So far in this leadership series we’ve covered five managerial pitfalls, any of which can trip a manager up. Now we come to the next management challenge; where to draw the line between business and social relationships. Whilst in one sense it can appear deceptively simple, this issue tests our emotional maturity, and our mental toughness. No one ever said management was supposed to be easy!
So often managers want to be an employee's buddy out of work hours, then attempt to manage them in the work environment, and the employee will not allow it. It’s an either-or situation: be the buddy or the manager. Successful hybrids don’t exist in such a situation. As a guide to your employee-manager relations, think of this: Never do anything with an employee that you wouldn’t do with your company's number one customer. In other words, if management is not circumspect in its actions with employees it’s because we don’t respect them. And if we don’t respect them, they certainly will not and cannot respect us.
Management Trouble Spots
No matter how fiercely independent any of us are, we all want friends and all need a few close ones. However, we sometimes need to work hard at resisting the temptation to seek out those friendships with the people we manage. We need to be wary of the problems and consequences that friendships at work can create, so let’s explore why.
As a critical management rule, managers should never be more concerned about an individual’s success or failure than they are; their success or failure is their responsibility, not the manager’s. So what’s the management (and life) lesson here: You can’t be responsible for people; however, by necessity, you must be responsible to people. When managers (usually unconsciously) fall into this trap of becoming responsible for people, they overstep their managerial boundaries and adopt people.
This was perhaps the single most difficult management lesson one of our managers, Steve, had to learn. It impacted him through an experience he had with Frank, a salesperson he directly managed. Frank had been reasonably successful but his productivity took a nosedive and he was no longer producing at the minimum levels required by the company. Steve discussed the situation with Frank and clearly communicated to him that his sales production must increase. To assist him, consistent with company standards, he was placed in a personal improvement program for retraining. Still no results. Company policy was clear. Frank should be terminated, and it was Steve’s responsibility to do so. He couldn‘t do it. The man had five children and Steve knew that the economic opportunities for him in the company were far greater than those available anywhere else, because of his age and the state of the economy. Whenever he thought of terminating him, he thought of the children and backed off.
Finally, during a field visit in his territory to conduct a workshop, Frank approached Steve at the first break and said, "I've got something I need to tell you!" and asked if they could meet after the morning session. What do think Steve thought? He hoped Frank was going to do his job for him and quit! So they get together over lunch but Frank totally avoids the issue he needs to discuss. In near desperation over his third cup of coffee, Steve says, "You said you had something to tell me. What is it?" He responded, "Steve, it's so difficult." Probing for the resignation, Steve tells him, "Buddy, you can tell me anything." With that, Frank sheepishly said, "Steve, I've fallen in love. I'm leaving my wife and kids!" At that moment Steve recognised that he felt more concern for this man’s children than their father did.
But they were his responsibility, not Steve’s, and consequently Steve failed this man miserably, he failed the company, and he failed his wife and children because he attempted to become responsible for him. He was reparenting a fifty-five-year-old man and failed to treat him as an adult. Had Steve been responsible to him rather than for him, if he had respected him enough to treat him as an adult when he failed to do the job that was expected of him, if Steve had done his job and terminated him and let him handle his own responsibility of supporting his family, the man would not have had time to fall in love. You simply cannot help people who will not help themselves.
No one ever said management was easy. If it were, then anyone could do it, and management would not receive remuneration in excess of that paid to employees. Managing can often become a painful experience, and you may incur pain while developing the mental toughness required by the job. Managers not only have to make tough decisions regarding employees, the toughest decisions affect their personal discipline and sometimes their families.
There is a rule we have to live by to manage effectively. It may not sound palatable, but it sums it all up succinctly: To manage effectively you cannot put the welfare of any individual above the welfare of the organisation. Everyone who manages effectively lives by this rule, and sometimes it hurts.
In our next post in this series we'll discuss Major Mistake #7 "Failure to measure performance".