This morning, we shared an item published on Guardian Careers in a feature called ‘What I wish I could tell my boss’. The piece was entitled ‘before you became my manager, I loved my job’ and it tells the story of someone who went from having a ‘nurturing, efficient and kind’ boss to one that was much more controlling and disempowering. It raises some important points, the key one being – are you making your people miserable?
A few years ago, a speaker at the Wales public service summer school, asked a room packed full of leaders and managers from the public and voluntary sector to consider how they treat their teams and how people perceive you as a result.
The speaker took us through an exercise where she invited us to close our eyes and imagine… it’s your last day of work ever. You have reached retirement and the office has thrown a farewell party for you. In the room are people from your teams throughout your career and they have brought their families along with them.
Look at the faces around you. How do they look? Are they warm and happy because you’ve been supportive and helped them to achieve throughout their working lives so they went home every night feeling satisfied and fulfilled? Or do they look tired and miserable? Even angry? Because you have made their lives difficult and caused them to go home stressed, fed-up and tired of an endless struggle to get things done to your satisfaction.
If you want to reach that day and have a room full of people ready to celebrate with you and wanting to shake your hand, ask yourself these questions below and see if there are any improvements you can make.
1) Are you encouraging people to speak up and taking on board their views? I am shocked sometimes by the team meetings I attend where people won’t speak up. Often this is because Managers don’t want to be questioned on their decisions they just want people to do as they are told. In the worst case scenario, Managers will actually put people down in front of the group which is a sure fire way to shut people up permanently. However, it won’t get you a team of engaged employees who are willing to tell you if they see an issue on the horizon and you will miss out on all those great ideas they really want to take forward.
2) Are you wasting their time or failing to not treating them with basic courtesy? It seems that sometimes, managers forget that these people are adults and professionals in their own right with busy lives and schedules. If you are making them wait for a meeting that you could never make anyway or forcing them to wait outside your office like school children, perhaps you need to rethink your approach.
3) Are you micro-managing? We all hate it when we are asked to do something and not allowed to get on with it. If you find that you are struggling to let go of a task once delegated and wanting to control every last detail, think about whether the things you want are really worth demoralising someone else for. And if they are that important, how can you make sure you set those things out at the beginning so you can step back, confident that the final product will be to your liking.
4) Do you tear apart their good work? If someone has worked hard to deliver a piece of work that they think is worthwhile, is there a benefit to pulling it apart? Giving constructive feedback is useful and I’m sure they want to know how they can improve but keep it in perspective and keep criticism to yourself. Be specific about any improvements you would like to see rather than making sweeping statements about what you don’t like. Also consider whether it’s wrong because you gave poor direction when setting the task. If this is the case, consider giving them a break and giving better instruction next time.
5) Do you give them the opportunity to give feedback on your management style and adapt your approach or do you expect them to adapt to you? In the regular 1-1s I have with my staff, I often ask them if they are happy with the way they are being managed. I’ve realised that it isn’t one style fits all and if I want to get the best out of them, I need to adapt my style to suit their needs. High performance means supporting them to achieve and I can only do that if I understand who they are and what they need from me.
6) Are you asking them to do something you know they struggle with and being critical when they don’t meet your high standards? For a team to succeed, individuals should play to their strengths and be recognised for what they are good at. There isn’t much point in pushing them to be good at something if it isn’t their bag and maybe you already have someone in the team who can do it better. By all means encourage them out of their comfort zone and help them to improve but don’t set them up to fail by asking them to do something that is outside of their skillset and then criticising them when they don’t meet your high standards.
7) Are you asking them to do something one week, then forgetting and either asking them to do it differently the next week or worse, asking someone else to do the exact same thing? We all say something and then say something different or change our mind but if you are doing this without realising on a regular basis you might need to think about your organisational skills. It is confusing and frustrating for people if you continually ask for something and then change your mind, not follow up or ask someone else to do it as well. Make sure you know what each of your team is doing so you avoid duplication and keep them engaged. If you can’t remember, they will think that they and the task are not important.
8) Are you failing to recognise their skills or value their expertise? The chances are you have recruited capable and talented people to your team but just take care that you are recognising their contribution and valuing them for it. If you don’t they will be miserable and ultimately ditch you at the earliest opportunity, taking their talents somewhere they will be appreciated.
In the Guardian piece, the author concludes: ‘you taught me that life is far too short to work with people who do not value your knowledge, skills and passion.’ Managers who don’t respect the talent in their teams will lose them, either because they find something better and leave or because they switch off in their head and in their heart. If you want to nurture a team of people that work hard, do well and stay with you, ask yourself these questions on a regular basis and make sure you are doing your job in the right way.
What do you think? Have you experienced any of these things from either side? Or do you have other questions you think we should add to this list? Add your thoughts in the comments below and let’s continue the discussion.