The View from HR

View from HR: A good manager sees what people need, not just what they seem to want

CorrespondentOctober 19, 2013 

We teach thousands of employees management principles and best practices every year. Most want to progress in their career, while others are struggling with their current duties. Everyone, though, leaves with valuable tips and new strategies for success. How many of these people have made the big decision to behave in new ways?

Training targeting the development of new behaviors is most useful when it turns on the right light bulb at the right time. An important realization for managers is that they must resist normal human behaviors so they can act in more productive, abnormal ways.

It is normal to want to be liked. It is normal to believe conflict is hurtful. It is normal to send vague signals in hopes others can read the smoke. It is normal to save up unpleasant conversations for one massive criticism dump. It is normal to focus on yourself and ignore other peoples’ problems. It is even normal to explode after the fifth time you are asked the same question or a mistake is repeated.

None of these “normals” will make you a good people manager. Good managers must find a path to abnormality in order to succeed. It can be uncomfortable, but the payoff is often long-term. Some of it is actually liberating and immediately gratifying.

Use the struggle to coach

For example, do you handle different attitudes toward work and accountability in the normal way? A normal person uses avoidance and pleasantries to navigate and get along. The abnormal manager learns these individual differences and uses that knowledge to communicate in more targeted, effective ways.

A normal person sees struggle or failure and averts their eyes. They want neither to be a witness nor part of the cure. They are simply grateful it was someone else. The abnormal manager uses the struggle to coach, to reinforce what was done well and to show what getting it right next time looks like.

A normal person dislikes management oversight and avoids too much detail when assigning a task. The abnormal manager uses a task to teach, to ensure alignment and to enhance success until there is confidence in the performer and clarity of the message.

Equal is anything but fair

A normal person comes to work to do a job and get paid. The abnormal manager knows that people need more than pay. They need to understand how their work supports others, how it fits within their organization’s grand plan and what is in it for everyone when goals are successfully reached.

The normal person believes fairness means equality. The abnormal manager or leader knows that equal is anything but fair. Getting comfortable with rewarding the right behaviors and punishing the wrong ones is an important abnormality.

A good manager sees what people need, not just what they seem to want. Likewise, that same manager is aware of their own human behaviors and the importance of abnormality for success. A favorite speaker once asked: If they arrested you for managing, would there be enough evidence to convict?

If you have a great boss, list the ways they behave differently than most. If you want to be a great boss one day, get comfortable with abnormality.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www .capital .org .

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