“Hey buddy, how are things going? I haven’t seen you in a while,” I said to Rick, a business owner who also has an office in the building where I have mine.
“Well, things are a little hairy right now,” he said. I could tell he was stressed.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My parents might lose their house. Neither one of them is working, and it doesn’t like anyone’s going to be in the near future. I need to help them and that’s costing me a lot of money. It’s putting the business in trouble,” Rick said.
“Geez,” I said. “I’m really sorry to hear it. I guess you’ve got to do it because, if they lose the house, you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands,” he said.
“Exactly,” he lamented.
Rick is another office mate who I like a lot. He’s got his own digital marketing firm with a handful of employees. He’s smart, high energy and a really good guy. Whenever I’d see him for one of our quick exchanges in the hall, he’s always upbeat. Things are always, “Crazy, nuts, jamming,” indicating business was going better than he could have imagined.
Now, as an aside, one thing I’ve come to realize is that Rick and I have different ideas of what it means for business to booming. To me, it’s about profits — what’s left in the bank after the bills are paid. If there’s a certain amount there to ensure bills keep getting paid, business is good. To Rick, as I think it is to some others, it’s all about revenue, regardless of what’s going out the door on the back end. I suppose this is why Rick went from jammin’ to slammed so quickly.
And that is not a knock on Rick. I’m sure he has done, and will continue to do, the best he can for his family and his company.
But as I thought about Rick and how his personal life was impacting his business, I thought about our team (including myself). I thought about how Nancy said she was a little off her game last week because she was worried about her daughter starting middle school, and about how Kate asked if we could change some things around so she could spend some time with her mother, who happened to be in town. I thought about how I’ve had good days and bad at work based on so many things at home — the ups and downs of my wife’s health during the past few years (currently up, thank God) and her brief unemployment stint (and our COBRA fun) before starting her new job at Hackensack University Medical Center recently.
And then I read a column on our very own site by my very good friend Dale Sanders, in which he relates his management philosophy. Of course, this recommendation caught my eye:
“Allow and encourage stakeholders/teammates to bring their whole messy, creative person to work. Make no false distinctions between personal and professional lives.”
Now, it’s important to realize that I only knew about the issues affecting Nancy and Kate because we have great lines of communication, because they are comfortable telling me stuff. And they are only comfortable telling me stuff because I’m pretty accommodating. I want them to be happy and so I try to say yes every opportunity I get.
So the question for you is this: realizing that your team’s performance is completely integrated with their personal lives, do you have good enough relationships so they feel comfortable confiding in you when it will impact work?
Though I dislike the analogy, there are a number of parallels between management and parenting, and what’s the number one thing parents are told if they wish to have good communication with their children? Don’t freak out when they tell you something you don’t really want to hear.
Simply put, as Dale pointed out, if you wish to be a high-level leader, you don’t get to give the Heisman when folks give you the honor of a look into their personal lives, and you shouldn’t want to. Treat your employees as not just workers, but friends, and you’ll get all the loyalty that designation entails.