We took my(our) dog to a dog park today. Now this sounds like a normal Saturday afternoon for many, but not for us. Chewi Sherman Dupuis has only been to one dog park in his entire life and he ignored every single dog there, and every human, too. This dog has been the bane of my existence since I adopted him just over two years ago. I wanted Buster, an energetic, happy terrier who was nine years old. An elderly woman had raised him and was moving to an assisted living facility that didn’t take dogs. I mean—AWWWW, YES!! However, my lovely Mama was with me when I was dog-hunting and encouraged me to visit another humane society before deciding on a dog. Somehow I found myself at the Baraboo (Ringling bros. circus founded there) Human Society, with seven different dogs I requested to visit 1:1 with, and Chewi…chosen by my mother. If you are also a woman raised by a strong-willed mother, you already know how this story ends. Naive little me somehow still thought she had a choice in the matter, and kept choosing different dogs that were brought out, with my mom saying they were definitely all a no-go. Then came Chewi. Now, I wanted to give Chewi a try. He was cute, cuddly. So when they released him in our fenced-in visiting area, I waited for him to come into my open arms like all the other dogs did, but instead this little you-know-what ran right past me and took a huge dump next to one of the trees. The humane society and mom tried to console me, saying he just had to go to the bathroom, except then he ran right past me to the other end of the fence to smell something…not even noticing the humans trying to ADOPT HIM. I said “no way”. The only thing that even made me consider him was that they said they had just taken him on a nursing home visit and he was awesome and well-behaved and connected with all of the patients (which I now know are LIES). After a lot of unfair coercion by my mother, Chewi ended up on my lap on his ride home to his NEXT new home. Oh yes, Chewi had already been taken back to the humane society twice by owners—- stories we still have not been able to get from anyone who might know, altho, I now have a fair idea of why.
I remember at his first vet visit the vet did not like him and told me that I needed to assert my dominance or this dog was going to gain complete control over me. Chewi was the WORST dog I have ever had. Not because he didn’t know how to behave, but because he knew exactly how he was behaving to manipulate me. He was perfectly potty trained, but if I stayed out too late on a date, I’d wake up the next morning to find rolls of toilet paper drug down three flights of stairs, poop gifts at doorways and little rivers of urine making their way also down ALL three flights of CARPETED stairs.
More on Chewi to come in future blog posts, but thankfully Chewi pulled in the reins when I went through chemotherapy and was home 24/7. We bonded and now he is mine for life. He also bonded with my now-husband, who has a much tougher demeanor and voice than I do in order to keep Chewi in-line.
But Chewi HATES other dogs (and bikes!!). So, we wondered what Chewi would do if we took him to the dog park today. We felt socializing him was a first step to getting him to stop attacking dogs on his walks. We saw how well-behaved he was in his first dog park experience months ago, so why not try it again? We let Chewi off of his leash and kept all 16 pounds of him in the dog park with the big dogs. Chewi LOVED it. Another dog would come up to him, and he would either engage for a few seconds or shrug him off. Literally a completely different dog. I mean, this is a dog who will get in a full-on physical fight with 70 pound dogs when on his leash. He loved it so much that he latched on to another family who had a dog exactly his size, Nigel, and just stayed with them for the second half of our visit. Our hearts were briefly torn out of our chests, but fortunately he chose us when he noticed we were leaving for the car. We spent the whole ride home discussing how in shock we were that Chewi was so well-behaved and lovely in the dog park. It didn’t take us long to realize that he was off of his leash the entire time, quite the change from when he attacks dogs on his morning and night walks when he is on his leash.
And this got me thinking about micro-managing in leadership roles. I once had an employee tell me that she believed I was a good boss because I learned what I didn’t want through all of my experiences with bosses as I climbed the corporate ladder. And she’s right. I was micromanaged to the bone, in a few jobs in particular. Now, I am the type of person that will take a project and finish it WAY ahead of time and give the boss five things they didn’t even ask for, but I foresaw them needing. My first boss understood this about me and I thrived under his leadership. He knew I would finish a project on time and all of my numbers would be right, and I knew that if I didn’t or if any number was wrong, I was hosed. We had a mutual understanding that I performed best “off of the leash”. This didn’t mean I never made mistakes, but when I did, he had the patience to go over them with me and teach me what I did wrong, instead of blaming me for them. Let me tell you, I never made the same mistake twice under his leadership.
Skip ahead a few years and I am a social media manager hired for a role underneath another social media manager. No worries there. I can share the work and don’t need a special title. One small thing is that this social media manager had NO EXPERIENCE in social media. I was a last minute hire that they didn’t expect to find, and in the meantime they had filled the role with a website manager because they had no other options. I was even fine with this. I could teach her and she could teach me. This woman would not let me even turn on my computer without her knowing about it. I got in trouble once for leaving at 4:58 PM, because we were not off until 5 PM. No matter that I came in a half hour early that day and completed all of my work. Before I knew it, I found myself very unhappy in meetings and feeling like I always had to defend myself, even though she was the one replacing my name with her’s on all of our work. It was the end for me when I wrote scripts and choreographed a video shoot for social media videos and was scheduled to go on a trip to a town three hours a way for a week to film the videos with the company’s videographer (who happened to also be my boyfriend of two years). She was so threatened by social media knowledge and relationship with the videographer, that she CANCELLED my tickets and hotel room and went to the shoot herself. She sent me pics the whole time on my cell of her cozying up to my boyfriend as he filmed certain scenes, which did nothing for me because our relationship was strong and we both had a shared view of her. But I can tell you that her little stint did nothing for my work for the company. I saw myself becoming more and more defensive as she micromanaged every word I wrote and every photo I edited (because she couldn’t write copy nor edit photos), and I knew that for the good of my career I needed to move on to a role where I could be “off of the leash” and do what I do best. Now, this doesn’t mean I hate authority or don’t work well with bosses. I love most of the bosses I’ve had and keep in touch with most of them on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s that when employees are not only on a leash, but the manager reminds them every second of every day that they are on a leash, they are much less likely to bloom into the awesome employee the could be.
And, in my experience, I’ve seen micromanaging happen most when the manager is insecure with themselves. They either don’t trust themselves with the job or they are afraid that their employee will outshine them. I remember interviewing with one of my best bosses, by now knowing the questions to ask of the interviewer to make sure I didn’t end up with a hyper-micromanager, and he said, “I hire people that are incredibly talented in the areas that I am not. When they shine, I shine. And we can both learn something from each other.” OMG, yes. This guy got it. THIS is how to manage, especially how to manage the younger generations that are a new, independent breed of talent.
Managing is important. I am a manager now, and have been a manager in the past, and I expect my employees’ respect and for them to follow direction. One of my previous employees whom I love and still manage tells people, “I always tell people Marji is the BEST and TOUGHEST manager I’ve ever had. She expects A LOT of work out of you, but she helps you along the way. She’s available 24/7 to answer any questions and never makes you feel stupid for asking them.”
At first, I was a bit insulted by this response, especially since she continuously kept telling people this at my recent wedding, but then I had an old mentor tell me that it’s the best compliment you could ever receive. You have high expectations, but you don’t leave your employees hanging. You mentor them to become the best at what they do.
This is in no way condoning rebellious, egotistical people who think they know so much more than you and want to go from college to being a manager right away, This is condoning a new type of managing, though, that fosters the growth of employees and empowers them to learn new things and also be an expert in some areas that you might not be. And my very first employee is right— I am the manager I am because I had so many shitty managers that made me feel like the scum on the bottom of the bottom of the ocean when I went home every night. They put their name right over my work and stole my ideas to sell them as their own in meetings. They made me feel like a shitty writer because they would have written a phrase differently than the one I went with, or they change one word that I thought really hit the mark.
This new generation will not tolerate micromanagers. I am a Millennial, and we barely did. The generations behind us have no time for that “looking over your shoulder” every second minute and making sure that they are never on social media. My gosh— I had to convince my last two organizations to unblock social media for employees. I get what their goal was in blocking social media during the workday, but social media has become SO MUCH of our lives and, often times, employee advocacy can really bolster the reputation of a company. I also asked those organizations how often they expected an employee to be available after work hours, and it was a HIGH number! Well then, those employees should be able to be on social media while at work.
Enough of my rambling. Here’s what I have found to work best when managing up and coming generations of the workforce:
One thing my employee mentioned as she was noting what a tough (but best!) boss she had was that I expected her to be available at 8PM if something popped up on social media then, but I also was just as available at 8PM if she had a question on a project, or saw something fishy on one of our channels. My biggest pet peeve with bosses in social was that they expected me to run 24/7, but when something happened they were nowhere to be found because it was “after hours”. Be available to those you manage. This doesn’t mean you will always get an after-hours call, but it does mean that they will trust you and have more confidence that you are in the trenches with them.
Sounds counter-intuitive to what I’ve been talking about, but this was one of the greatest lessons I learned as a manager. I kept finding the same mistakes being made over and over again and when I finally had a “come to Jesus” meeting with one of my employees, they said that they never knew that I took that edit THAT seriously because I said it under my breath as I was handling something else. I asked what would work better for them and they told me I needed to be more direct and tough when providing criticism so they would take it more seriously. This doesn’t mean yelling at them in the office, but it does mean calling them out on every mistake so they can do better the next time. If you’re glossing over a few mistakes here and there, you aren’t helping your employee or yourself.
Ask Employees What They Need
One of my main interview questions is what type of management style the person works best with. I then will give an example of how I manage my team and ask if they would be comfortable with that type of management. I then have another meeting once I hire a candidate and I ask again how they would prefer to be managed and then I set expectations of how I expect them to perform as an employee. I listen to how they prefer to be managed and am able to be flexible in managing them in a way they are comfortable with. I guarantee you, I am not the same manager to every employee, and there is no crime in that! Different employees need different things. If we really hit a point where we are just totally disconnecting, I take the employee to lunch or for coffee, and ask them where they think we are disconnecting. I create comfortable, positive, safe, neutral environment for them to share their thoughts. Sometimes the employee will point out behaviors in myself that I had no clue I was even doing, and, other times, they will share a personal issue they are dealing with which sheds a light on things for me. I’ve also had employees suggest better ways for me to communicate with them, and I will. It is just as much my responsibility to manage people in the way they need, as for them to do the work I need them to do. This is where a ton of managers miss the mark.
Set-Up A 1:1
I have had a weekly 1:1 with every single employee I have ever managed. There is nothing worse than having to condemn an employee’s work when they had NO IDEA they were even doing a bad job. It’s also a great opportunity to celebrate little wins made by each employee each week. I set-up the time as time the employee owns. It is their meeting that they run with me. They are required to send a document 24 hours in advance of their meeting which includes their three top priorities for the next week, roadblocks they hit in the previous week, celebrations from the previous week and upcoming events/projects. This gives them dedicated time with me (I don’t check email nor take other calls during this time) to address concerns and also to celebrate what they are doing well.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Personal
In my field of work (social and digital media), there is little separation between professional and personal lives. My husband ends up knowing the team I’m working with and I end up knowing the team’s dating history/spouses’. When you have to solve a client’s issue as news breaks at 11PM on a Saturday, you just end up finding out where your team is and what they are all doing. I find this not only helps your role as a manager, but also your marriage/relationships. It provides transparency of what you are really working on, and who you are working on it with so late. The other issue that comes up with social/digital is that it can seep into your personal time like no-other. There is no 8-5PM in the social media world. So let your employees go to the doctor and don’t keep track of that time down to the half-second. One of my best roles let me leave an hour early to go to an anniversary dinner with a boyfriend because they knew I worked 24/7 anyways. Guess what?! With the micromanaging boss who was mad I left at 4:58PM? I made sure not to do a lick of work after 5PM from that point onward. When you can understand the whole picture of your employees, you are able to be a much better manager and get more incredible work from them.
One of the HARDEST discussions I have ever had is when an intern came to me with a complaint about one of my favorite, hardest working, top performing employees. He said that she never gave him the directions to the work he was supposed to do, and went on to say that she had been slacking in general when I was on vacation. I just knew this wasn’t true. She had never slacked a day in her life and stayed in touch with me via text during my vacation. But I knew that as a manager, I had a responsibility to both of them. So, I got us all in a room and I asked him to share his side of the story and then for her to share her’s. It was my obligation to not side with either of my employees, no matter their rank nor stories nor how much I adored one over the other. It was clear by the end of the discussion that she was in the right, which I knew all along. But having a neutral discussion with both of them showed I was both of their manager’s and not just defending one over the other.
I am an incredibly emotional person and I react FAST, and the up and coming generations expect you to react fast. However, as manager I have learned that it rarely ever works in anyone’s favor for me to react fast. I have been at home many nights reviewing an edit of a PPT presentation completed by an employee and have wanted to pick up the phone and SCREAM at the employee because I have to rewrite the whole thing before the client needs it the next morning. I have three thoughts that calm me down— #1: What directions did I give? Were they specific enough for them to create the PPT I asked for? #2: Is this an entry-level employee? Maybe I need to sit down with them and go over creating client presentations because they have never written one before. #3: Is there something going on in this employee’s personal life that is affecting their work?
Let me tell you, 80 percent of the time, the mistakes are due to one of those questions being answered with a big fat YES. Taking a breath can help you save yourself from dumping your stress on an employee and also help you figure out what happened so it doesn’t happen again.
I might own my own company now, but if I see that coffee needs to be made, or a small graphic for Facebook needs to be edited, I DO IT. I have a friend who calls me to vent to me about his boss because she asks him to change one word in one graphic, when she can easily pop in and do it herself. She leaves comments in Google Docs to change one word, when she could do it herself. But because he’s backed up with work, he doesn’t get to making those changes until 9 or 10 at night. I’ve also had similar bosses and have ALWAYS lived by the idea that no piece of work is too small and no piece of work is too large for anyone in the company to work on. It’s called efficiency, people.
Let Your Ego Go
Yep. Let that damn thing go. I’ve sat on various teams and managed various teams, and the one thing that never changes is that teams what you to lead, but they also want you to be a teammate. Why should they do this work for you? Why should they work late on a Friday to clean up your mess? Our parents’ generation just would have stayed late because that’s what they needed to do. The up and coming generations don’t have that same work ethic and latch on to loyalty more than anything. And you can’t be loyal to your team while walking around like a peacock thinking you are better than them all of the time. You can lead and provide direction and get respect by not strutting around the office. You actually can get all three of these things by coming down a level and treating your employees like human beings, and letting them see you are a human being. One of the toughest things was managing my team while going through chemotherapy. I felt so weak and was 20 pounds underweight in some scarf hiding my bald head that they all knew was there. Talk about having to let your ego go. But my team recognized the humanity in me when I was like this, not necessarily in the full face of a makeup, designer tailored dress, perfectly curled platinum hair, stiletto wearing boss that I was before. They appreciated that I trusted them to see me barely hanging on, and became even more dedicated to what we were working on.
I’m sure some managers are out there reading this post saying, “OMG. SHE LET THE ZOO LOOSE. HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY BE MANAGERS LIKE THIS?! We are just their friends now!” No, no, no. I understand the difference between being a friend and being a manager, and I work very hard to keep that line drawn deep in the sand with my teams. When an employee confides in me that he is taking care of his sick wife at home and that’s why he’s late to work all of the time, I encourage him to work with HR to have a later start time in the day. When an employee keeps missing the mark time and time again on writing a brief, I pay for them to attend a writing class at a local college, and then evaluate from there. If an employee texts me late at night about their night out with friends, I sternly remind them that we should all enjoy our night off and that I am spending time with my husband. And if an employee just is not the right fit for the role, I help them find a new job at a different company that uses their talents. I have boundaries, but I also commit to helping employees in whatever way I can. This is paid back ten-fold by employees wanting to help you and the organization as well. I’ve even had employees that I helped place in other organizations reach out to me years later to work as a contractor on a project their company has going on. Pay it forward—always.
I’m sure this new way of managing sounds like nails on a chalkboard to some people, and I get it! My grandpa and father raised me to expect a manager like the old-school ones that prioritized with the exact times people punched in and of work, above the work they were completing. I’ve had my own share of glares at employees that walk in at 8:05AM, and my husband gets the wrath of it when he is even two minutes late, because my mind works on strict time increments.
But the world is changing, as you know, and that means the way we manage in the workforce needs to change as well. To me, the goal of managing is to produce valuable work and mentor employees so they are ready to move to the next level. I am sure that means something different to everyone. But since that is my meaning, that means that I need to figure out what forms of criticism, environment, communication work best with my employees so they produce the best work that they can. I’m betting for you to reach your bottom line as manager, it means close to the same for you.
Dogs are better dogs off of leashes, and we work better when we are off of our own leash. The tighter the leash, the worser the work is produced.
I encourage you to lean-in to these generations that are coming up behind the Millennials. Yes, they can seem like they don’t want to work to achieve goals, but they actually just want to be heard and valued at the organizations they work for. We all could afford a little more attention to our management style, can’t we?
– Marji J. Sherman