IT’S GETTING PERSONAL – Some Guidance for Managers
The last few weeks have been hard on everyone, and we’re still working through what a pandemic means for each of us and our families. Our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who is dealing with COVID-19 in their homes and with their loved ones.
It has disrupted our work and our families, and we still don’t know what lies ahead. And neither do any of the managers trying to support and guide people through this uncertainty.
The role of the manager has lost its boundaries in the last few weeks.
Because once employees watch CNN, Fox News, local networks and all online news feeds for an update, they’re getting on calls with their managers and bringing their concerns and questions to those calls. Some concerns are about the work at hand, but most are about what’s ahead and how this will impact me.
It’s a role that a lot of managers just aren’t ready for. It’s ballooned beyond what I owe you today to what happens to me tomorrow. Emotions are on edge, protocols are forgotten, and managers are dealing with more neediness than they’ve seen before.
And, some managers are overwhelmed. This is so much more than managing work process and individual contributions. It’s getting personal to people’s lives and what they’re dealing with in their virtual setting from simple things like home schooling and groceries to complex things like worrying about elderly parents and wondering how to keep your family and friends safe. It’s humanity. It’s up close and personal, and it’s overwhelming to someone who didn’t really sign up to take on counseling.
It’s a tough role; it’s a tough time. And as one colleague said, “This is when we’ll figure out who the strong people leaders really are.”
Whether you’re a young manager trying to navigate the blurred lines or an overwhelmed one looking for a few best practices, here are our thoughts on connection that could help out.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the questions coming your way, don’t worry about providing answers. There aren’t concrete answers available right now. Just listen. A starting point for anyone feeling overwhelmed or scared is to feel that someone is listening to those concerns.
Listen and acknowledge the worries. Keep in mind that some employees live alone, and it won’t take many days of work from home to feel alone and lonely. Be a simple point of connection. Listen and acknowledge the feelings that you hear.
Even though you’re juggling multiple things and jumping from call to call, your team doesn’t see it. They don’t have visibility to the line outside your office or your calendar invites which keep moving around. They lose perspective on the tugs of your time, and you may lose a little perspective on their inputs as they ask for connection.
If you manage a large team, you may find it helpful to take notes and keep track of what I told you about my family or my roommates. It will mean everything to me if you remember me when we talk again. And when people are under stress, they don’t remember as well as they normally do.
BE OPEN OR BE STILL.
You have a choice in what you share about your life and your family. In the last two weeks, some managers have felt invigorated to share their personal lives and home hurdles, and others feel like their entire team just moved into their living room. Some managers are very open about their personal lives; others are more cautious. And both reactions are OK. You can define your boundaries and how front and center you want your whole life to be to others.
You owe employees a listening moment, not always your life story. You should always be present with your team, but it’s more about the team than the deep dive into you.
HEAR THE WEIGHT; DON’T WEAR IT.
You can’t solve this for everyone. It’s going to be a long and hard process. And you don’t have to. You can hear me without taking on my challenges. Be very careful about that. There is an art to learning how to help someone else feel better without making yourself feel worse. Focus on making someone feel heard, not solving their problem. Notice we keep coming back to…. Just Listen.
I have four siblings and lots of nieces and nephews. And when my father died, we had a house full of people working through the grief and the logistics. It was sad, it was close, and it was a little suffocating. And over the course of those days, we walked miles and miles…never all together and never fully alone. We just seemed to pair up and take walks. It was about getting space, breathing deeper, and resetting ourselves. It was the simple-ness of doing something. Take the space you need, especially when you’re in a newly defined workspace. Take the time you need to breathe and clear your head.
YOU BEFORE ME.
It seems counterintuitive to tell a manager to put themselves first. But the reality is no one is their best under pressure. Nerves get frayed, and emotions run high. You don’t want to be back on your heels, but the circumstances are not normal. Your team needs you to bring your best game. Find a way to start each day with you. Whatever it takes for you to focus your mind, open your heart and just take this one day at a time.