Each month we invite members of the team to write an article of their choosing for The Intelligent Edge, and I’m always surprised and delighted by the variety of topics that inspire my colleagues. Today is no different, as HBG Consultant Debbi Olley explores the important subject of what makes a good manager. ~Helen
When I started writing a blog post about management, I was daunted by the prospect of sifting through source after source, trying to drill down to essentials.
There are thousands of articles and books about management, written both from the perspective of being a better manager and also from the viewpoint of being a better employee. Though it’s tempting to try to cover both topics, particularly for those of us who have been both, I’m going to focus on how to be the best manager one can be.
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”— Michael Scott
Who doesn’t love a great quote from that Dunder Mifflin manager extraordinaire, Mr. Scott? And this one contains much to contemplate. As a manager, how do you motivate your staff?
We likely can all agree that using fear, including fear of public humiliation, is not the best way to proceed. LinkedIn is crammed with horror stories of people’s work being torn up in front of coworkers, employees being screamed at, and worse. It’s just plain hurtful and of course never truly motivates anyone.
But it’s also interesting to think about the other part of Michael Scott’s quote. As a manager, do you secretly want to be loved by your team? Or, if not loved, at least admired? If so, that’s a very human response. But in its own way, it might be as ineffective as trying to motivate using fear.
Personally, I have found that one of the toughest things about being a better manager is trying to remove your own needs and fears from the equation. This article from Harvard Business Review includes some great suggestions for ensuring that managers are focusing on the needs of their team, and ultimately encourages managers to communicate well:
As their manager, the responsibility falls on your shoulders to initiate the tough conversations and get people talking about their situation. It’s best to set the example and approach these discussions with vulnerability.”
This is not an easy thing to do, but it does get to the crux of it, which is to try to leave your own needs out of the equation. In fact, when the authors use the word “vulnerability,” they could just as easily replace it with “humility.” This article, also from Harvard Business Review, advocates not only the avoidance of trying to motivate by using fear or motivation but also puts the focus on humility:
It’s more effective to show them what’s expected and how they can accomplish their task. This may take rolling up your sleeves, getting out from behind your desk and doing some of the less glamorous work.”
As employees, seeing this type of behavior from our managers creates a lasting impression. A friend who is now a manager himself never forgot the manager who swept the floor if the custodian was unavailable. “She would never ask us to do something she wouldn’t do herself,” he told me. It’s hard to forget that management style.
As managers who likely are also managed by someone else, we can hope that our managers will try to put us first. But when it comes to our own teams, we have to think less about ourselves and more about the person we’re managing. And in many ways, that leads to another helpful quote—one that distills good management well:
“My religion is kindness.” — Dalai Lama
While article after article, such as this one, lists bullet points and tips on how to be a better manager, it’s hard to miss a common theme, and that is simply following the Golden Rule: treat people as you would like to be treated yourself.
This article, courtesy of Forbes, focuses on the positive effects of kindness in the workplace, emphasizing that “when we work with people who share our core values—including kindness—we produce the best results.”
There is also the reality that, in an environment where there is at least one toxic employee, managers do need to address this problem quickly. This article from media company Business Leadership Today acknowledges that a culture of kindness in the workplace is impossible if this issue is not handled.
As someone who has been a manager and has had numerous managers over a 25+ year career, I will never use personal examples in a public source, nor will I deny there are times you can try to be the best manager possible, and bad situations still arise.
But I will close with this—after a long, hard road through COVID-19 and a renewed awareness of just how brief and fleeting life can be, I will emphasize that the best managers I remember the most vividly are not those who were strong leaders, or led by example, or made sure promotions and development opportunities were available, though of course I appreciated all of that. No, the people I remember as terrific examples of managers are those who sympathized with personal grief and were supportive and kind through hard periods.
Sadly, and conversely, it was those managers who downplayed both personal and collective grief that I will always remember for the opposite reason.
My personal belief? Management 101 can start and possibly even end with one bullet point: Be kind.