“You can impress people from a distance, but you can impact them only up close.” – Howard Hendricks, notable author and a seminary professor who trained thousands of pastors.
I reflect on things I’ve learned from my grandfathers, my dad, my mother, multiple mentors over the years, peers and even “enemies” and competitors – the majority were not through formal teaching or words but inferred by example. I don’t even have words, for example, to describe how my grandfather would swell in height and presence when he had to face off in a tense situation, or how quickly he would soften when my grandmother would ask him for help.
Paraphrasing ancient wisdom, “Always lead by example, and use words when necessary.”
Proximity and closeness matter. Face time matters. Asking questions about non-work things important to your team members matters. Your ability to significantly influence without positional authority (Do this, or I fire you) relies on credibility and character and presence.
But this is the struggle: being a person’s supervisor is a power position. You have significant influence on their pay, their position, their roles and opportunities going forward. You represent the company in matters of policy. You assess their performance in terms of bonuses and awards and promotions. You may have to fire them someday. All this requires a particular kind of distance.
How does one have proximity but be very clear about the distance between being a manager vs. a peer? Can you be friends with your direct reports? What level of sharing is appropriate? What information must you keep from them?
Your organization simply won’t get the best performance from your team if you’re cold, aloof, unfriendly, and rely solely on positional power. There is power in your position but it’s the last tool a good manager pulls from her toolbox.
Managers who forget their positional role will also eventually run into horribly difficult situations when organizational success requires tough decisions. You need enough distance from your team members that you can accomplish the mission.
My observation: some people are so terrified of the work involved with the both-and that they never even try to know people at a human level. If Mark Horstman is correct and good management is fundamentally about love for people and organizations accomplishing their best, then we must step into the human dimension of the working relationship.
You must also respect your natural styles. Some of us are naturally engaging and social and warm, and others are naturally more reserved. Some of us are good at showing our imperfections and struggles, and others are more private. Some people are talkers and conversationalists and story-sharers, and others focus more on specific tasks and topics. Working against your style is exhausting and is likely to come across as fakery.
In short, there is no formula or equation. Managing others is a people business, and people are inherently complex.
My counsel to handle the both-and struggle of managing a team:
- Work within your style but push to connect personally with people on issues which matter to them. Pay attention to family news, personal hobbies, and events.
- Develop a bias for frequent communication about business and industry issues, with caution about personnel issues.
- Be willing to openly show people your imperfections, struggles, things that irritate you, and ideas about a better future. These are keys to people understanding you and appreciating you.
- Every working day, and every 1:1 opportunity, take a step back to professionally, dispassionately assess performance strengths and gaps and potential derailers. It’s not about how you feel, or they feel, but specific observable behaviors. Take action to help people get better, for their sake and the sake of the organization.