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The Hardest Thing I Had to Learn as a Manager

February 25, 2019

Whether you’re managing one employee or 15, working with a diverse group of employees comes with its own set of lessons.

 

When I first started out working in a supervisory role, I was very strict. I decided that, as a manager, it was my duty to enforce a certain stereotype I saw played out in the annals of workplaces everywhere: demand respect, get respect. Except, that’s not what it was.

 

I learned quickly that it was fear-based, but I didn’t know what else to do. So, I decided to carry on this “air of authority” until I finally ran into a person who was nice, sweet, and kind. He had been a manager at several places before, doing customer service management and dealing with some of the rudest clientele. I sat him down and asked him how he maintained his status.

 

Treating Employees Like Family
 

He told about how his employees loved working with him so much that they would give him things like little gifts. They would celebrate his birthday and even go out to lunch with him. And they told him that he was very good at being understanding.

 

He then continued, telling me a story about how an employee was viewed as “bad,” but after sitting down and talking to them, he found out their whole story. This employee later ended up working for him in another capacity, telling me the story from their perspective, so I put two and two together.

 

What was his secret?  He treated them like human beings. Like family.

 

He never saw an employee as strictly “good” or “bad.” He knew many of them had good intentions, and they never meant to skirt by or simply do the least to get the most. He always knew right away those who were working to get by and not contribute versus those who were genuinely interested in helping people. And he would ask them to demonstrate that desire via a short tale of something they did to help someone else.

 

The stories, he said, were key. They didn’t have to be about technology (the industry I was in) or even directly related to some of the aspects of the job. They just had to be real.

 

When my boss fell ill, I took those lessons with me to fill in for him during my very first solo interview sessions. Each stage and iteration allowed me to flow into a more perfect way of doing that work.

 

And when I had to supervise 20-30 people on my own, he gave me the freedom to do so. He said that he didn’t expect my management style to be like his, but he could see that I modeled a great deal of it after him. And I could see the results in the employees I hired, interviewed, and coached to do amazing things after leaving.

 

Learning to Manage

 

That boss passed away not too long ago. Due to a variety of reasons, I was unable to visit him for many years, but I did always carry the toolbox he gave me for taking care of employees, knowing where to draw the line, and learning what not to do to make situations work on both ends. I’ll share some of his tips with you:​

 

  1. Never Micromanage
    I’ve heard managers complain incessantly that they don’t have time to do their own jobs because they’re watching their employees do theirs. I’ve learned that if that is the case, then either you hired the wrong employee or you don’t know how to effectively manage, thus leading to the former. Treating employees with compassion and humility has shown to be more effective than watching their every move. Think of how you’d feel if someone needled everything you did, mistrusting you and judging you as guilty before innocent.

     

  2. Talk. A Lot
    Most employees never hear from their managers until there’s a review time. If this is the only conversation you have with your employee as a manager, then you’re managing ineffectively. Just like we don’t watch a whole movie in 1 minute, you can’t figure out everything you need to know about an employee in one quarterly 15-minute session.

    You should be able to check in just to see how they’re doing, ask if they’re celebrating a special occasion, or even just have a quick lunch to talk about a few things you’ve been rolling around in your mind. I know I feel more valued when someone superior to me asks me for honest feedback about their ideas. It not only gives me a glimmer of things to come, but it also tells me where the company is headed and how I can personally contribute.

    Remember, you spend most of your waking day at the company. It’s only natural to have more organic, frequent conversations with the people you work with, no matter their title.

     

  3. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate
    Forty hours per week is not a lot of time to get some things done. As a manager, you not only have to report findings back to upper management, but you also need to tend to your staff. Many days, that leaves you with a few smatterings of late-night hours where you have to sit and choose what needs to get done first and what can be put on the back burner.

    Early on, my boss taught me that I needed to delegate and be hands-off during the creation process. I learned that I needed to explain the duty, then ask if there are any questions, then leave room open for the person to come back and explain any snafus they ran into (which also promotes feedback-seeking behavior).

     

  4. Show Your Gratitude
    After you delegate, the most important thing you can do is THANK THEM for all the work they’ve done and for taking on the task. I told them I’d also make sure to add this to their performance evaluation, as sometimes these favors get lost in the vault of emails I often received throughout the day.

    Because our budget was small, sometimes my thanks had to be a bit creative. I noticed that many were looking for recommendations or commendations on their work for future job prospects. I was more than happy to do so and let them stash it away for whenever they were ready to take a leap up or out. Other gifts were according to their likes: trinkets of their favorite characters or shows, certificates of appreciation, or extra break time as we could allow. It’s important to make them applicable to the people involved, or else it doesn’t feel personal or appreciated.

 

Managing Diverse Employees With L. M. Lewis Consulting
 

So, what does all this have to do with diversity?

 

Treating employees differently, according to their own work style, is tantamount to success in the workplace. Understanding that, however, involves expanding one’s own view of the world to somewhere outside of their normal neighborhoods and social circles. A lot of this work involves delving into any biases learned throughout life. And unless a person or group works exclusively on this as much as any tangible job task, then their results won’t keep up with the pace of the growing economy.


If you’re interested in learning more about how to change your management style to work with diverse employees, remember, you don't have to do it alone. Schedule a coffee with us to get started. 

 

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