There’s Something About Harry: Portrait of a Great Leader & Manager

Photo by Dreamstime
Photo by Dreamstime

When you’re in a position of power — whether a manager or a parent — you say things and do things that have a huge impact on those with less power.

You can have a huge impact, for better or worse, without knowing it.

That’s because when you’re in a position of power and you have a negative effect on others, you are rarely let in on the secret.

Increasing employee “Moments of Truth”

Unless you have a very unique relationship with your employees, one where they feel totally safe being candid with you, you occasionally do things and say things that have a negative impact on them and as a result, a negative impact on their enthusiasm for giving 110 percent, their willingness to offer up ideas, or their willingness to show initiative.

There are a number of things you can do to increase your awareness of these key “Moments of Truth” and how to handle them so they increase, rather than diminish, employee enthusiasm, confidence, and commitment. You can heighten your awareness of what works and what doesn’t by accessing the inner world of other employees talking about the things their managers have done that affected them strong

In other words, learn from interviews with employees talking about critical managerial “Moments of Truth” they’ve experienced.

One of my favorite examples of this is a series of employee quotes that I use as part of an exercise in my management development programs.

I share the series of employee quotes listed below and then ask participants to analyze the quotes for key lessons they can apply. I mention this application because I encourage you to do the same with your managers.

The secrets of one manager’s success

These quotes are from employees who worked for a manager named Harry. While interviewing them, I was struck by their enthusiasm and loyalty.

Their engagement level was far greater than shown by other employees in the company. Not only did they love and respect Harry, they also performed like super stars for him. His department was the “It” department in the company, both in terms of productivity and quality.

What his employees shared about how he treated them, and their reaction to his treatment offer fascinating and useful insights into the inner world of employees and their response to managerial behaviors. The few lines listed below offer extremely useful insights into the “Secrets to Harry’s Success.”

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More importantly, they offer you valuable insights you can utilize.

So, if you’re interested, I encourage you to treat this like you’re at a seminar and answer the questions that follow the quotes and, even better, share your thoughts in the Comments box.

I also encourage you to share this with your management team and use it as a conversation starter. Use it to help them analyze how they handle key managerial “Moments of Truth” like giving feedback, holding people accountable, and dealing with stressful times.

What employees are saying

See how many clues you can pick up about what makes Harry so good.

Employee Quotes:

  1. My boss Harry is great. I love Harry. If we’re stressed, he’ll make us laugh. He pushes us; that’s his job. If he’s gone too far, he’ll pull you aside and acknowledge it.
  2. He makes you feel like you’re appreciated. He sees you as a person.
  3. When we screw up we’ll say “I’m sorry,” he’ll say “OK” and make a joke about it and you feel OK.
  4. He’ll tell us when we screw up and he’ll say “You guys did such and such.” He then will offset it with how we’ve done something great and how he appreciates that. He makes you feel like you can do better.

Things you should be asking

Now, here are some questions to answer:

  • What does Harry do to bring out the best in his people, based on the information in employee quotes 1 & 2? Think both in terms of what he does and how he is as a person.
  • How does he deal with mistakes and sub-par performance in a way that allows the person to save face and is also motivational?
  • How do they respond to his way of managing? What is the ROI (Return on Investment) of the way he treats his employees?
  • For extra credit — Usually in a group, someone will saying something like “I don’t think it’s a good thing that he makes a joke about it when someone screws up. Isn’t he showing that he doesn’t take it seriously…and so they won’t?” I love it when people bring this up because it speaks to the importance of understanding the difference between having strong, high expectations and holding people accountable and being an overbearing boss who treats employees like little kids. So here’s the question: What clues do you notice in the other quotes that let you know that Harry’s people don’t mistake his making a joke for him not taking their mistake seriously?

For strategies and tactics for finding out from YOUR employees how you can master important managerial “Moments of Truth,” check out Your Employees Need to Know You Really CAN Handle the Truth.

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He's an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of "Managing Employee Stress and Safety," and Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker, volume one of the Courageous Conversations at Work series, as well over 100 articles and book chapters.

You can download more of his articles at HumanNature@work, contact him at david@humannatureatwork.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/humannaturework.

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