Managers

Managing Through Love
Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives? 
How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?  1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past several months, I’ve been working hard to spread the message that what managers need to successfully navigate this new future of work is compassion. 

Compassion connects an awareness of the struggles and suffering of employees with caring actions to help them through it. It’s a big and important step beyond empathy, and I believe it’s imperative to support the well-being of others (and ourselves). 

Since compassion isn’t something you typically find in the standard deck of management advice, I’ve been getting some fascinating questions from people who are intrigued but slightly uncertain about its application in their organization.  

Recently, after a presentation I made about compassion as a new core competency of management, I received a question from an audience member that cuts to the core of why compassion in management feels uncomfortable for many. It also helps illuminate how we got to a place where so many employees are suffering through work experiences that more often harm their well-being and performance than help it. 

So, I’m going to share the question that was posed to me, along with my response. After you read both, I hope you’ll join the conversation and share your thoughts. 

The Question

While I agree that compassion ought to be front and center these days, and it’s important for managers to know what’s going on in their people’s lives, I guess I’m still struggling with how far that should go and would love to hear more from you about it. 

There are so many factors involved. From the comfort level of the manager and how experienced they are managing, to how comfortable people are sharing personal info with their manager (and all the baggage people tend to have from previous jobs when that didn’t go well), to keeping a level of professionalism and accountability to the work that needs to be done, to managers not overstepping scope to take on what should be another professional’s role (like a therapist). 

So, I’m curious what your thoughts might be on how to think about where to draw the line, or if you would suggest that there shouldn’t be one at all. 

My Response

Your concerns are the same ones that HR has been concerned with for as long as managers have existed. Where’s the line between knowing enough about your people and knowing too much?

In the way I approach this work, I start with the foundation that work is a relationship and that everything that happens at work should be seen through the context of relationship. When you frame your question through that lens, the answer to the question about how much a manager should know or how much an employee should share is…it depends. 

If it’s important to cultivating the relationship with that employee in a way that makes it easier and more fulfilling to do the work effectively, then it’s probably okay even if it goes past the traditional lines we’ve drawn (or what the manager is comfortable with). 

The heart of this issue is teaching people, both managers and employees, better relationship skills—compassion being key among those skills. 

When we teach people how to communicate more clearly, how to articulate expectations and demonstrate accountability, how to listen more actively, how to establish boundaries, how to trust and be vulnerable—then we don’t have to spend so much time worrying about how far is too far. The individuals will sort that out. 

They will disclose as much as is appropriate to make the relationship work in a way that meets both their needs. 

What do you think? How much do managers need to know? 

My argument is that we are due for an overcorrection. The past 100 years of management practice have been designed around what makes life easiest for the manager. As a result, we wrote policies and created norms about keeping the “personal stuff” outside of work boundaries. 

And despite how ridiculous that is in actual practice, we all played along. But then along came a global pandemic, and the charade was up. The fake walls between personal and professional came crashing down, and we realized that humans don’t compartmentalize like that. 

So, the old rules about what’s “work related” and how much a manager should know about an employee’s life outside of work are no longer relevant. It’s time to recalibrate.

If we equip managers and leaders with better relationship skills and give them permission to be compassionate and genuinely care about their employees, they will figure out the right balance.

When we start caring more about employee well-being than we do about managing risk, we’ll finally see the path to unleashing employee potential fully. 

And, if we over-correct a little and care too much, that’s probably not a bad thing. 

Do you agree?

 

Related Reading:

Relationships and Accountability

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

Management Needs an Upgrade: The Cultivation Mindset

 

 

An Unexpected Reminder of the Power in Genuine Appreciation
An Unexpected Reminder of the Power in Genuine Appreciation 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

This week, while staying in Chicago for work, I ventured out to find a nearby sports bar to watch a basketball game and grab some dinner.

In fairness, this wasn’t just any basketball game. I was planning to watch my beloved Duke Blue Devils play. And, I was appropriately dressed in Duke gear to show my allegiance.

The bar I chose based on Yelp reviews was called Theory. When I arrived, I found a spot at the bar in front of a TV with the game and settled in.

My initial impressions of Theory were positive. The bar staff was friendly and helped me choose a good local IPA and a sandwich to enjoy.

At some point early in the game, I heard a voice behind me say, “Thanks so much for coming in to watch the game. Are you a Duke grad?” It was a man a bit younger than me dressed in a gold, Iowa Hawkeye hoodie and a cap whose bill was angled a bit off center. He was the owner.

We chatted for the next few minutes about how I was a life long Duke fan. He shared with me how he went to high school with one of the Duke assistant coaches (and a former player) and how that had made him a fan of the team.

At the end of our conversation, he said “Thank you for your business, I really appreciate that you came in to watch the game tonight.” And he was off.

I watched him work the entire bar over the next couple hours, going out of his way to thank every person who came in for choosing his bar. And the thing that struck me about this was how genuine he seemed to be in his gratitude and appreciation.

He stopped by to check in with me at least two more times while I was there, each time thanking me for being there. And, while I recognize that this may sound excessive as you read it, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like being a guest in the home of someone who is a thoughtful host.

On my way out of the bar, we met one last time and shook hands. He thanked me again for my business and I thanked him for the experience. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt more appreciated leaving a dining experience.

It felt surprisingly good.

I will be back to Theory any time I’m nearby. And I’ll recommend it whenever I have the chance.

As I thought about the experience on my walk back to the hotel, it struck me that this was a lesson in the power of genuine expressions of gratitude and appreciation.

The food at Theory is good. The craft beer selection is also quite good. The bartenders were attentive and friendly. There are a lot of good things about this place. But that could be said about a lot of places.

It was the brief interactions with the owner, a stranger, that set this experience apart from others. A few words and a few minutes of time made the difference between a forgettable meal at a random sports bar and writing a blog post about the experience.

Here’s what I’d invite you to consider.

What if managers and leaders took the same care at work to make every person feel seen, acknowledged, and appreciated?

What if employees left work each day feeling the way I did leaving Theory, as if my presence there actually mattered to someone?

It’s not complicated. A few minutes and a few genuine words of gratitude is all it takes.

I think we can do this.

three questions managers should ask
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

One of the advantages of moving jobs frequently early in your career (like I did) is that you get to experience a lot of different workplaces and management styles.

A few of my first couple of jobs out of college were case studies in bad management.

I had the “I want you to be successful, just not more successful than me” manager.  And, the passive-aggressive manager who tells you one thing and but does another.  I also had the shrinking violet manager who could talk about managing but never actually do any of the real work with the people.

And, the thing I remember about all of them is how it felt to work for them.

Frustrated.

Confused.

Belittled.

Disappointed.

Angry.

Defeated.

Not the type of emotions that create a work experience where you can be your best.

This reminded me of the great Maya Angelou quote.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Managing people is not an easy job.  And, if you think it’s easy, you probably aren’t doing right. Humans are complex creatures with an often confusing mix of needs and emotions. Managing that complexity to create an environment where the best work can happen is challenging.

There’s no shortage of management training programs out there that promise to help you succeed by giving you the right tools and approaches. But, I think most of them are missing a really vital step.

Declaring your intentions as a manager.  Can you answer this question?

  • How do I want the people I manage to feel at and about work?

Too often, the wake we create as managers is unintended.  We say something flippantly in a few seconds that our people will stew about for days. As a manager, we must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others, particularly those who depend on us for leadership.

So, how do you want people to feel?  Safe? Motivated? Happy?  Put a stake in the ground. Make a commitment.

This leads to the next question.

  • What can I do to ensure my people feel this way?

Once you are clear on your intentions, you can start aligning your behavior to that intention. If you want your people to feel safe to make mistakes and to speak up when they disagree with you, it’s on you to take the actions to make it so.  What does that mean for you? How do you have to change your own behavior and decisions? It starts with you.

Pretty straightforward so far, right? Now we get to the complicated part.

Since we are trying to impact how people feel, it can be hard to know if we are succeeding. After all, humans don’t always project their emotions and particularly not at work. So this leads to a third question.

  • How will you know how your people are feeling about work?

The answer is obvious. You ask them. And yet, so few managers do this well and consistently. Creating meaningful conversations with your employees about their experiences at work is the most powerful tool you have as a manager. It is the most direct path you have towards creating an engaging work experience that unlocks great performance.

But, this is the hard work.  You have to ask scary questions of your people like:

  • How are you feeling about work?
  • How would you like to feel about work and what can we do to get you there?
  • What’s not working for you these days?
  • How can I be a better manager for you?

This is the work of management. It is not easy. It will be messy. It will be uncomfortable at times.

But, if you get clear on your intentions, align your actions to that intention, and then be in ongoing conversation with your people to get feedback, you might just create some magic with your team.