Who wants a manager that has no interest in people?

Years ago, a magazine featured an interview with a CEO of a medium sized company. Most of the interview was about the standard questions about his leadership style. He gave the usual answers, such as “I’m a people manager”, and “It’s important to walk the talk”. Then the interviewer asked how his job affected his family life. The CEO admitted he didn’t see his wife and kids much. His wife mainly raised the kids, he mainly worked.

So far, so good. People are allowed to make their own choices, and when they’re both happy with it, I’m not judging.

But then he was quoted saying: “It’s better that way for everyone. I’m just not cut out for boring, repetitive, routine tasks; like bringing the kids to school every day.”

Luckily for him, this happened before social media ruled the public opinion. The toll was just a bunch of letters by readers in the next three issues of the magazine. No harsh jokes going viral on YouTube, no thrashing flooding Facebook. Just three weeks of ironic or angry readers. Some felt sorry for his wife, whom he apparently considered excellently suited for repetitive tasks. Some for his kids, who were thought to be better off without him. And some for the CEO himself, for missing out on his kids.

I was mostly feeling sorry for his employees. A manager who can’t see the importance of spending time with his own kids? Who doesn’t see a ride to school as an opportunity to enjoy precious moments, like sharing jokes, listening to what’s bothering the kids, which friends said what in class, or insights in how they really feel about going to school?

Some might ask, so what? There are plenty of people who don’t bring their kids to school because they can’t. Their work schedule, or location, doesn’t allow for it. Does it matter whether he just admits he doesn’t like to do it?

It does. A manager who doesn’t see the value of small moments of interaction with his own kids, isn’t interested in people at all. He’s not interested in small talk. Not interested in your private life. Nor your work life. He’s not interested in what you would like to do with your life, what projects you like to work on, or whom you like to work with. If he does ask questions, he just does it because he knows he should. Because he wants to be able to say “I’m a people manager.”

Someone who will label spending some time with others as “boring, repetitive routine tasks”, is not interested in people at all. And who wants a manager who has no interest whatsoever in his employees?

Being able to give clear feedback makes you a better manager

A manager had someone in one of his teams with performance issues. This employee was leading a crucial project, but wasn’t communicating nor cooperating well with others. Not within his department, and certainly not with people from other departments. This employee reported to a junior teamleader, who hadn’t been successful in improving performance.

When other senior managers grew concerned about the delivery of the project, the manager realized he had to take action. He felt he couldn’t let his junior teamleader solve the problem, and decided to get more involved himself. He informed HR that he was going to have a serious talk with this employee. He was going to state it as a last chance, where he would personally monitor the performance of the employee. He was sure it would be an important signal, to show the seriousness of the situation.

A few days after this talk, the employee walked into the HR department. He seemed inches taller, with head held high, and puffed up chest. He demanded HR to increase his grade (and salary). Baffled, the HR advisor asked why. Well, he was now reporting directly to a more senior manager, wasn’t he? He moved up in the organization, which was long due of course, because he managed such a crucial project. The only issue remaining was to finally get him to be rewarded accordingly.

Obviously, the manager had not gotten his message across. If the employee had been aware he was given a last chance, he probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to demand a raise.

Communication, especially about performance issues, is often watered down too much. We shouldn’t be blunt to people of course, but we need to be honest. People have the right to know how they perform. How they can become better at their job. And certainly how they can avoid being fired.

There are many good courses and books on how to improve your feedback skills. But many people feel they don’t need it. They hate training sessions where they have to role-play. They feel awkward having to try in front of their colleagues. Or they just feel they are capable enough. But giving good and effective feedback is difficult. Especially when addressing performance issues. It is much easier to water down the message, and remain the nice boss, or the easy going colleague. It really is a skill to address someone’s behavior.

Giving good feedback is one of the most important things to master as a manager. You can’t get your team to perform well without letting them truly know how they perform. So if you want to perform as a manager, you have to get your people to perform by letting them know what they do well and where they need to improve. Next time, ask yourself: are you sure your message came across as intended? You can’t afford not to give the feedback. Otherwise the work, the team, and you will suffer.