Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Managers Show Empathy and Firmness.

"Understand that most problems are a good sign. Problems indicate that progress is being made, wheels are turning, you are moving toward your goals. Beware when you have no problems. Then you've really got a problem...Problems are like landmarks of progress." ~Scott Alexander

Dealing with staff is one of the most difficult things a manager must do. A great manager must have both empathy and firmness. One without the other just will not cut it.

We've been helping a hard-working office manager who had tremendous empathy — so much in fact, that she always tried to find homes for stray animals that wandered into her yard.

Many of this manager's staff continually came in late — always for a good reason, she thought. The staff took her overabundant empathy as weakness and never accepted any of her rulings. They would always come back with an excuse, which she would always buy.

We discovered that her lack of firmness was caused by doubts she had about her ability to lead. As we helped her build her confidence, she became much more comfortable being firm. Amazingly, the staff really seemed to like her transformation as well. They preferred her firmness, since now they knew exactly what was expected of them.

Another manager brought his military background with him to the office, managing his staff like a sergeant in the Army. There was never an exception to the rules, and he had a serious lack of empathy. In fact, he thought empathy was a weakness, and it was a trait he despised in his fellow managers.

If an employee was one minute late, they got a severe tongue lashing in front of the entire staff. Employees hated him, and those who stayed only did so because they needed the job.

In the military, a soldier must follow commands no matter what the situation; but in civilian life, it is not like that. We had to get this manager to see that there is more than one way to manage, and his way was not working.

To show him how his behavior was affecting his staff, we had him listen to interviews with several of them. We had him shadow other managers so he could see how smoothly their departments operated with just a bit of empathy and flexibility.

This very strict manager had to be reacquainted with a feeling that had been forced out of him in the military. We developed several role-play scenarios where he had to show empathy and we evaluated how he did. Through this process he learned what empathy really meant and felt like. His staff could see the subtle changes in him, and their behavior improved, too.

Now go out and make sure that you manage with a balance of both firmness and empathy.

You can do this!

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