Managing People

As a leader it is your responsibility to manage your people in such a way that you get the most out of them. To do this, you need to understand what people really want, and what they don’t want.

No one wants to be micro-managed. No one wants someone to hover over their shoulder directing their work. Nor do they want their manager nagging them about what they’re doing. Most leaders don’t want to micro-manage their people. Many worry so much about micro-management that they create a culture that lacks accountability.

Most of the time, what one person perceives as micro management is actually macro-management.

Macro Activity and Macro Outcomes

The most important outcomes you need as a leader are macro. They’re high value, strategic outcomes that lead to objectives being met. The failure to achieve these outcomes creates problems for the company, for divisions or departments, and for teams. These outcomes should command people’s time and attention because the effort of the organization must be aligned with the outcomes.

If what you are doing isn’t producing the necessary outcomes, then your leader is going
to ask you to focus your efforts on the activity. If the activity isn’t aligned to big outcomes, a conversation is necessary.

Accountability Counts

Yes, I touched on this topic in Part 2, primarily around leaders holding themselves
accountable. I’m returning to it again because it’s supremely important that leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable. If an outcome isn’t being achieved, something isn’t right. It could be that someone isn’t doing what they need to do. It could also be that they aren’t effective at the actions they need to take. But as a leader, accountability starts and ends with you. That means you have to start by making sure your team knows what is expected of them, understands what needs to be done and why, and has the resources to achieve their goal.

As a leader, you are responsible for the outcomes being achieved, and that means
you are going to need to inspect the results, ask questions, understand challenges, and
remove constraints. Asking questions is not micro-management; it’s macro-management.
Requiring more—or different—activities be taken in the pursuit of your goals isn’t micromanagement either, especially if not enough action is being taken. Much of the time those who complain about being micro-managed aren’t putting forth the effort to produce results, or they’re doing something they prefer doing instead of what they need to do. Correcting this is macro-management.

Great Leaders are Compassionate

I know a great leader who had an employee in trouble. It was rather serious financial trouble, and it jeopardized her family. She wasn’t a top performer. She wasn’t anyone’s favourite. But she was one of his people, and he did what was necessary to help her out of her financial jam.

I know another great leader who helps people who don’t perform well into other roles.
Sometimes those roles are within his company. Other times, he helps them find their way into new companies where they can be successful. He doesn’t throw people out onto the street. He cares about people. You’ve no doubt heard stories like these–or you have made similar decisions yourself. Maybe you’ve done what you believed to be right, even when it wasn’t popular, and even when you have stood alone.

Help Needed

Compassion isn’t walking a mile in someone’s shoes. Compassion isn’t the mental process of understanding intellectually what another person is going through. Compassion is feeling in your heart what the other person feels in their heart.

Think compassion is weakness? Think compassion means that you don’t have to make
the hard decisions? Compassion is an indication of your strength. It’s an indication that you are strong enough to do something to help.

Being compassionate doesn’t mean that you aren’t tough as nails when it comes to protecting your culture. It doesn’t mean that you don’t expect your people to perform. And it doesn’t mean that you ever allow anyone to walk all over you, abuse your generosity, or take advantage of you.

Compassion means you are a living example of what it means to lead, what it means to care, and what it means to serve. Your people won’t do what you say, but they will be who you are. If you lack compassion when it comes to the human things, so will the people you have the honour to lead. People are going to remember what
you do to help others. Are you strong enough to be compassionate?

Compassion Does Not Mean Being Too Empathetic

Some leaders believe that they always need to be patient and empathetic. There is no doubt that as a default approach, this is a pretty good choice. But it isn’t always the right approach. Sometimes, to make your point felt, you need to be impatient and demanding. Serious issues may need a serious, unrelenting response.

Empathy and patience can sometimes be the wrong response. Being empathetic at the wrong time can cause people to believe that a serious issue isn’t a big deal. It can
lead people to believe that they aren’t really accountable for change when they have a serious behavioural issue or when they aren’t producing results. But worst of all, when it is your only approach, you are a pushover, and you can just as easily lose your moral authority.

Some people and some situations call for patience and empathy. Some call for coaching
and an approach that fosters learning. Sometimes you need to explain yourself
carefully. But other people and situations call for a more self-directed approach.

You Can Also Be Too Self-directed

Some leaders believe that they need to be very self-directed to be effective. Self-directed can come across as self-oriented, selfish, and oblivious to what the other person needs or
the constraints with which they are struggling. I’ve met some leaders who pride themselves on their self-directed approach. And sometimes it is exactly the right approach. This is especially true when the leader is protecting the culture
they’ve built, or when they are dealing with a legal or moral issue. There are some issues that are non-negotiable.

But unless you have the relationship that allows for self-directed communication, every time you are self-directed when it is unnecessary takes a little something out of your moral leadership. When you are unnecessarily direct and short with people–even if it’s because you are short on time and under pressure–you are making a withdrawal from your relationship.

If you’ve ever seen a coach on the sideline during a game, you’ve no doubt seen them grab a player and light them up when they are trying to make a point, rev them up, or change their state. If your approach is always high negative energy, then when you really need to call on that approach, it won’t mean anything. You will have worn out the approach.

Problems at work

When Problems Arise. And there will be problems.

Invariably, in business, things go wrong. People make mistakes. Sometimes they make mistakes even when they have the best of intentions. Other times, they are simply negligent. People also fail to follow directions, sometimes because they misunderstand what was necessary, and sometimes because, mistakenly, they think they know better.

Focusing on People Is the Problem

It’s easy for a leader to focus their attention on the person who made the mistake, failed, lost the client, or generally botched things up. That leader can blame the person for what went wrong by yelling at them, by embarrassing them, by threatening them, or by somehow penalising the individual. This choice is often made by a leader who believes that people are the problem. The leaders of this variety are eternally plagued with people problems.

When people don’t feel a sense of psychological safety, they don’t do their best work. They also don’t stay long.

Focus on the Problem, Improve People

Another leader, a more enlightened leader perhaps, would focus on the problem instead of the person. Instead of focusing on trying to discover “what’s wrong” with the person, they focus on the mistake, using it as an opportunity to teach the person how they made the mistake, why it is important, and how to do something different when faced with the same scenario in the future.

Instead of focusing on the failure, the enlightened leader works on recovering from
the failure. They allow the person to help with the recovery, teaching them how to do better in the future, and how to recover the next time they fail, something that is almost a certainty.

Instead of threatening, embarrassing, or punishing the person who botched things up,
they help them un-botch things. By working with people to solve problems, the enlightened leader solves the problem and builds their people at the same time. They get problems solved, and they get better people. They also create a culture of psychological safety.

If you believe that people are your problem, that belief is your problem.

Coming soon:

Part 4 – Protecting Culture & Legacy

Did you miss?

Part 1 – The Do’s & Dont’s?

Part 2The Non-negotiables and Accountability