I Am Your Leader; I’m Not Your Therapist

A manager, trying to find out why a good employee began coming in late, said, “You haven’t been yourself lately.  Is something wrong?”

“I’m having some personal problems.  It’s hard to keep my mind on work.”

“What’s going on?”

“My wife and I have not been getting along.”

“When I went through my divorce it was hell. Maybe you need to slow down on your drinking.”

“My spouse has gone on a spending spree. We are having financial problems.”

The conversation continued for another thirty minutes without a resolution.  The manager later explained that he was trying to find the root cause of the employee’s problem.

I think most managers’ fail when striving to find reasons why employees miss work or behave inappropriately.  Managers may even worsen the situation by giving bad advice or enabling dysfunctional behaviors.

Consider two ways to help employees get through a personal wreck.  One, show your concern by honestly laying out the consequences of their behaviors.  Two, encourage employees to visit your Employee Assistance Program where they can receive professional help.

No matter how well meaning, most managers make poor therapists.

Do You Create a Jekyll and Hyde Issue at Work?

Lucius said, “My new manager is very friendly.  He’s always asking about my kids and he likes to talk golf.  I thought we had a good relationship.”

Lucius continued, “Yesterday, the boss got upset because he thought I had not done enough to help to a younger employee.  I tried to help the new guy but he ignored my advice.”

To Lucius, the manager was unpredictable because he seemed to turn from “nice guy friend” to “jerk boss.”  Author Bruce Tulgan calls this the “Jekyll and Hyde” problem.

The Jekyll and Hyde issue emerges when managers build relationships based on sharing personal matters at work.  Eventually, a manager will need to have an awkward conversation about a work problem.  Employees are surprised because they see the relationship flipping from boss-friend to corrective-parent.

Managers, Tulgan believes, should save most of their personal talk for after work, social events and other encounters.  At work, the boss’s role is to keep people laser-focused on quality, deadlines, customers, safety.  This requires constant work talk.

Effective leaders strive to create trust and rapport with employees by mature discussions about what is going well and what needs improving.  For most, there would not even be a relationship were no for the work.


In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data

(Quote from the late W. Edwards Deming)

“I know that is your opinion,” stated a manager, “but where are your data?”

“I don’t trust the data,” responded the specialist.  “I rely on my gut-feelings.”

In the era of big data, analytics and algorithms, how important are your instincts?  Back in the day, Ford Motor Company’s Edsel model was probably the most researched automobile of the time.  Still, the product was a colossal failure.  You might say big data failed.

A recent Fortune Knowledge Group study reveals that six in ten executives rely on gut feel and soft factors when making big decisions.

Recently, Google quickly and accurately predicted the spread of flu by tracking people’s online searches.  Soon, Amazon will send you products before you order them because they will be able to predict what you want.

Do you want your doctor to rely on years of schooling and experience?  Or, would you prefer a computer-generated diagnosis based on a hundred million cases?

Of course, effective decision makers will continue to use both data and instinct.  But I suggest that decisions improve as we rely more on data and less on gut-feel.

I’m reminded of the Dilbert comic strip quote, “Where do you stick your head when you listen to your gut?”

There is a Yin and a Yang to Most Decisions

“I think absenteeism is getting to be a problem in our division,” a divisional manager explained.

A supervisor responded, “I’ve probably been a little lax enforcing discipline in my group.  It’s just so hard to hire people in this environment.”

Another supervisor agreed, “I’m sure I’ve allowed some of my people to come in late too often, but I don’t want them to quit.”

Most leadership decisions do not burn cleanly.  They have a “yin” and a “yang.”  The benefit of one option becomes a draw-back to another option and vice versa.

Even after making a decision, a leader may still be unsure as in, “Did I do the right thing?”  Here is a test—not perfect by any means—to help determine if you made a good decision:

  1. Did the decision improve overall team performance?
  2. Did the decision improve team morale?
  3. After implementation, did you feel an inner peace?

Should you get a strong “no” to any of these questions, perhaps you should consider options for fixing the decision.  Often, it is better to make a decision than to postpone it.  If the decision sends performance south, make other adjustments.


Focus Your Message With Props and Anecdotes

Some time ago I was on program with a popular speaker.  As we arrived on stage together, I noticed that he had one of the hotel’s towels in his hand.

“What are you going to do with the towel?” I asked.

“I never make a presentation without a stage prop,” he replied.

During his talk, the presenter raised, lowered, flapped and twirled the towel a half dozen times as he told stories that drove home customer service suggestions.

Pictures are fine.  PowerPoint slides are good so long as they contain only a few bullet points.   By all means avoid numerous slides—for an hour presentation, think five or six, not fifteen or twenty slides.

Slides with detailed information are brutal–enthusiasm killers.  If you want to send participants scampering out the door, read long descriptions on the slides.  If your message requires a lot of detail, put it in a handout.

Reinforce your message with anecdotes, examples, stories, pictures, diagrams, an artist’s rendering; maybe even a stage prop.

When your audience leans forward, interrupts, asks questions and argues a point, relax and enjoy the event.  Participants are engaged.  You are communicating effectively.  You will not need audience surveys to know that you have connected.

Effective Leaders See Their Employees as More than Just a Bunch of Numbers

In an all-hands meeting an excited manager reported,  “Our on-time delivery was 98.9%; we reduced scrape rate by 4%; margins increased 2%; rework rose by 3%; 93% rated us high on customer service; attendance averaged 97.6%; we had no lost-time accidents and no near misses.”

The manager told his story on four-color, animated PowerPoint slides with graphs and emoji’s.  After the presentation, the crowd buzzed with questions and comments.

In a debriefing, a direct report said, “I think the employees appreciated the show.”  Another added, “Yes, there was a lot of energy in the room.  The employees were engaged.”

However, returning to their work stations, an employee commented, “Down here we are nothing but a bunch of numbers.”  Another said, “All management cares about is making their numbers.”

All organizations, large or small, profit or not-for-profit, must deliver the numbers to be successful.

But it takes a set of humans to operate the maize of systems and processes that produce the numbers.   Effective leaders spend time getting to know and respect employees as unique beings with complex needs and dreams.

When leaders care about their employees as persons, they are less likely to see themselves as “just a bunch of numbers.”


Justify Your Decision With One or Two–Not Ten or Twelve–Reasons

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the assignment,” explained a frustrated employee.  “I’ve been here longer than Able.”

The manager responded, “You have but I also considered recent work history, knowledge of the client, current work load, opportunity costs, and familiarity with the new software program.”

“My work history is fine.  You have not allowed me much opportunity to work with this client.”

“Yes, but this client makes extensive use of a new software package and Able is more familiar with the program.”

“I’ve used the program since it has been required.”

“Most of your clients make minimal use of the program.”

“Why do you think Able has more knowledge of the client?  I’ve known the client company longer than Able.”

“You do have more history but not so much with their new purchasing manager.”

And the point-counter-point arguments continued.  The more reasons the manager gave to support his decision, the more frustrated the employee became.

It is generally more persuasive to offer one or two justifications when explaining a decision.  If an employee does not honor justification number one, your list of eight more reasons will not likely persuade.  Usually, more reasons equal more disagreements.