I have plenty of flaws. If management taught me anything, it’s that. My insecurities and personality quirks became painfully obvious and on display to the world when I started trying to lead other people and make big decisions.
And that’s okay! If you can’t learn and grow from an experience what’s the point of going through it? The hardest learned lessons are the ones I remember, and for me the toughest management lesson involved friends.
Those personality quirks I mentioned? One of mine is that people HAVE to like me. I do not need to be your best friend, we don’t even need to hang out, but I can’t sleep at night if I know somebody doesn’t like me. It’s weird, I know. Put that together with managing a staff of technicians at a 24hr, stressful, open on holidays you will work Christmas hospital and you can see how I developed insomnia.
Early in my management career I attended a training session for all of the hospital managers. The guy leading this training made the comment that as a manager, you can NOT be friends with those who you manage. It never works, don’t try it, start distancing yourself, the world is ending and you’ll die alone as a manager, blah blah blah. Well I wasn’t having it. I argued with him and left that training feeling like I could conquer this whole manager/friend issue. I could strike that balance. I will be awesome and a great leader and everyone will love me and NOPE.
Smash cut to the first time the tech schedule didn’t get filled on Christmas and I had to hold a lottery and assign someone to work. The economy took a nosedive and I had to choose two technicians to lay off. We closed a satellite hospital and I had to tell those technicians they no longer had a job. The overnight staff was watching YouTube instead of keeping up with laundry and I had to come in at 2am to tell them to knock it off. I was at a social gathering and people wanted to vent frustration at "management" and I realized I shouldn’t be participating in the discussion. I walked into the ER and everyone stopped talking, looked at me, wandered to separate corners of the room and started making awkward conversation. These people were not my friends. Worse than that, I wasn’t even sure that they even LIKED me.
This was a stressful time for me. Not only because, gasp, people maybe didn’t like me but management is a tough job. And in order to try and maintain my "everybody’s buddy" status I was working an insane amount of hours. Filling vacations, working with new techs, attending meetings, covering on-call, covering sick hours, and it wasn’t going well.
Ron Morgan, CEO extraordinaire, noticed my free fall into miserable stressed overworked zombie status and started counseling. The first time I ended up crying in his office resulted in one of my favorite Ron Morgan moments. Too tired to mount any sort of emotion other than crying, I think Ron may have simply asked how things were going and I burst into tears. After looking uncomfortable for a beat, he reached into his bookshelf and handed me back a book. That is still my favorite response to awkward crying, "Uh, here’s a book." The book was How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton and asks the question: are you a bucket filler or bucket dipper? I am a bucket filler by nature, but I was working so hard to fill everyone else’s bucket that mine was bone dry and I was miserable. A couple of days later Ron came into my office to check on me again, and again I was crying. Thanks for hanging with me, Ron, I haven’t cried at work in YEARS! He told me something that still sticks with me today: There is a difference between people LIKING you and people RESPECTING you.
My management philosophy had tied everything together. In order to get respect from my team they needed to like me and want to be my friend and that’s why they’d pick up shifts and be nice to clients and do their best. That may be a small part of it, but even if I made them work a shift on Christmas and they hated me they could still understand my management decision and respect me for making a tough call. If I communicate and help them realize that the tough decisions were best for the team and for the hospital, they would still respect me. I slowly started drifting out of friendships with those that I managed. They asked me to social events less and less, and I was okay with that. That guy who led that training so many years ago was right! It is supremely difficult to maintain close friendships with those you manage, but you must continue to work hard to maintain their respect.
It isn’t hopeless, I have maintained a couple of good friendships with people who I managed at the time, but it takes lots of communication and the ability to separate work and social life. If both parties are willing and able, it can happen. The dream of having everyone that you manage be your best friend? Let me save you the trouble and tell you you’re much better off working hard to earn their respect, and communicating openly with them to maintain that respect. Good luck current and future managers! Sleep well knowing that I like you!