Last week I asked if leaders and managers need to be “warm and fuzzy,” and concluded yes. This week the question is: can managers be too warm and fuzzy? By this, I mean a manager or supervisor who focuses more on an employee’s feelings, happiness, and personal problems than on the employee meeting job expectations. Again I think the answer is yes.
Why? Because managers and supervisors often have to make hard decisions and do things that do not make their employees happy. Because managers have to maintain professional boundaries or risk creating expectations in subordinates that cannot or should not be met. Because a manager who cares too much about employees’ personal business and feelings can be perceived as intrusive or learn things he or she doesn’t want to and shouldn’t know. And finally, because employees, like children, can and do take advantage of the overly sympathetic, permissive manager.
So how to coach a leader or manager who is too warm and fuzzy? The first task is to explain why this is a problem. Usually this person is kind hearted and needs some help in understanding why being too nice can be a problem. This involves not only discussing the reasons set out above, but also exploring the notion that it’s not “mean” or “heartless” to view employees’ problems with a more dispassionate eye. This person may also be conflict-averse. That is more difficult to address, but for better or worse, a manager or supervisor cannot do his or her job without dealing with conflict.
The next step is to discuss specific instances of overly warm and fuzzy supervision. E.g., repeatedly excusing the employee who is habitually tardy (his car broke down, his child got sick, he was up late dealing with a family situation and couldn’t wake up). Or repeatedly excusing the employee whose work is sloppy (she’s in the middle of a divorce, her cousin is dying, she forgets to take her diabetes medication). Dissect the situations and come up with alternative approaches to dealing with the problem.
After this, it may help to explore the concept of “ownership” in the sense of: who “owns” an employee’s obligation to do their job, get to work on time, stay off their cell phones during work, etc. At some level, the warm fuzzy manager may believe that he or she owns the problem and has to fix it. Wrong. The employee owns it — and as soon as both the manager and the employee realize this, the better.
Helping the overly nice manager toughen up may not be not easy because deep-seated feelings are often involved. However with ongoing support for the manager’s efforts and decisions, a new management style can be developed. How have you addressed this issue? ~Amy Stephson