One day I was complaining to a psychiatrist I knew about how tough my job was, how difficult my colleagues were, how demanding and unavailable my boss was.
“That’s why they call it work”, he said “you don’t wake up every day and say I have to go to play. You go to work.”
Ouch – talk about a cold shower of truth. God knows what he would make of pool tables, Chex Mix and napping pods in the office. And yet, in a misguided attempt to retain millennials, many clients have created “fun spots” to make the environment more friendly, more welcoming and more seductive. The blurring of work and play boundaries may encourage longer hours and more social ease, but does it really produce sharper strategy statements, less painful cost reductions, or faster identification of new niche markets?
I doubt it. And I’ll bet you doubt it too.
There’s a better way – and it’s something that I teach my clients, and I see them use with measurable results.
They use principles of parenting in managing and developing their direct reports. They understand that what motivates one person disheartens the next; they get that it’s critical that as leaders they are both always consistent and reliable while being flexible and adaptable; they get that praise and criticism are used thoughtfully and deliberately for a larger performance and learning goal.
Example #1: Role Model. You’re driving in a horrible torrential rain storm with your kids in the back seat of the car. You’re terrified – you can barely see five feet ahead of you and the window wipers are useless. Do you show how scared you are? Tell the kids that you don’t know if you’re safe? No, you put on a happy face, sing a song, chirp like a bird. And you get through it. You put on a performance for their benefit and you never even think twice about it.
Here are the managerial lessons: don’t tell me you can’t put on an act and even lie a little, when needed. You just did it in the paragraph above. Sometimes you have to do the same for your teams. As a leader your voice has an amplifying affect, and with that role comes the responsibility to fake it and protect people. Being transparent is not equivalent to giving your personality full reign at the office, and part of being a leader is being a buffer when it comes to your people.
You want to be a duck- serenely floating along, not a care in the world (the public face). Underneath, invisible to all, frantically paddling along just trying to get ahead. Your team doesn’t benefit – and neither do you – by having a window into the frenzy.
Example #2: Accountability. My son is a slob. But he’s a also a good kid. If I ask him to clean up his room he will. Sort of. His definition of “clean” is fairly far afield from mine. Is it better? Well, yes, but it’s still a mess. That’s my fault not his. I never bothered to set up what clean looks like. We could have negotiated, which would have been better than my irritation that it wasn’t clean at all, even though he thought it was.
Here are the managerial lessons: If you give your people a directive or feedback without accompanying success metrics you might as well hold your breath, light a candle and hope for the best. Don’t say “you should focus on improving your communication skills.” without adding “scale back on interrupting people at meetings and work on asking more questions. If you do those two things I’ll know you’re a stronger communicator.”
Children and adults both need to know what you expect in specific, measurable ways. Without it you are relinquishing how success is defined and allowing them to define it however they want – and since you’re the one making the request that’s not really very logical, is it? How can they make you happy if they don’t know how? And most of us want happy bosses. Happy bosses, happy workers.
Treating your employees like children doesn’t mean patronizing or underestimating them. If anything just the opposite – it’s about embracing your role as manager as being educator in chief, who sets the model for responsible behavior and clear communication.
If you do that won’t need the pool table, but you can start serving milk and cookies at 3 pm. They’ll love you for it.