I want to start this post off with a quote. This one goes way back to my childhood! You will understand as we make our way through this topic, that you need to find a way to be who you are when managing. This is especially true when dealing with the difficult aspects of being a manager.
To set the stage, let me give you just a bit of background on the Tooter Turtle cartoon. Tooter is always looking for something new. He visits Mr. Wizard to tell him that he has finally figured it out… this time. He shares what he wants to do. Mr. Wizard magically sends Tooter into a different place and/or time so that he can pursue this new idea. The cartoon always follows the same script. Tooter runs into a problem, calling for Mr. Wizard to help him. He is rescued and heads back to Mr. Wizard’s house where he receives the same reminder.
“Be just what you is, not what you is not. Folks what do this is the happiest lot”Mr. Wizard from Tooter Turtle cartoon circa 1960
Why is it Important to “Be Just What You Is”
As a manager, you need to lead others. To do this effectively, they must believe in the mission, vision, and challenges in front of them. They have to buy your story. They need to believe you.
Some people think this means you have to be a cheerleader. You have to get up, turn on the energy and charm, and convince your team on what you need them to do. This can work iff (if and only if) that is your normal style. If it is not, they will see right through it and will not be on board. They might say they are… but their hearts will not be in it.
Instead, what you need to do is communicate in your own way. If you are deeply analytical, use this approach. If you are an introvert and prefer 1:1 conversations, do that.
“Just Be What You Is” simply means to be who you are!
The best way to help you think through being who you are is to use examples.
Managers must give regular feedback. For some, this is easy. For others, this is the worst part of the job. They might be ok giving positive feedback, but they avoid giving negative or constructive feedback.
I believe this is because they have not found a way to give feedback in their style. They have watched videos or read books about providing immediate and direct feedback. Rather than helping, these often create anxiety.
The approach is great for some people. But not for many others – especially introverts. Many managers need a bit of time to internalize what has just happened and think through how to best respond to it. I happen to be one of these people.
I prefer to think about it. Make sure that I am clear in my own mind whether it is a one-off event or something that regularly happens. I think about the impact it has on others. I think about the options that the person could have taken. And then I find time to give feedback.
I also don’t like to make the conversation only about giving feedback – unless there is a major problem. I prefer to weave it into a conversation about good things that are happening and things that need to be done differently.
I always ask how the person is feeling about the situation, and offer my help and support.
This too may not be your way. My point is that you need to find a way to be who you are.
Communicating Significant Information
Another great example of where you can be who you are is when communicating something significant to your team. Two examples of this are the cancellation of a project or product and executing a layoff.
I am not a fan of simply sharing the company line in situations like this.
My approach has always been to spend time with my team continually helping them to understand what the company is trying to do, and how our part fits into that.
So when there is a big change, I go back to this. I provide context before talking about a specific situation that needs to be communicated.
Using the cancellation of a project as an example, this is based on real-life experience. I will put the project in the context of everything else that needs to be done for the company to be successful. I will talk about the difficult trade-offs that need to be made. And I will talk about the reasons that the project was canceled. If I am not actually sure of the reasons, I will surmise based on my broader knowledge. I will not always say that I completely agree, but I will say that I trust in our leadership and know that they have information that I do not have. Therefore I support their decision.
I always open it up for questions and comments. And I spend as much time as is needed for the discussion that results.
I know others who do not take this same approach. Some managers do not like to share significant information in a group setting. That is because they are not comfortable with the questions and comments that they might get. They are definitely not comfortable with the possibility that the concern or frustration that their team has will escalate.
In that case, they may decide to share the information 1:1. They may present it slightly differently to each person in order to best address the concerns that they know will exist. I think that is a perfectly good approach.
The important thing is to be truthful, genuine, and supportive of the company. Be who you are. Your team will notice.
Dealing with Conflict
Conflict at work exists. There is no getting around it. I believe there is a clear difference between positive and negative conflict. I often look for ways to create positive conflicts, such as that which exists between a product manager and engineering. But I will save that topic for another blog post.
For the purpose of being who you are, I am talking about negative conflict. The kind that creates unnecessary frustration and if left unresolved can grow to impact the effectiveness of a team. As a result, you as a manager must deal with conflict. You must resolve it to a level that the team, as well as each member, can be successful.
Addressing conflict is either the hardest or second only to giving negative feedback. That is because it is not fun. It can appear not to be nice, and most importantly, it is because we are not comfortable doing it.
I don’t want to make this sound easier than it is. Dealing with conflict is rarely fun. As a result, it is something that managers really do not want to do.
I believe there are two critical aspects to dealing with conflict. The first is a mindset. You need to have the perspective that negative conflict will not be tolerated. This is the workplace. Your team is being paid to do a job. A part of the expectations of the job must be that they can disagree, but they need to do it in a civil and productive way.
The second is that you need to find your way to deal with negative conflict. It is not ok to let it go. But it is ok to deal with it differently than others do.
Great, so what does that mean? Here are a couple of examples.
Some managers will address it in public, in a meeting. When there is conflict, they will call it out and work to address it on the spot. They will use the tension that this causes to get the issues out on the table. They will not let go of the topic until they think that it is resolved.
Some managers cringe at the idea of dealing with it in person. They will instead ask the two people who are having the conflict to meet them in their office either directly or shortly after the meeting. They prefer to do it in private.
And other managers will move even further from the direct confrontation and have separate meetings with each person involved.
I tend to use all three approaches depending on the situation, the type of problem, the urgency in getting it resolved, and at times the message that I want to send to the rest of the team. It might be the result of my being a fan of Situational Leadership. All I know is that it works for me.
The bottom line is the same. Find an approach that addresses the conflict, while allowing you to be who you are.
Letting Someone Go
The last example is letting someone go. This can be a part of a Reduction in Force (RIF), due to performance issues, or other reasons. For me, it doesn’t matter. Letting someone go is hard. It feels personal. You are deciding on their future – for them. And often not the future that they had planned.
There are a variety of ways that managers get through this. Some follow a script. They are all about the facts. They operationalize the action, and it works for them.
Others are much more personal. They recognize the personal impact that the action might have, and they focus on this.
Other than making sure that you communicate what is required by the company and the law, and that you do this in a way that ensures the company is protected, the approach that you take needs to be your own.
The way I have always done this is to make sure that the person can hold their head up when they leave. If the action is a RIF, I want the person to leave believing that their job was eliminated. It was not about them. They can let their family and friends know that it was out of their control.
If it was based on performance, I do my best to have worked with them ahead of time to help them to understand where their strengths and weaknesses are. Then when I communicate the action that is being taken, I can again focus on what they do well and in some way help them to think about how they can leverage these strengths to find their next job. I am honestly not sure that any of this comes through when they are being let go. At that point, they have a complex set of emotions they are dealing with. But I do believe that the work ahead of time will be remembered.
Bringing us back to the topic. When you are having to let someone go, regardless of the cause, you need to find a way to be who you are.
I have described, throughout this post, that the best way to manage is to be yourself. Be who you are. Find the approach that fits your personality. You still need to do what is expected of a manager, but do it your way.
By doing this, you will grow more and more comfortable in dealing with the biggest areas of challenge for managers. These include:
- Delivering Feedback
- Communicating Significant Information
- Dealing with Conflict
- Letting Someone Go
Some managers deal with these situations out in the open and in a very direct way. Others prefer dealing with them in private and 1:1. Neither of these approaches is better than the other. It completely depends on the person and situation.
One last thing to add. If your approach is to deal with most situations in private, it is important that your team know this. If they think that you are afraid to address conflict, deliver a hard message, or share bad news, they will lose confidence and respect.
The bottom line across the board is that you need to do your job in your own way. You need to be who you are!