Managing is Personal

Managing is Personal

There have never been more tricky issues you might want to avoid discussing with your team, but going there is vital to doing great work.

I’ve worked with many leaders who have one primary career objective: Never Manage Anyone. Let’s be honest—managing other humans can be very complicated. Different needs. Different goals. Different learning styles. Whether you have one direct report or 10 consultants working for you, meeting your team’s needs can be tough.

Never has this been more evident than the past two-plus years. From Covid to racial reckonings to remote work to war to distance learning—the challenges have been plentiful. And that’s on top of the usual tensions that can often develop between a manager and their team, including communication breakdowns, lack of transparency, and general mistrust. 

So, how are you handling the angst your employees might be feeling from external issues today? Some of you will say, “We don’t address personal or political issues at work. It’s not relevant to what we do, and it’s just a land mine.” That’s certainly one approach; I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is an option. It’s also possible that you work in an organization with more of a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on personal matters. 

What I will tell you is this: When you do not seek to understand the root of a performance issue or change in behavior or lack of engagement, the problem will not go away. Why does that matter? Well, most businesses exist to sell a service or product. If you don’t have access to every lever to motivate and inspire your employees, including those that may feel more personal, you will not achieve your business results. Mic drop.

For those of you fortunate to work in environments where bringing your whole self to work is valued, here are some manager tips to consider that can keep your culture thriving and your teams achieving their business goals.

Tip 1:  Listen

Here’s the deal: You are not going to know everything about current events. More importantly, you are not going to be completely aligned with every team member on every issue. The news of the day will hit each of us in very different ways. The war in Ukraine may hit harder for those with personal ties to the region. Another example: Covid has impacted families in very significant and often differing ways. Some are dealing with elder-care concerns; some are dealing with issues surrounding the mental health of their children—to name only a few possibilities. Instead of trying to show your team members how smart or woke or hip you are, just listen to what your employees are saying. Wait for them to ask for your support before you jump in. And if you don’t know what to say, say that; it’s honest and it’s transparent. It may not feel great, but it’s a lot better than saying something that rings hollow or even makes things worse.

Tip 2:  Stay connected

It would be so easy for managers to just keep their head down and avoid any discussion with team members about anything personal, especially if you and your team are working remotely; after all, this is work, right? I’m not asking you to recklessly probe into the personal lives of your team members. Please do not do that. I am recommending that you stay connected with your team members and leave space for them to share what matters to them and the impact on their work. When employees feel like they can share their truth, they’re likely to feel more committed to the team and the company. And that commitment often leads to retention, engagement, and results, the great leader trifecta!

Tip 3:  Take care of yourself

As a manager, you’ll face all kinds of people challenges along with the business challenges. It can be exhausting trying to understand and meet the needs of each individual team member. Tension points often come without warning, regardless of timelines and deadlines. This is why stepping away and reconnecting with yourself is important. When you feel overwhelmed and unsure, take some time to be silent. Seek support from reputable employee assistance programs, company leaders, or health professionals. Essentially, do the things you likely tell your employees to do.

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When employees feel like they can be true to who they are, they will bring unparalleled levels of performance and commitment to their jobs. When you work for an organization that understands you are a human with a life outside of work, that knowledge absolutely impacts how you see work; you get to be wholly you. And wholly you is awesome.

Stephanie Pierce is a connector, coach, and founder of two Minneapolis-based businesses, KJP Consulting, a leadership development firm, and, a community of diverse women inspiring each other to do the work they love. She also co-hosts the podcast Her Next Chapter.