinking: “I hope I screw up and get fired.” If someone isn’t meeting expectations in some way, and you’ve already told them, just remind them. Some people need reminders because that’s how they test boundaries. So give them that reminder and empower people to be better at their jobs.
For the love of everything, keep it chill
Don’t yell or get angry. Everything is going to work out just fine, and it’s your job to remind people of that. Stay in control, keep it chill, and you’ll be more effective that way.
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