Well, there I was in my weekly “workplace kindness” online session shoveling in lunch during an on camera global zoom call. It was all well and good… folks sharing unkind work examples, realizations, and tips and then moderator Magnus Wood lobbed out the question about experiences with unkind managers. I took myself off mute … and shared it was me.
I shared that a teammate taught me a valuable lesson. He’d come by my office cube, papers in hand, and sheepishly ask, “Have you eaten?” Another time he asked, “Do you need a Snickers?” After a few of these, I finally realized he was checking my state. Hungry and bitey or good to go. But this wasn’t just a lunch time question but more of a quick litmus test any time of day.
He helped me realize the impact of my mood — state of mind, energy level, presence — had on others. I was all good… until I wasn’t. I used his clue to change. Change my calendar. Change my awareness. Change how I handle “drive by” interruptions. Change my commitment to lunch.
I now offer up the code word “Snickers” to my teams, especially my deputies, to use to not so subtly get my attention about my bad manager or leader behavior. It gives them a simple tool to hold me accountable when there’s a power imbalance … and it usually ends in a laugh. As soon as they say the word, I know and can reset.
While I strive to be a thoughtful, kind manager, I’ve had my less than stellar moments. I know my knee jerk reactions get the best of me. I know my crowded schedule pushes me to plow ahead when I should pause. I know I need to talk less and listen more. I know my confident tone can diminish others from speaking up.
Because of this, I use a few tools to create a more kind work environment that include:
- I come into virtual meetings on camera to chat pre-meeting and demonstrate my active presence
- A project launch slide on “what you can expect from me” commitment (part warning of what sets me off because it’s a high-value item to me and part promise of what I do for them)… and I ask what each person needs to succeed
- Standing 1:1 monthly meeting with each person on my team to talk about their agenda topics, work or personal items
- Encourage the use of cat memes to share good or problematic news
- Stress the use their Outlook calendar to block time for every key activity, from meetings and research to training and lunch as this helps them understand how much effort it takes to complete work and everyone understands their availability
- I don’t schedule meetings from Noon-1 and support Friday afternoon quite hours so teams have common times with which to recharge
- Use “???” when editing so folks can separate necessary changes from food for thought … and demonstrate I don’t have all the answers
- Apologize when wrong… not to long ago I shared with a 25 person team how I was wrong and shared the email I wrote to the client accepting responsibility
- I ask for feedback, and also offer that if anyone feels uncomfortable giving it to me, they should share it with my deputy who’ll aggregate it and bring it to me
With experience I’m able to fend off some of my flair ups. I constantly integrate new techniques to see what helps the team enjoy work more and connect as a team. I try to pause more and provide support that helps levels things out – such as coaching a new graduate on corporate introductions or talking budget and corporate finance who someone who doesn’t fit the majority demographic.
But I know I am, and always will be, a work in progress who on occasion needs a Snickers to settle down.