I have a brother. We act like brothers. We argue and fight with each other fairly often. We get along in our own way. One thing we do *not* tolerate is anyone else picking on us. We’ve been known to have a disagreement, but when someone comes up and starts something, we will put aside our disagreement and band together to fight against whoever thought it was a good idea to mess with either one of us. That’s what brothers do. Right or wrong, you back your brother.
The Work Family
Managers aren’t all that different from family. We spend a lot of our lives working in proximity with managers. The middle of the road types are like family members we tolerate. Those that aren’t so good tend to be like family members we don’t really get along with at all. There are some that end up being just like a close family member, like a brother or sister. It doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t still managerial. What makes it key is what happens when someone comes down on you.
My last manager was a great person. He was calm and thoughtful. He saw every side of a problem and did what was right. Those qualities make him great to work for. But to transcend above that, you have to do something to set yourself apart. For me, it was the way he corrected behavior.
He tended to give what I like to call “Do Better” talks. He never yelled. He never got upset. In fact, all he usually said was, “I’m disappointed.” For guys like me, disappointment is ten times worse than getting yelled at. After chats like that, we agreed to not do whatever it was again and move on. That’s the essence of a Do Better talk. No blame, just do better next time.
Backing Your Family
Where he shined was what happened when the other managers came hunting for heads. You’ve seen this all the time. Someone screws up and the issue is dealt with. However, some higher manager feels the need to exert control do they find the person responsible for the issue and give them a dressing down for it. That doesn’t really serve to correct the behavior. It’s more about dominance.
Weak willed middle managers will sit back and let the higher manager have their way with employees. That doesn’t foster a supportive atmosphere. If you’re never sure who is going to come head hunting, it doesn’t make you want to admit failure. Which means the issues never get corrected, just covered up.
My old manager was different. Whenever I screwed up and someone at the top of the food chain came looking for me I never had to worry. The same man that would call me on the carpet for making mistakes would turn right around and defend me to those that came looking to chew me out again. In his eyes, he’d dealt with the problem. Picking on me served no purpose. Just like my brother, he’d take up arms with me to defend our “family” against others. It didn’t take long for everyone to learn that my manager dealt with things his way. And there was no point to trying to deal with his employees against him.
Managers that are willing to defend you right after chewing you out are a special breed. Those are the kind of folks that employees will walk across broken glass to work for. It’s not for everyone, though. Standing up to the heat to defend someone that did something wrong is never easy. Especially if the higher manager is upset and emotional. The key is to trust in your instincts as a manager and believe that dealing with the situation your way is the right way. Having someone come in and undermine you management skills makes you look ineffective. It’s better to weather the storm of yelling from one person than to lose the respect of everyone in your department.
Treating your employees like family doesn’t mean you can’t be their manager. You can still be in charge and have a good relationship with them. You can win their respect time and time again by backing them even after you’d had to correct them. When they see you standing up for them against all comers, they’ll have someone they can believe in. And they’ll be as close to you as any family member.
If you’d like to see more thoughts about management and some great career advice, be sure to check out The Tech Interview. It’s a great site with great articles and run by awesome people. Take it to heart and you’ll go far in this world.