A managers biggest challenge is to manage employees
Successful employee relations takes effort and patience
The most important management skill is empathy. Without it, you will never relate to your people.
People are messy — they have lives outside of work
Getting the people right is just as important as getting the product right
Management comes in various styles from collaborative to authoritative to dictator and all points in between.
Ultimately, someone has to be in charge. Corporate democracy only works to a point.
A friend of mine once told me that when he was a teacher, he went to his boss (the principal) for some advice. Being a new teacher, he figured that his boss would have some insightful tips on how to manage his kids. What he got was what most mangers think but never say: if it were not for the people, my job would be easy. Now, that’s a bit glib and unrealistic but out of all the management challenges, nothing comes close to managing people.
Emotions, Ego and Miscommunication
If you were to pick the top three things that make managing people so hard, it’s got to be: emotions, ego and miscommunications. All three of these things will, at some point, conspire against you. No manager is immune to the volatile cocktail that results when any one of these three ingredients are in the mix.
People are emotional — they just can’t help it. Some people are more emotional than others but all of us have something that makes us emotional. Emotions are a powerful thing. They can make a normal person quiver in a corner, drenched in their own urine or fly off into a psychopathic rage. All of these states are bad. As a manager, your job is to be the control rod for emotional situations. This takes a keen sense of self and how your words and actions affect other people. When dealing with emotions, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind:
High emotional states make people irrational: When tempers flare, people can get nasty and irrational. Make sure to lower their emotional state before dealing with whatever problem.
Emotions can make people defensive: Sometimes people get defensive when confronted with a problem that they might have caused. Defusing this requires focusing on the situation and not the person.
People can be vulnerable: Someone that is emotionally drained or “beaten” down will be susceptible to all sorts of suggestions that might not be a good idea. Be careful when making decisions or having people sign up for tasks when they are vulnerable.
Staying motivated is challenging: Motivation can wane when people are emotional. Strive to understand what motivates your staff so that you know when emotions might be getting in the way.
Resolutions can take longer: When you mix all of the above together, you get a situation that requires a lot of work to get stuff done. This will lead to resolutions taking longer than required. Be sensitive to this and watch out for the warning signs.
We all have an ego. It’s that little voice inside our head that pushes us to be recognized and admired. When that little voice gets in the way of rational decision making, things start to get personal. When managing people, careful attention needs to be paid to their ego. Consider some the different types of people you might manage and how their ego affects how you interact with them:
Starter: They want to start new things but never seem to finish anything. They really like the fuzzy front end of defining and launching projects. That for them is enjoyable. It’s best to let the starter start and pair them with a finisher.
Finisher: Enjoys nothing more than getting stuff done but never wants to start anything new until everything is done. They are usually good at following checklists and don’t get bored with the mundane tasks associated with making products shippable.
Mechanic: Has a deep desire to make progress and get stuff done. They really don’t care why it works or how it works just that it works. They have a deep desire to do because to them, that is what work is all about — getting stuff done.
Scientist: Wants to understand why things work. If given the opportunity, they will think and ponder all day. Task completion is a little more of a challenge with a scientist because of the deep desire for understanding. This can sometimes get in the way of progress.
Superstar: Produces great work and gets along with everyone. They are your “go to” people that will one day have your job. They strive for more and more challenging projects and feel that they constantly have to prove themselves.
Solid Citizen: Works hard and does a good job performing tasks. They are a pleasure to manage since they understand what to do and just do it. They aspire to better things but will remain patient until the time comes.
Higher Life Form: Thinks they are always right and are the only people who “get it.” These types of people will be your most challenging person to manage. Sometimes you may even need to get rid of them because they just can’t work as a member of a team.
Of course, there are many shades in between these groups but remember that ego and motivation go hand in hand. Someone who likes to start things will respond differently than a finisher. The mechanic has different ego needs that the scientist. The trick is to identify these ego needs and cater your management approach to each different type.
Nothing makes a stressful situation descend into chaos like miscommunication. The most evil form is the email flame war where the escalation of the rhetoric gets downright nasty. Avoiding miscommunication, or rather clearly communicating, is vital to managing people. Your style of communication will vary depending on the situation but there are some general guidelines that are worth following:
Set exceptions: Most miscommunication centers around the expectations that people have. It’s critical that you ensure that exceptions are communicated clearly and repeatedly.
Keep on topic: Nothing distracts and confuses like discussing multiple topics. Try to remain on one topic at a time until conclusions are made.
Use simple, declarative speech and prose: Vital to clear communication is to always craft your message to your audience. This does not mean you dumb down your message but it does me you use common prose that is easily understood.
Respect debate and dissent: Nothing closes off channels of communication faster than squashing honest debate and decent. Respectful debate will always clarify positions and allow people to truly understand what is being discussed.
Make decisions: Decisions solidify communications into something tangible that can lead to action. Indecision will just leave things hanging and people wondering what to do next.
Admit when you are wrong: Critical to constructive dialog is to admit when your or someone made a mistake. This allows for people to voice concerns and shows that correct communication is more important than appearing to be right.
Part of effectively managing people is to figure out your management style and how that affects people. The type of people you manage will require you to adjust your style to meet their needs. In general, most people want to feel that their manager is fair, balanced, respectful and listens to them. These traits go a long way in effectively managing people. If you were to bucket the types of managers into categories, it would look something like this:
Collaborative: Managers that collaborate try hard to include their staff in all important decisions. This style relies a lot on inputs from others and an understanding of the political dynamics of your group.
Authoritative: Tend to make decisions and stick with them. Authoritative managers like titles and use these titles to garner influence and get their way.
Dictator: Manages by decree with zero input from their staff. This type of manager will never admit they are wrong and will continue on a course even if it will lead to disaster.
Micro-Manager: Wants to control every aspect of how work gets done. They have the attitude that they are the only ones that know the “right way” to do things. These type of managers tend to burn out quick as they ascend to power since their management bandwidth gets stretched thinner and thinner.
Mash-up: Most managers are a mix of the above categories but tend to gravitate to one dominate trait. At times, it makes sense to be more like a specific category, given the situation.
Empathy is Your Friend
One skill that every manager needs to nurture is empathy. Out of all the skills a manager must rely on, empathy for the plight of others is far and away the most important. Being able to understand where people are coming from while also seeing why they behave in certain ways will make you a better manager. A couple of ways to work on your empathy include:
Listen: Most managers don’t listen enough. Listening is such an important skill that it should be practiced everyday. Truly listening will allow you to get at the heart of matters quickly and without miscommunication.
Experience What Your Staff Experiences: Nothing opens a managers eyes more than experiencing what their employees experience. Sometimes the decisions a manager makes has implications that are not obvious until the decision is implemented.
Communicate Your Expectations: Setting expectations about performance and behavior allows the manager and employee understand what is acceptable. This also allows for easy correction and clarification when things start to go wrong.
Trust People: Ultimately, a manager has to trust their people. Without trust, nothing can be accomplished. Trust is a two way street that must be earned and constantly fostered. As a manager, you should always trust your people unless given a solid reason not too.
Things To Ponder
Write two paragraphs on your management style. What type of manager are you? If you are not a manger, then describe your present manger’s style.
In two paragraphs, describe your ideal manager. What traits does she have? Why are these traits important to you.
Recall a particularly stressful interaction with an employee. Why was it stressful? How did your manager handle it? Could the situation have been avoided?
What do you look for in a good employee? How does your interview process find these good employees?
Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side write easy. On the right side, write hard. List as many traits of easy/hard employees to manage. Compare the lists. Which one has more?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs wiki article
The Quick MBA Managing People page
The Art and Science of Management
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