When I first started out in the world of work, managers and directors were a distant and remote set of individuals. The less I saw of them, the more mythological features they took on. In my mind, they became strangely robotic creatures, who were able to manage teams of people and make difficult decisions without ever showing the slightest flicker of emotion. Don’t get me wrong: I had good managers, who took plenty of time to guide me and spend time on my development. But it never felt like they were truly human.
And, if I’m honest, back then I thought that was very much what you needed to do to become a successful manager. Great managers left their emotions at the door when they came into work. They were able to put on their game face and, no matter what was happening outside of the office, no matter what their personal feelings about a situation unfolding at work, they were able to put them to one side and work from a position of steely neutrality.
Keeping your human side locked up
Let’s be honest: there are many advantages to keeping your human side locked up when you take on a role as a senior manager or leader within your organisation. It allows you to keep what might feel like a healthy distance from the teams that you manage. By retaining that position of neutrality, it can often be easier to gain respect, with conviction from your team members that you will manage situations from a position of objectivity rather than personal bias. And it means that the decisions you will make can be objectively justified. You are highly unlikely to be criticised for allowing your emotions to get the better of you.
Don’t get me wrong. All of the above are commendable management traits. But – and here’s the catch – we can only maintain that stance and that impenetrable exterior for so long. Why? Well, however much we might try to convince our colleagues otherwise… we are, of course, all human. And, sooner or later, something will happen which brings our human side to the fore, and forces us to acknowledge its existence.
Breaking the golden rule
When that first happened to me – borne out of frustrations over a difficult situation at work – I thought that I had failed. I had broken the golden rule of management, and I had let my team see my human side. How would they ever respect me again?
And it was only after I’d allowed that situation to play out, after I’d berated myself for momentarily letting the mask slip, that I actually realised what had happened. True, my team had suddenly had a rude awakening to the fact that I was human. That I was, in that respect, no different from any other one of them. But did that impact on the respect they had for me? I can categorically say that it didn’t. They didn’t dismiss my abilities as a manager. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they actually treated me with more respect, and were more willing to open up to me. Why? Because all of a sudden a very critical barrier had come down.
We are all human
When you realise your manager is human, you realise that actually, all of us, regardless of our job title, our position, or the number of management meetings we attend… we are all, ultimately, human. We are all blessed with the same opportunities and flaws that being human gives us. And, all of a sudden, that manager becomes not a robot that you’re working for… but a person – and a person you’re working with. You’re not delivering for them, you’re delivering with them, as part of a very real, and very human team. It brings a totally new dynamic to that relationship… a dynamic which, by its nature, will fast track delivery and maximise an individual’s engagement with their job role. Which, by any standards, is surely an outcome worth having.
So today, my challenge to all of you is to go away and look at whether you really allow your human side to shine through at work. If you don’t, why not? What are you afraid of? If your fear is that, by doing so, you’ll negatively impact on the relationship you have with your team, then why not take the plunge and give it a go. You may be surprised at just what you are able to achieve as a result.