The main reason people leave a company is because of their boss. But it’s also the main reason why they stay, learn, grow and make extra effort. Getting this relationship right is an essential part of being an effective manager. “Managing ourselves is tough enough these days,” said Soni Basi, vice president, global talent at The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. “Managing others requires us to dig deeper within ourselves, developing patience and courage to allow the team to deliver in their own way.”
Of course, there are numerous challenges to being a manager. One particular aspect matters more than all the others: the ability to create, strengthen and manage relationships of all types. We see a whole range of direct benefits if we get the manager-employee relationship right: acceptance of change; acceptance of performance feedback; increased performance; increased satisfaction; greater innovation; and higher productivity.
Research shows that when the relationship between a leader and the person they manage is strong, coaching and critical feedback is likely to be successful. But when the relationship is weak, exactly the same coaching will have no effect at all. “A weak manager has the power to do significant harm in a very short period of time,” Basi said. “A good manager can return sustainable results year over year if they are trusted, inspire others and empower their teams.”
As a manager, the personal tension between who you are and what you need to achieve can result in numerous potential dilemmas such as: do I need to like someone to have a good working relationship with them? How do I balance being liked with being respected? How can I avoid inadvertent favoritism? How can I be part of the team but at the same time be the leader? How do I have a performance conversation with someone I view as a friend?
While the benefits of internal promotions have a big upside, Emily Robbins, Enterprise Learning Manager at the Hanover Insurance Group said it can be tough for someone to manage employees who were once their peers.
“Establishing a different kind of working relationship is critical to continued success,” Robbins said.
The trend toward authentic leadership can skew which behaviors are right for managers and lead to too much openness and a lack of appropriateness. Having total transparency about how everyone is feeling in the office all the time is dangerous. Added to which, millennials particularly want an informal management style that can blur boundaries and make it unclear what an effective working relationship should be.
“Spending more time with some employees, or following some of your team members on personal social media profiles (and vice versa) can disrupt balance on the team,” Basi said. “It is often recommended that managers apply the same principles for conversations and social media usage inside and outside the organization.”
In highly sociable work cultures, tough performance conversations may not happen because there’s a perceived risk to relationships.
Friendliness without friendship should be the approach. Naturally, we connect with some people better than others but as a manager, we must be equal, even-handed and work in a fair way with a variety of people who may be fundamentally different to us.
The role of the manager is that of a tightrope walker. Constant readjustment is required to find the comfortable balance in working relationships between too close and too distant. And it’s not an easy balance to find — after all, levels of intimacy are highly subjective. One person’s perception of being attentive can be perceived as interfering to another. Selective sharing with one colleague might feel like you are being guarded to another. The more explicit we can be about how we’re managing relationships, the more likely we are not to stumble.
There are four ways for managers to get it right. They are:
Remember why you’re here. Focus on the job you have to do. It’s not about being liked; it’s about delivering results. It’s easy for managers to spend their time trying to be liked and trying to be popular that they lose sight of the end game – the result they are trying to deliver for the business. The darker side of 360 feedback is that it becomes a competition to be liked rather than a measure of effectiveness.
Set the boundaries. You are in control of creating the boundaries between yourself and your team. The ability to navigate the intimacy and involvement that a manager has with the people they manage is a vital part of forming a successful relationship. Managers who are too distant can be motivated mainly by the result and getting the job done. Those who are too close focus solely on having good relationships with their team and nurturing these. The appropriate balance is to focus on the outcome: getting the best result while sustaining the relationships with your team (Figure 1).
When it comes to feedback, the too distant manager probably gives none, doesn’t notice things, and doesn’t engage in performance conversations. Whereas the manager who is too close is likely to lavish their employees with praise. The appropriate manager will give descriptive feedback on what was done and what impact it had.
Keep emotional self-control. Self-regulation trumps all. In those moments when you want to explode, learn to control it. Emotional tripwires, a phrase coined by psychologist Guy Claxton, are provocations that trigger behaviors that break relationship boundaries. For some, a tripwire is being patronized. For others it’s a colleague dominating a conversation. The challenge for managers is to be able to spot things that could aggravate them, to recognize the moments they begin to feel out of control and learn to keep their cool.
Reinforce and repair boundaries if they break. Take responsibility if things go wrong with someone on your team, assess what’s happened and re-engage. When a relationship faces a rupture: pause (take a moment to consider your approach), contain (be concise, put the issue in the past tense), playback (describe your understanding of what happened, challenge the behaviour but never the person) and reassure (be clear, honest and considerate). These tactics can be used to get the conversation and relationship back on track. Robbins adds “Boundaries create a safer, more collaborative environment for all involved. Understanding their value helps with achieving the right balance — it’s a constant exercise in setting and re-establishing.”
Managers must work to build long-term trust with their teams. And there are three aspects that are critical:
Connectedness: The key is to maintain the right level of connectedness over time that is appropriate for the individual, the organization, and task in hand. So that managers have enough emotional connection with their team members to be empathetic and to be warm, but not so much that they are too open, too disclosing and inappropriate. “Managers must know their employees better than acquaintances,” Basi said. “Their role is to understand them — their motivations, their challenges, their strengths, their aspirations and what may hold them back.”
Above all, Robbins said listening makes the difference. “Managers can build excellent relationships by taking the time to listen. Listen to your employee’s passions both personal and professional. Listen for development opportunities and how you can help.”
Credibility: Managers have to add value and to consider carefully the actions they take to build their credibility for the longer term. Ultimately, we all gain professional respect by doing a good job and inspiring others to follow us.
Consistency: Whatever adversity the company or team faces, managers must maintain a high level of consistency in how they behave, over time, with every member of their team. This is vital to ensuring that every employee knows where they stand at all times.
So, do managers need to be liked? Perhaps the answer is they need to be liked enough to achieve the goals necessary to succeed. But more important is the approach managers take to connecting with their teams, setting and maintaining boundaries, building their own credibility, and being utterly consistent in all their interactions.
Danielle McMahan, vice president, global talent development at American Express Global Business Travel said that leaders need to be “liked enough.”
“What’s most important is that they’re trusted and respected” McMahan said. “Respect is a two-way street. Leaders need to give respect to get respect. To be trusted, they must demonstrate to employees that they believe in them and will support them if they fail. When leaders are respected and trusted, they create a culture of engagement.”
Too often we promote people with the right technical skills and experience but don’t give them the training or insight to be highly successful managers. Sometimes we’re lucky and they happen to be good at it, but more often they’re not.
Give managers the support and skills they need to be effective and the business benefit is immeasurable.
Sebastian Bailey is co-founder and president of Mind Gym Inc. and author of “Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently.” Comment below, or email email@example.com.