Managers don’t want to know about your personal life. It’s a best practice for managers to not learn much about their employee’s personal life so that it does not interfere with professional decisions.
What a load of shit.
When I was a young engineer, my manager shared this piece of advice with me while communicating how the head of the office ran things. At the time, it made a lot of sense to me in a classic engineering way: professional decisions should be professional; if you don’t know about personal situations, you can’t be biased by these situations.
There’s logic in this thinking, but no truth. You see, managing a team isn’t a linear job – even if us engineers sometimes like to think that way because it’s easier – and better yet, justifiable. The truth is the circuitous and unpredictable path of knowing the people on your team, their motivations, and their personal goals makes it much easier to create a situation that works well for everyone involved.
This isn’t to say that as entrepreneurs we need to know details about our team’s weekends plans or we need to stay up to date on team dating travails – but understanding the entirety of what makes people tick matters. As evidenced by the cell phone we carry with us everywhere, a clean separation between work time and personal time is a casualty of the post-industrial era. The inseparable state of work and play complicates leadership, and requires a new approach to successfully managing a team.
Leading teams is messy, imperfect, and always interesting. It requires many things to successful, which is probably why it’s so rarely done well. At the top of the list are flexibility, creativity, consistency, and yes – caring.
Be Like Grandma.
While it may sound a little crazy, both your Grandmother and your electrician care about you. Grandmothers have your best interest at heart from day one – simply because you’re part of the family. Electricians care because you’re a customer and they want you to have a positive experience as part of the transaction. I’ve seen both styles be successful, but the exceptional leaders I’ve been around are all grandmothers.
If we’re able to develop relationships where a team member feels we care about them as a person and not just an employee – we’ve found someone that’s likely to put their heart and soul into being great. Jeff, one of the best manager’s I’ve had the pleasure of working with, used to regularly tell me to do something that was seemingly against his best interest: stop working. Through this simple message, Jeff communicated a lot to me. First, he told me he was very happy with my level of effort. More importantly, he communicated that he was vested in Brad the person, not just interested in Brad getting the work done. The net result of the trust Jeff placed in me? I only wanted to do even better work for Jeff and the team.
Caring doesn’t become real by asking a few questions here and there. It becomes real when we actually care. Be careful not to slip into the trap where you’re smart enough to say the right things, but foolish enough to not really care about the interests of the person on your team. This is a dangerous scenario.
Teddy Roosevelt wisely said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Equally important is what Sir Teddy didn’t say: pretend to care by following certain steps and then manipulate people as you see best.
The moment we make the huge leap and bring someone onto your team – we owe it to everyone involved to authentically care. Showing we care takes time, but anything that’s worthwhile takes time. Remember, the success of your business is 100% dependent on the success of your people.
And let’s be real – it’s not possible for us to meaningfully care about everyone that we work with on an ever-growing team. We only have so much bandwidth and personalities aren’t always going to gel. So, when there’s someone on your team that we really don’t care about like a grandmother – we need to be disciplined enough to address this problem right away. Try something meaningfully different to see the person in a new light, have someone else manage them, or fire them.
Whatever you decide, don’t pretend that you care and go through the motions. People are smart and the only thing you’ll be doing is creating a culture of inauthenticity in your company. As an employee, there’s only one thing that’s worse than not having someone care about you – and that’s someone pretending to care about you.
In the weeks leading up to Earth Day when I was in 6th grade, a group of students and teachers created tee shirts that said, “It’s cool to care.” Caring, in the parlance of the worldly middle-school students, is not cool. Fortunately for most of us, we’ve moved past the voice-cracking puberty-laden world to the adult world where caring about anything substantive is again socially acceptable.
Don’t get stuck in the middle school industrial age where caring is shunned; stick your neck out like a grandmother for your team and create a culture where the team knows they are cared for.