An even more essential question to ask is, what does an ideal manager-employee relationship look like? How is it different from a friendship?
The “boss-employee” relationship is relatively new. For most of human history, we accomplished our great collaborative feats through terrible brutality — forced labor.
During the Industrial Revolution, we replaced brutality with bureaucracy; a giant step in the right direction, but hardly inspiring. In today’s economy, companies like Google have shown there’s a more productive, more human way to work than command and control.
And at the center of a manager’s ability to fulfill their core responsibilities is a good relationship.
The relationship a manager has with an employee is definitely not a friendship, which may be described as a two-way street. As such, being a manager often feels like a lonely, one-way, pay-it-forward street.
While it’s not a friendship, you need to care personally about your employee. This doesn’t mean you need to go out to drinks with them every night (or know the exact date of their Golden Retriever’s birthday).
It does mean you need to give a damn about them, and understand what’s important to them (hiking with their Golden Retriever).
An important part of your job as a manager is to provide your employee with frequent guidance — as well as with the necessary challenges and opportunities to support their ongoing growth.
Caring personally means it’s your job to listen to people’s stories, to get to know them well enough to understand what motivates them, to encourage them to take a step in the direction of their dreams, and to help them do the best work of their lives.
Caring personally means you are willing to find time for real conversations.
This takes a lot of emotional energy. It requires a commitment to your team member’s ongoing success and a desire to help them grow in the way they want to grow in their careers.
If you don’t genuinely care about the people who work for you, you’re going to struggle with this.
If you’ve ever had a great boss, you know it’s also one of the most deeply personal and meaningful relationships life can offer.
The manager-employee relationship is not a friendship. But it is a deeply human relationship, and when it works, it unlocks human potential.