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Being A Manager Feels Like A Lonely One-way Street

What’s the Ideal Manager-Employee Relationship?

You may have seen me featured as “The Candid Boss” for The Muse, an online career resource destination. One of the questions I am often asked is, can managers and employees be friends at work?

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.manager employee 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). 

Being a manager feels like a lonely one-way street

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.

manager employee conversations

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.

Learn more about the manager-employee relationship, and check out the rest of my Ask a Candid Boss Q&As.

A Great Start to a Radical Candor Journey

A few weeks ago, we received an amazing email from Samir Sagar, Director at Manubhai Jewellers. He had shared some of our blog posts and videos with his team several weeks prior, and on the day of the email to us, had held a meeting with his five direct reports to ask for feedback.

I told my team that I am at fault for not creating an atmosphere in which they can bring their honest feedback …and that I never intended it to be that way. I asked them to tell me – to my face – whatever they think of my suggestions/ideas/opinions – anything. I would appreciate that.

In this meeting, his team began to open up and give him feedback. Hearing from them and opening this line of communication had a strong impact on Samir.

Honestly, about 6 to 7 hours after that conversation, I am still dazed.

This is going to be a great journey.

My heartfelt thanks to Kim, Russ, and the entire Candor team. The intense feeling that I am feeling right now cannot be expressed in words.

We were inspired by Samir’s email and immediately wanted to hear more of his story. I talked with him and one of his team members to learn how it all came about. Check out both sides of the story!

Samir’s Story

Samir’s company, Manubhai Jewellers, is a family-owned business in Mumbai. Samir joined the company straight out of school at 17 years old. He says, because it was a family-owned business, “No one challenges you. You get the notion that everything you do is right.” This continued for many years, and suddenly about five years ago, something changed. He began to notice the tone in the office and realized that he had mostly been behaving rudely as a manager, that he had been yelling at people. When he realized this, he thought, “This is not correct.” Samir started looking at management books and got a coach. He became more self-aware and started making changes.

Looking back now, Samir describes the changes he made. “I stopped yelling and being angry with people to their face, but I didn’t get better at empathy. I think the last 2 years has been a lot of Manipulative Insincerity.”

Several months ago, Samir thought again, “There’s something wrong.” Around that same time, he came across Radical Candor and started reading the blog, listening to the podcast, and reading the book. He started to try to be more open and get to know his team members a little more, but he wanted to learn all he could about the topic and not rush into things as he had done in the past.

When he was partway through reading Radical Candor, Samir decided to share Kim’s First Round video and some of the blog posts with his team. He said, “Let’s meet after you look at them.”

Starting By Soliciting Criticism

The team got together for this first conversation, the meeting that prompted Samir’s email to Candor, Inc. The meeting started on a different note, but as the topic wrapped up Samir asked if the team had watched the video. They had.

He said, “I’m sorry for creating an environment that is kind of authoritarian.” He acknowledged where he knew he had made mistakes and talked about his journey over the last couple of years. He told the team that he wants to do better, to create a culture of Radical Candor and give people the chance to tell him when he’s wrong.

After opening up about his mistakes and reassuring the team that he really wanted to hear their thoughts, Samir invited them to bring their views to the table. They were a bit hesitant at first, but they eventually opened up. “Since we are being Radically Candid,” they started, and so began a 30-40 minute open discussion with the team. They told him what bothered them, what made it harder for them to do their jobs, and where they thought things could improve.

Samir listened, acknowledged their opinions, and thanked them for sharing what they thought. He let them know what he planned to work on as a result of their conversation and encouraged them to keep telling him their thoughts. He acknowledged that he would sometimes have an immediate defensive reaction, but reiterated that he really did appreciate the challenge. “Tell me, ‘Samir you cannot do this to me.’ Tell me whatever way it works for you.”

I asked Samir how he felt during and after the meeting. Was it hard? Hearing all that feedback at once must have been difficult. He said, “It was completely surreal. It wasn’t hard, it was liberating. A big, big burden off my chest.”

Transformed Relationships

When Samir and I talked, three days had passed since that meeting, and Samir was experiencing a visible difference in the way the team interacted with him. He told me about one of his reports coming to him to talk about her goals and how she would fit into the organization in the future. Samir said, “She wouldn’t have come to me with that kind of conversation before. We would have only talked about the business questions.”

He gave another example of a report asking to extend their weekly meeting and diving into some topics close to her heart.

With another report, Samir was offering a Direct Challenge. In the past, Samir would have expected a defensive reaction. This time, the reaction was inquisitive instead. “Could you explain more? What is your expectation?”

It seems a miraculous turnaround, and Samir himself said that it feels unreal that so much change could happen from one conversation. Of course not everyone can expect this kind of immediate and significant change from introducing Radical Candor, and as you’ll learn further on in this story, maybe Samir’s turnaround wasn’t as miraculous as he perceived. (And that’s ok! These things take time.)

Samir has enormous hope for future changes in the company. In the past, the family has made most of the business decisions, but Samir now sees that he can empower others to have more ownership. “The people in this company are talented. The value they can bring by taking decisions themselves and running their departments individually will make it possible for us to grow to a second location, to scale the company.”

Janice’s Story

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and we often encourage managers to check how a conversation felt for the other person. In this case, when I finished talking with Samir, he said, “Would you like to talk with one of my team members as well?” He was already thinking about the different perspectives on this experience.

Samir connected me with one of his team, Janice Godinho, Brand and Communications Manager at Manubhai Jewelers. Janice has been with the company for close to six years, and has worked closely with Samir. When I asked her how she would describe the atmosphere of the company before the last few months, she said, “The culture has always been warm and friendly. Of course there have been issues here and there, but it hasn’t been a toxic environment, and the fact that most of us here have been with the organization for 5 years and above shows that.”

But she says that as a traditionally run family business, there has always been a very top-down approach. Team members could share their ideas, but they were mostly limited to smaller parts of the larger projects and tasks the Directors assigned.

Janice started to see a change in that dynamic over the past year (around the time when Samir was thinking again that something wasn’t right). She has seen more junior team members taking more responsibility and wanting to learn more; senior team leaders have been accountable for their teams more often. She thinks the Directors are providing more criticism to help people grow as well, and that has made it so that more deadlines are being met and the staff is having more fun at work. “However, I still feel there is a long way to go.”

Opening the Lines of Communication

The feedback session that Samir initiated with the team was different in that it encouraged a more open discussion than Janice had seen previously. She told me that there had been confusion about why certain projects had been prioritized, a feeling of achievements with large impact being ignored, and frustrating, unexplained changes in late stages of projects. “For a while, we were confused about what we were doing wrong or if we were actually doing something right.” It had felt like there wasn’t an open flow of communication between the Directors and the teams.

When Samir opened up in the meeting about some of the things that had been going on, it helped everyone get a better sense for why things were the way they were. And when Samir asked for their thoughts, and gave them the chance to share their perspectives on the right way to approach the projects, the team felt the tension lift and opened up.

Janice says the team members had gotten used to not questioning their managers about why they were working on specific projects. “We just stopped asking, as long as nothing went wrong and we didn’t get reprimanded, it was all good.” And Janice thinks that same issues that she and her peers experienced with the Directors then spread to their own direct reports as well. “We don’t appreciate work done within deadlines or small achievements, nor do we stop and advise them on what went wrong. And invariably as team leaders we end up doing their work instead of taking out the time to correct them on their mistakes or offer a positive reinforcement of a good job done.”

The feedback session that Samir initiated reminded everyone that the communication between managers and direct reports needed to go both ways — they needed to be questioning decisions and ideas and providing feedback when something was great or needed improvement. “It was a lovely session. I am hoping we can do this across teams and team leaders as well.”

Hopes for the Future

Since that conversation, Janice has noticed that more discussions are taking place — teams are sharing their thoughts with each other.

For Janice, the overall culture change hasn’t felt drastic. She thinks things have been improving for a while, and relationships have been growing stronger. This was another step in the right direction, and an accelerator, even, in the progress she’s been seeing. She’s careful to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go — she doesn’t see this one session as a magic moment that will set everything on a path to success. There is still more work to do, but she’s optimistic. “Since we spend most of our waking hours at work and with colleagues, I am hoping for [the move towards Radical Candor] to create an open atmosphere for everyone to share what they think without hesitation. I hope to see all of us working as a cohesive unit, trying to contribute actively to the growth of the company. I know it seems idealistic :) but it’s something I hope for.”

 

Thank you so much to Samir and Janice for sharing their stories with us!

Are you an Absentee Manager, a Micromanager, or a Thought Partner?

In Episode 13 of our podcast we talked about the dreaded micromanager boss and how to work towards a better relationship with them. As a part of that discussion, we briefly talked about a few ‘modes’ a manager might fall into based on how close they are to the team’s work.

We call managers who have low, almost non-existent involvement in their team’s work absentee managers. Those with extremely (maybe excruciatingly) close involvement are micromanagers. And in between those are the thought partners, the ones who empower, enable, and encourage their teams to do the best work of their lives.

How can you determine where you fall on this spectrum and how to move in the right direction? We’ll talk about both absentee and micromanagers — how they come to be and how to recognize the signs — and then offer some tips on how to become the thought partner your team deserves and wants.

The Absentee Manager

Flavors of Absentee Management

Absentee managers come in two flavors. First is the manager who is truly absent. You ever had that manager where everyone wonders where he is for half the day? Ever had that manager who routinely skips your 1:1s? That’s a conscious absentee manager.

CONSCIOUS ABSENTEE MANAGER

A woman that I mentor recently grabbed me to talk career – she was thinking about her next step. We of course framed things up around Career Conversations, but also around the concept of “what you are running from” and “what you are running to.” Often, I believe, people make the mistake of moving too quickly because they are running from a crappy situation but lack clarity on what they want next. She was describing several of the things she is “running from,” and one of them was an absentee manager.

She described having gone weeks without a 1:1 with her boss, and generally inclined to see the good in people, she just assumed the guy was extremely busy and that the lack of 1:1 meetings was an accidental by-product of his jam-packed schedule.

She took on the burden of scheduling and rescheduling via his assistant, and she finally managed to get into his office for a 1:1. She sat down, a meaty agenda in hand, and the first thing her boss said to her was, “How did you get on my calendar?”

What the actual f*%^&!

She was flabbergasted because with that one simple question, he made it clear he’d been actively avoiding her 1:1s for months. This is shameful in my opinion.

She needed to meet with him, and he was actively avoiding her. I’ve learned in my last year of working with companies at Candor that this kind of absentee manager is all too common.

UNCONSCIOUS ABSENTEE MANAGER

The second flavor of absentee manager is the unconscious absentee manager. These folks are quite different from the conscious ones in that they actually care about their teams and about doing a good job as a leader.

Well-meaning managers accidentally fall into absentee management, too. I certainly have at specific times in my career and with specific employees. The unconscious absentee manager comes from a place of wishing to grant the people on their teams autonomy. So far, so good, but the execution of that autonomy-granting can be highly variable. It’s not enough just to back away from their work. Ever heard someone say, “My philosophy is to hire great people and leave them alone?” That’s the kind of rhetoric / conventional wisdom that can easily land you squarely in the unconscious absentee manager bucket.

It’s worth noting that this “hire great people and then leave them alone” idea doesn’t really happen at the highest levels of any profession. Let’s take an example of professional sports: The National Football League (NFL).

Every spring, the NFL holds the draft, which is a multi-day process in which each team gets approximately 7 turns to choose the best players coming out of college football that year. There are 32 teams, so if you do the math, the NFL in aggregate is drafting approximately 250 fresh players each year. This is a pretty small number, especially when you consider the funnel to get there.

It’s one of the steepest hiring funnels I can think of – each year in the United States approximately 1.25 million kids play youth football, about 1 million play in high school, about 75,000 play in college, and each year about 250 people get drafted into the NFL; this is .02% of the youth football playing population. It has to be one of the most selective employment scenarios in the world.

Thinking about “hire great people and leave them alone,” with a .02% NFL selection rate, we can put a big giant green check mark next to the “hire great people” portion of that idea. What about this “and leave them alone” part, though? There are two really big problems with this.

First, the players need to be developed – the best 250 players should be ready to go, right? Some are, of course, highly productive immediately, but it’s usually a very small number, low double digits in any single draft class. The players need to be developed and they must adapt to the professional game. The experience and expertise of their coaches and teammates enables them to do that. These players spend hours on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the film room learning, studying, training, all under the watchful eyes of their coaches.

Second, the players must fit into a team and scheme. The other major reason, besides player development, that the great people hired into the NFL are not “just left alone,” is because they have to fit into a team.

A football team is 11 people, working in a synchronicity that few organizations can achieve. Football plays are pretty complex and require coordination between many, if not all, members of the team. Everyone on the team needs to learn how to do their piece of the play and needs to trust that the other team members will also be executing their piece of the play.


Credit: footballplaydiagrams.blogspot.com

I hope you get the point. This play would be a human train wreck if this team just “hired the best people and left them alone.” The team you are managing, of course, is almost certainly not an NFL offense, but the idea still holds. A team of people needs to be nurtured and developed and also coordinated and deconflicted, and that’s not likely to occur without some focus and effort from the manager.

Top Signs You Might Be an Absentee Manager

Wondering if you might be coming across as an absentee manager to your team? Check yourself against this list to find out, especially if you’ve worked hard not to be a micromanager!

  1. You have missed a 1:1 with one of your reports for more than two weeks.
  2. You recently espoused your brilliant theory about “hiring great people and letting them do their thing.”
  3. You regularly feel out-of-touch with your employees’ work, projects, achievements, and failures.
  4. You are often surprised to learn about things – good or bad – happening in your organization or team.
  5. Your employees are bumping into each other, left hand unsure of what the right hand is doing.
  6. You gravitate more towards managing up, tackling high visibility projects, or focusing on your own success than investing that time in your team’s success.

 

The Micromanager

Flavors of Micromanagement

As we discussed in Episode 13 of our podcast, the micromanager falls into two broad categories: is too prescriptive about ‘what to do’ and/or too prescriptive about ‘how to do it.’ First, a bit on those who are too prescriptive about ‘what to do.’

‘WHAT TO DO’ MICROMANAGER

Telling people what to do doesn’t work. Of course as a leader of a team, you are responsible for making sure that people are working on things that support the company’s objectives, but it’s just not going to be effective long-term to prescribe exactly what those things should be.

Of course, there could be a need to make a final decision, break a tie, push people toward some discomfort, but saying to a person or group of people, “here are our/your objectives” not only feels awful for those people, but those objectives will not have considered critical perspective from the people closest to the work.

If you find yourself using the phrase, “you need to,” then you might be micromanaging. “You need to do this or do that.”

I once worked for a guy who was extremely prescriptive in the KPIs he wanted my team to pursue. Out of a sense of duty, I brought his input to my team to try to find some merit in the thinking and see if there was something useful we could take. Instead, my team was left wondering if the guy had any idea what we were doing or why we existed. I ended up having to push back very hard on him. For a variety of reasons, including his rather delicate ego, this strained our relationship. So not only did this micromanagement make it more difficult for us to work together, but he also caused me to spend time on work that wasn’t relevant to our business and caused the whole team to feel less motivated towards the right goals.

All of this could have been solved with a more collaborative approach. If he cared enough to prescribe, why not care enough to spend time working directly with me or even my team to think through more relevant objectives?

‘HOW TO DO IT’ MICROMANAGER

The second flavor of micromanagement is telling people ‘how to do it.’ This is about telling people how to go about achieving an objective or key result, prescribing an approach to getting something done. It’s worth clarifying that teaching, however, is a pretty good catchall for the kind of “telling people how to do something” that’s entirely appropriate. If you have some experience to share, of course, share it.

With that in mind – and I don’t know a simpler way to say this – prescribing every approach for people can be demoralizing. If you allow people to develop their own courses of action, their own approaches, and you allow them to make mistakes along the way, they will grow into stronger employees capable of far more over time.

By telling people exactly how to do something, you will simultaneously take away their autonomy and also waste their unique context, unique skill, and their creativity that could be used to solve issues or make progress. They don’t grow. They become automatons executing your commands and incapable of operating without you around.

Top Signs You Might Be a Micromanager

If the situations I described above sound like ones you find yourself in, take a close look at this list. If one or more apply, you may be sliding into micromanagement.

  1. You think some version of “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
  2. You believe your team member(s) will fail if you aren’t heavily involved in their work.
  3. You regularly shift priorities on your people and actively direct people’s work day-to-day.
  4. You feel like you don’t fully trust your team to get the job done.
  5. Your team is very regularly producing all kinds of slides and updates for the primary purpose of quenching your thirst for details and informing your context.

 

Don’t Despair…

If you find yourself identifying with either the absentee manager or the micromanager, don’t worry! Both of these modes are extremely common — I hear about them all the time when talking with users of the Candor Coach iOS app, listeners of our podcast, and attendees of our workshops. The good news is that knowledge is half the battle! Now that you know where you fall or partially fall, you’ll be more likely to move in the right direction. Plus, I’m of course going to give you some killer tips.

 

Become a Thought Partner

What does it mean to be a thought partner to the people on your team? Thought partners fall somewhere between micromanagers and absentee managers, but not in a Nebraska sort of way. Thought partners are highly engaged, whereas absentee managers are not engaged. Thought partners enable, empower, encourage, and inspire, whereas micromanagers drive and direct.

  • A thought partner thinks of herself as someone who is alongside her employee listening, advising, helping.
  • A micromanager thinks of himself as someone who is above his employees, saving the day.
  • An absentee manager thinks of herself as someone who is out of the way of her employees, leaving them entirely to their own devices.

I was chatting recently with a friend and colleague, Amarpreet Singh, and he told me a story about his former boss, Francoise Brougher, that for me crystallized what it means to be a thought partner.

First, Amarpreet made it clear that the first thing Francoise did as a manager was “extract the fear.” She made it safe for people to come in vulnerable, confused, and not in possession of all the answers. “That was huge because I never felt like I had to position things, hide, or guard what I said.”

With that as context, Amarpreet described that he would walk into Francoise’s office, maybe in his regular 1:1, and he would say, “I’m not nailing this thing I’m working on, and I need some help.” He would go in with the mindset of improving and learning and not worry about being judged or penalized for not knowing all the answers.

Francoise would metaphorically clear her desk, roll up her sleeves, and say, “OK, let’s dig in.”

He was careful to note that she never wrested control of a decision, never told him what to do. “I will give you my input, but this is your call.” Something she told him quite literally in his first week after he made a decision that went against her advice.

Key Activities of Thought Partners

To become like Francoise, to become a thought partner to your team, think about these goals for yourself:

Extract the Fear

Do you ever say, “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions?” Please stop. The first key to engaging your people as a thought partner is to have them think of you as a thought partner. For sure, if you penalize them for trying to engage you that way – by insisting they bring you solutions to problems only – they will never see you as a thought partner, as someone who they can work through problems with. It needs to be ok for people to come to you dazed and confused. You don’t have to provide all the answers, of course, but what have you done to remove fear and enable your people to be vulnerable? If you have no idea how to do that, well, a great place to start is by asking for feedback.

Help people sharpen their ideas

I love the GE “Ideas Are Scary” commercial because it makes two really important points about a new idea. First, a new idea is fragile, like a baby, and second a new idea is often ugly (like most babies? ;). It’s far easier to shoot down and crush new ideas, and frankly, many ideas ultimately deserve it. But we don’t want to great ideas to suffer the same fate – they must be nurtured into something beautiful and impactful, and this is a role a manager can play on the team. Thought partners nurture the new idea. Micromanagers crush it or steal it. Absentee managers find out about the idea weeks later if at all.

Remove obstacles

Obstacles in the workplace are everywhere, and whether real or perceived, they are real to the people on your team. Also whether real or perceived, you have a role to play to help remove the obstacle. Some obstacles need to be gently pushed aside, like a door that is swinging in your path, and some obstacles need to be blown up like Wile E. Coyote and his ACME gear. As a manager you have to help people through the real and perceived obstacles and help determine whether you need ACME explosives or a gentle nudge in the right direction. A thought partner actively engages to help with obstacle removal. A micromanager tells their employee exactly how to work through or around the obstacle. The absentee manager says implicitly or explicitly “that’s your problem, go figure it out.”

Help syndicate ideas and initiatives

Colonel Boggs, a Marine Colonel I used to work for, used to say to his officers “What do you know and who are you telling?” This was meant to inspire you to realize you have information that likely others need, and you need to constantly remind yourself to share that information. Important and impactful ideas and initiatives will usually require cross-team coordination and buy-in. As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas. Thought partners work hard to make sure that everyone has the same information they have. A micromanager (whether for selfish reasons or possibly thinking they are providing a service) hoards information, doesn’t share regularly, “pinch hits”, and takes on syndication his/herself. An absentee manager leaves an employee to their own devices to build consensus and syndicate ideas across teams.

As a thought partner, you can help your team identify and gain the attention of the people they need to talk to in order to advance impactful ideas.

With those goals in mind, realize that you have a lot going for you that can help you achieve these for your team. Leverage these assets to become a thought partner:

Your context

As a boss, you almost certainly have more context than your employees. They will likely have more details, but you will likely have more, or at least different, context. Abide by Colonel Boggs’ rule here and help inform your employees’ context.

Your experience

Your experience is valuable in helping people sharpen ideas and in helping them find their way around obstacles and other big time wasters. Share your experiences when relevant, helpful, and welcome. Sometimes, you will not have as much experience as others. That’s ok. Surely you must have some experience to bring to the table, and if not, focus on and emphasize the other assets listed here.

Your clarification skills

Asking people to expose their logic can be enormously helpful to both of you. Often, something feels much clearer in someone’s head than it is in reality. By having someone explain ‘why’ he is thinking a certain way, you can help him sharpen his ideas. It can also help you get comfortable that he is thinking through things in a lot of detail.

Your boss’ context

Your boss will have questions, which, by the way, are often a function of your boss’ unique context! If you know your boss well, sometimes you can anticipate what your boss will ask and help your employee by sharing your boss’ perspective, too. Though be careful not to over-rotate on the boss’ perspective or questions. This is a great way to thrash your team. Just be aware that your people probably wouldn’t readily have your boss’ context.

Understand Your Risk Areas

I think it’s important to be thoughtful and self-aware enough to understand your tendencies — do you naturally trend toward micromanager or absentee manager? Are there certain circumstances in which you might trend towards micromanagement or towards absentee management? For example, in a high stress situation, do you start barking orders and surge toward micromanagement or do you retreat to your safe space and trend toward absentee management?

When you identify tendencies like this, flag them for your team. Just let them know that you have a inclination in that area — this will help set their expectations and give you a chance to invite their feedback.

If you have trouble identifying these proclivities for yourself, I took a crack at articulating in the below 2×2 where I’m more likely to to be a thought partner, more likely to be a micromanager and so on. But it’s worth noting that this is my 2×2, and it may not be yours. The most important thing is to become conscious about your tendencies and be able to recognize when you are in danger of sliding away from thought partner and towards one of the other modes.

The axes describe areas in which you, the manager, have high skill/low skill and high interest/low interest.

This thinking works for me – I know that if I’m not super interested in the content area, I will struggle to invest the right amount of mental energy to be a quality thought partner. I also know that if it’s an area that I have a lot of skill in that I am more likely to be prescriptive with my directs and manifest for them as a micromanager. This doesn’t mean that high skill = micromanagement. It simply means that I’d be more at risk of micromanaging and would want to guard against it. Your results might vary, of course, but I’d encourage you to think a little bit about what will bring out the best and worst in you.

You can also think about this when hiring and putting together your team. Like any normal human being, there are things that I’m good at and things that I’m bad at. It’s not a crazy idea to try to construct a team that gives you the best shot of being a good thought partner. I’ve tried, for example, to hire people that could be pretty autonomous, who could figure out and articulate what they need from me, and who valued being able to run their business with a lot of autonomy. These are qualities that set me up well to be a thought partner. There may be another set of qualities that work best for you.

Let Your Team Tell You How You Are Doing

When talking about feedback specifically, we say all the time that it is not measured at the speaker’s mouth, but at the listener’s ear. This means that no matter how clear you think you are… no matter how Radically Candid you think you are… it doesn’t matter, really, at all. What matters far more is how clear your direct report found you because the purpose of feedback is to help people have more success, and the only way someone can have more success is if they fully understood your feedback.

This thinking applies well beyond feedback. Whether you are achieving ‘thought partner’ status with each of your directs is not really something that you can or should assess on your own. You should ask.

What matters is how much your direct reports think of you as a thought partner.

Why not, for example, share this article, and say, “I want to be a thought partner with you, and I want to avoid absentee manager/micromanager status. How am I doing along those lines?” This is a good “Solicit feedback” moment, and in collaboration with your direct reports, you can get on a path to being a quality thought partner with each of them.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes…write in with your stories and challenges in the comments below, on Twitter, or here.

Quitting with Radical Candor

As we’ve mentioned in a couple of podcast episodes (Ep 13: Help! My Boss is a Micromanager and Ep 8: How to Give Feedback to Your Boss), sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how much great feedback you solicit and give, a job just isn’t going to work out, and you’re going to have to take the advice I got from Gretchen Rubin:

Don’t forget to quit.

Quitting can be really hard. Maybe you’ve got a team that you feel loyal to, or you’ve invested a lot in the company, or you are worried what will happen next. But it’s really important to leave positions that are making you miserable and aren’t going to get better.

If you do decide to quit, keep the ideas behind Radical Candor in mind — Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Here’s how they apply:

1. No surprises.

When you quit, you’re doing two things–moving away from one thing and towards another. Too often, people have remained quiet about what they are not happy about because they are afraid of being fired if they speak up. But, if you’ve decided to quit anyway, why not speak up about what’s bothering you? Maybe there’s a solution and you won’t have to quit!

A good boss gives feedback along the way, and so doesn’t give a poor performance review or fire somebody out of the blue. Similarly, it’s considerate to give your boss some indication of what’s wrong so that they have an opportunity to fix it before you quit. Make sure it doesn’t sound like you’re making ultimatums. Just be clear about what’s driving you away from this job, if there are things. If it’s purely a matter of moving towards something different, explain that clearly.

2. Express gratitude.

Something has been good about this job. Think about the things you are grateful for, and give voice to them. Don’t just share this with your boss, share it with your colleagues as well. When somebody quits, it makes everybody wonder if they should be quitting too. Don’t leave in a way that makes everyone feel lame for staying. You can alleviate this discomfort by focusing on all the things that you appreciated about the job and your colleagues. If it was a hard decision to leave, don’t be afraid to say so.

3. Keep in touch.

A few weeks after you leave, send a note, or if it seems comfortable, go have a coffee or lunch or drinks with people from your old team. You spent a lot of time with these people, and, I hope, developed some kind of personal relationship with them. It can be disorienting if it feels like you dropped off the face of the earth. It’s hard to believe you “cared personally” if you never talk to the people again after you’re no longer working together.

4. Don’t “poach” indiscriminately.

When you leave one job, there may be one or two people with whom you have an especially close relationship and who are likely to “follow” you. That’s to be expected. But don’t gut your former company. Don’t start reaching out to people you don’t know all that well and trying to hire them away.

 

I hope these tips are helpful in making quitting a little less painful for you and the team you’re leaving. If you have more questions, feel free to reach out in the comments below, or more privately here :)

What It Means to Care Personally About Your Team

Most of us have experienced a bad boss, and unfortunately, those experiences can create lasting effects. Here’s a story and question we got from a listener after she listened to the first episode of the Radical Candor podcast — it describes a common challenge that bosses have with balancing authority and Caring Personally and with building relationships with their direct reports.

Hi Kim and Russ,

Just listened to the first episode and wanted to share several of my previous “horrible boss” experiences with you.

I’ve been working about 13 years now. At my first real job out of college I worked at a newspaper in PA in the advertising department. The department head was an older man who I can now accurately describe as a misogynist. I was young and after one particularly hard experience (I can’t recall the details), I cried in his office. A year later, I was promoted from assistant to junior ad sales rep and while I was given the good news he also added something along the lines of “as long as there is no more crying.” Toward the end of my time there, an African American woman was hired in a position over him and he quit 2 months later. That’s when I really understood how the workplace can be for women.

I moved to NYC 10 years ago and started working in the ad agency world. At one of my earlier jobs I had a particularly crazy female boss who has shaped me in ways I still need help recovering from.

This boss was not much older than me, maybe 4 years. I was in my late twenties and she must have been early thirties. Her mood swings were incredible – one day she said hi in the morning and wanted to chat, other days she would ignore me for half of the day and then ask me to stay late working on projects with her that could have been done much earlier. She spoke harshly at times, but also praised me. Complete confusion.

The worst experiences were when she wanted to talk about her personal life. On multiple occasions she would ask if I was busy, then pull me into conference room to tell me about her relationship problems with her boyfriend. There was cheating, there was verbal abuse, they got engaged and then she took the ring off and “didn’t want to talk about it”. In addition to the in person talking, she would IM me and talk about it. I never had any idea what to say or what she was looking for me to do. All I wanted to do was work so I could leave on time!

This has had a lasting effect on me where I have a very hard time building relationships with the people I manage at work. I even had one employee tell me that she had a problem with it a few years back. I think I’m afraid of over-sharing and being thought of the way I thought of my old boss. How can I build a healthy relationship with my employees where we get to know each other and they respect my authority?

Thanks,
Struggling to connect

Struggling,
This is incredible. THANK YOU so much for sharing. Wow – I feel really bad for 22-year-old Struggling and 25-year-old Struggling, but feel very happy for you, 35-year-old Struggling, because you will be a great boss having been shaped by seemingly incompetent bosses and because you’re self-aware enough to ask how to build these relationships the right way.

I have a couple thoughts, and interestingly some of my answers lie in your experiences.

Showing You Care Personally

Let’s take your ad agency boss… What was it about her behavior that was so bad? Sharing inappropriate personal details? Maybe. Hot and cold communication? Meh. What she systematically did was put her needs ahead of yours. Every single example you gave, she put her own needs ahead of yours. For my money, this is at the core of Care Personally, one of the two dimensions of Radical Candor.

Caring Personally means demonstrating that you “give a damn” about the people you work with. Most people do care, but fall down simply because they fail to demonstrate it. Ad Agency Crazy-Person is different, though. She’s SELFISH. Caring Personally is about caring about others, about their needs and priorities. She was focused solely on her needs, her priorities.

Tip: Ask Questions

The first step to Caring Personally is deciding that your job is to enable the success of your team. Put their needs FIRST, above yours.

One thing you can do is to make a practice of asking a basket of questions to your team, maybe at the end of each week, or in your 1:1 meetings. For example:

  • How happy are are you right now?
  • How productive were you this week?
  • What’s in your way?
  • How can I help remove any blockers?
  • What else can I do to enable your success?
  • What opportunities are we missing around here?

I think it’s pretty clear that these are questions that demonstrate that you give a damn about the people on your team. Note that there’s not a bunch of sappy, schmoozing type stuff that’s required to do this. Of course, it’s very important to really want to hear the answers. Don’t just “check the box” and ask…

When you ask these questions, you probably will need to stop by the Thick Skin Store and buckle up because you might hear some uncomfortable stuff. Remind yourself constantly, “Don’t get mad, get curious.

Listen and Serve

Caring Personally, for my money, is about listening to people more than anything else. Of course, listen to their hopes, their fears, their dreams, but also listen to their ideas for improving the team, the work, the environment. All the answers are there on the team. You just have to ask.

A couple resources for you:

I will argue that by thinking about Caring Personally this way, you will ENHANCE your authority, not jeopardize it. It’s been my experience and not to put words in her mouth, but it’s been Kim’s, too. Your authority is absolutely not derived from your title or position. I promise you that. On paper, maybe, but in real life, no one on your team gives a hoot about your title. This was as true in the Marines as it was for Google. Authority was earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

Authority is earned, not granted, and I’ve found in my career that it’s been earned far more by giving a damn about people than by knowing a lot of stuff or having a lot of ideas.

A note from Kim:

+ 1 to everything Russ said!

There is a huge difference between Caring Personally and Oversharing Personally!!

I feel your pain on the crying thing too. I had a boss who said I absolutely could not cry in front of him, and that just ensured I cried all the damn time. It was terrible! I find it helpful to remind men who say stuff like that to me that 1) men cry too and 2) if you tell me I can’t cry, it just makes it more likely I’ll cry. Let’s come up with another way to help you cope with tears if they happen.

 

I hope this is a helpful start.

Cheers!

So You’re Younger Than Your Direct Reports…

We frequently talk to managers who find it challenging to have direct reports who are older or more experienced than they are. We’re taught from a young age to “respect our elders,” which actually means to defer to them. With this kind of conditioning, it can feel awkward to be in a position of authority over these folks.

Here’s a question one of our podcast listeners sent in along these lines:

I’m a young startup CEO, and both my Director of Operations and Production Manager are 20 years (+/-) older than me. I know this is not abnormal, however I will note that my Director of Ops is also an investor in the company so the dynamic can be challenging. I try to approach these relationships with the mindset that I am learning from them, while at the same time leading the company’s direction. What advice do you have on managing employees and partners who are older than you?

First and most important, thanks for listening and thanks for giving us a chance to be helpful. Kim and I got in this business for that reason: to be helpful, so we’re excited when those opportunities present!

Now let’s get into your question.

When I was in the Marines, on day one I was managing a 40 person organization, which included one or two crusty, roughneck guys with a lot more experience than me. Worse, it’s traditional in the Marines for the enlisted guys to gently mock new lieutenants with wonderful nicknames like “butter bars” and “boot.” In fact, to this day, my Marines will once in awhile make a “boot” joke at my expense on Facebook. Of course, I love it — it’s now a term of endearment.

Anyway, my point is that I have very direct experience with this.

I am pretty sure there have been other stops in my career in which I have had to manage people older than me, but I’m not sure, and that’s really my first piece of advice: You have to let the age or experience difference go. Ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. The more this is featured in your brain, the more you are likely to manifest as apologetic or an imposter.

I admire your humility in wanting to learn from your reports. We give this advice to every manager, irrespective of any age dynamics at play. Good managers routinely ask their people for feedback, routinely learn from those people. It’s generally more a function of the fact that those folks are “closer to the facts” than that they have more experience, but the outcome is the same. Good leaders listen carefully to their teams and learn from them. Well done.

 

In the end, you, as a manager, have to

1. give feedback

2. build a great team

both in service to

3. driving results

The ages of your direct reports have no bearing on whether they are achieving results. If you focus your conversations on the objectives and key results of your company and the objectives and key results of your Director of Ops and Production Manager, you’ll see exactly how quickly your age becomes irrelevant.

Having a direct report as an investor is tricky. However, I’m just going to guess that he/she doesn’t own a huge portion of the equity and is not on the board, in which case, he/she is a shareholder just like any other employee. In managing the day-to-day operations of the business, the position of your Director of Ops as an investor has no bearing on your expectations of him/her and the results he/she is expected to attain.

So, to summarize the advice here… As much as possible, stop thinking about the fact that these direct reports are older or more experienced than you are. Instead, focus on communicating clear expectations for results, evaluating those results, and creating accountability for the results. This is what really matters, and it will hopefully help relieve the tension you feel.

Let us know how it goes!

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