Benevolent management can also be strategic and human
According to a recent Stepstone study, one in four employees in Belgium say that their relationship with their manager deteriorated during the Covid pandemic. The study goes further, putting forward an impressive figure: 7 out of 10 employees would choose another manager if they could. In the list of criticisms and shortcomings, employees point to the lack of support and recognition from their manager, the increase in pressure and the stress that goes with it, and the low level of interaction and involvement from their N+1. The risk when you’re in charge of a team and you read this kind of information? You tell yourself that you’ve ticked all the boxes and that you absolutely have to get things back on track as quickly as possible. The result? From being absent or even non-existent, you become a hyper-manager. Present all the time, controlling everything, and in trying to do the right thing, doing much worse. Micro-management threatens even the best of us. Could it be that there are other options? Let’s explore them together.
Let’s go back to basics: the role of a manager, once a team has been put together, is to ensure that the work is done properly and on time. To do this, the manager distributes the tasks, measures their progress, checks that they are being carried out correctly and on time, checks that budgets are being respected and resolves any problems. Simple, effective. Except that the devil is often in the detail. The detail here is not the what, but the how. While all managers agree on what they have to do, it’s less clear when it comes to the method. We don’t all have the same style of leadership, the same degree of patience or even benevolence. And if, on top of that, our drivers get involved, we run the risk, without being fully aware of it, of joining the dark side of abrasive managers.
To avoid this, communication is the key. Easy to say, less so to put into practice, as not all managers are equally equipped when it comes to expressing points for development, or even putting a stop to unacceptable behaviour. So how to proceed? First of all, you need to establish a relationship. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t really know what they need to improve. To do this, get to know the members of your team, spend time together outside meetings, take breaks with them, ask them questions to find out more about them. Professionally speaking, communicate your expectations clearly to each member of your team and check with them that you are on the same page; if not, explain again.
Set up regular 1-2-1 meetings with all the members of your team, without exception. However, the frequency of these may vary according to the seniority of your employees. Don’t forget that a junior profile really needs regular guidance, and bear in mind that a senior profile may need your expertise or advice on an issue without necessarily daring to ask you for it. In any case, start your 1-2-1s by taking the temperature: ask your colleague how they’re doing, what they’re proud of and what’s bothering them at the moment. You’ll get a good idea of their state of mind and it will be easier for you to offer them your support and/or help them with their professional development.
Another key is transparency: be honest and open. It’s not easy to admit to your manager that you’ve made a mistake. As a manager, you know that your colleagues are human beings and that they can therefore make mistakes. Just like you. Share your past mistakes, explain that mistakes happen and that as a team you are there to help and find solutions. The more transparent and open you are, and the more you practice a policy of benevolence on this subject, the more quickly your collaborators will inform you if a problem arises. In that case, first solve the problem together and then, still together, think about how to avoid this kind of problem. Doing so as a team will enable you to open and/or continue the dialogue and ensure that you are informed proactively rather than reactively when a grain of sand risks jamming the machine.
As far as pressure is concerned, the agenda is not always under your control. When deadlines are tight and management expectations are high, explain to your team why they need to make an extra effort. Think together about what can be done temporarily to meet management’s expectations. And during this time of stress, listen to each member of the team, check with them that this is still within the scope of what is possible, and if not, as a team, discuss possible adjustments and defend them to your management. Exhausting a team has never been a winning long-term strategy. It is, however, a good idea to spare your horse by asking it to do an extra gallop or go a longer distance from time to time. In any case, trust your sense of observation because you know your team. And if you don’t already, communicate with your new team, be curious, ask questions, take time to reflect and if you’ve been too quick, acknowledge it and be as kind to yourself as you would be to a team member in difficulty. Communication, transparency, active listening and the search for solutions as a team will not only help you to develop trust within your team, but will also enable you to face the obstacles in your path together with greater serenity. Enjoy the journey!