I’ve been involved in some great management conversations lately that have me thinking about two sort of related, but not entirely related ideas: the management double standard and the idea of a halo. Allow me to explain:
Management Double Standard:
In discussion, someone made the observation/point that an employee asking a supervisor/manager certain types of questions (for example: “Why are you working this shift? What are you doing? Why did you talk to that person? etc) can seem over the line and bordering on being a “busy body.” I think the point is valid, but I also think that as management you can’t really fight or win that battle 99% of the time.
Rands in Repose sums it up best: “”Leadership is not just about effectively getting stuff done, but demonstrating through your composure that you aren’t rattled by the freakish.” I’m gonna tweak/interpret it slightly differently: as a manager I accept that my staff are human. They make mistakes, they have faults, personality quirks, intepret things differently that I do, see things that I don’t see, are fallible. Simple, right? This applies to all human beings. We all have our “things.” Except when you’re in a management position it suddenly seems like you’re not a human being anymore. Whether you like it or not, you’re now in a position of authority and are seen as such. There is very much an expectation that you will have the answers, solve the problems, make the decisions, do it right the first time and not make any mistakes in the process. You also may not be able to have feelings about certain issues or events, and whether you do or don’t those feelings will most likely not be taken into consideration when you’re interacting with others.
Okay, so that sounds kinda awful and bleak and terrible. It’s not always like that. It really and truly is not. But, there are some days, some issues, some events that make you feel like that is terribly true. The bottom line is a good manager will remember that her staff are human beings who have faults and foibles and quirks. And that these characteristics influence behavior and performance and while performance expectations must be met, behavior is something that we can’t control or regulate. So we accept. With that acceptance must also come the acceptance that we (management) may not be given the same treatment or pass and that is okay because whether we like it or not, it comes with the job.
In previous POW I’ve heard the term “halo” tossed around a lot when describing someone’s work or performance or general attitude. As in, “they still have their halo.” The gross implication is: this person has not screwed up royally yet to lose their halo. I kinda call bullshit on the concept. I know I’ve made epic mistakes, screwed up, handled things the wrong way, and made the wrong decisions in my work, but I’ve yet to feel like “I’ve screwed up royally” to the point that my boss and/or my boss’s boss think I suck.
Here’s my take on the “halo” phenomena:
Everyone has one. You start out with it. You wear it. You break it in. It gets tarnished or bent from time to time, but it can be polished off and fixed. How? You own your mistakes. You get things done. You fix problems. You’re a team player. You’re a positive influence. Etc, etc, etc.
What you don’t do is make poor decisions. I’m not talking about making the wrong decisions. We all make wrong decisions. I’m talking about poor decisions. There is a slight difference. The wrong decisions kinda just happen. You get misinformation. You interpret a situation incorrectly. You just make a decision and it turns out to be wrong. Poor decisions seem to either happen with a lot of thought or absolutely no thought behind them. These are not the types of decisions that you make in the daily course of your work. These are those decisions that you make that can affect you and your reputation in your POW immediately or over time. Decisions like talking about certain aspects of your personal life with co-workers. There is a big difference between talking about your kid’s soccer game versus how drunk you got at the bar last night. Think about it. Which one would you prefer to be spread like wildfire throughout your POW? The soccer game has no gossip potential.
I’m not saying that sharing yourself with colleagues is a poor decision. What you choose to share may absolutely be. Here’s the rub: perception matters. Perception is what your colleagues/staff/administration often have to go on. You’re not going to lose your halo because you made the wrong decision. You may very well lose it because you made a poor one.
I am often asked what’s the hardest part of being a manager and my response is always, “having to have ‘the talks.'” I’m referring to those difficult conversations that no one likes having, but are necessary in order to improve performance, service, morale, attitude or any other host of issues that need to be brought to someone’s attention. It is a lousy thing to have to give someone negative feedback, but with practice and time it gets easier.
The problem is though, as managers we are entrusted with the contents of these discussions. We are expected to not speak about the details with other people who are not directly involved. We are expected to maintain our staff’s privacy. In my opinion it is one of the basic tenets of good management and professionalism. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work both ways.
We have all worked in places and/or with colleagues who talk about everything. They spread their own business and sometimes the business of others around. This is their choice and if they want people to know what is happening, then it is on them. The problem that arises is the very same one that happens in schoolyards everywhere: the story never stays the same and becomes something very different and sometimes much worse than what it actually was.
Managers do not have the luxury of stepping in and correcting inaccurate details when they overhear them. We can not make announcements “setting the record straight.” We can not and should not participate in conversations about discussion we’ve had with our staff. Consequently, a lot of misinformation gets passed along as fact. We may seem like we are ignoring problems. We may be described as “disinterested.” But that is far from the truth. Actually we are treating you professionally and maintaining your privacy.
If you’re like me, someone who has a difficult time allowing misrepresentations of what I’ve said persist in my non-work life, knowing that this may be happening and recognizing that you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult pills to swallow. But you do because it is the right thing to do and because you recognize how destructive this can be and you don’t want to add to the problem.
Good managers maintain professionalism even when it’s the last thing they want to do. Ideally this would work both ways, but in reality it doesn’t. Good managers keep working to get to that ideal place.