BRKeenan & Associates, LLC

Caring for the Employee

Bosses # 16

In this continuing series, it is time to examine how managers directly treat their subordinates.

Item 5: “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.”

1. It’s Nice to be Nice to the Nice

Frank Burns’ classic line from M*A*S*H, “It’s Nice to be Nice to the Nice” is a good aphorism for this week’s blog.  But niceness is not a suit coat to be worn when trendy, but always.  Good managers genuinely care about their employees, especially when the employee is failing.

2. Don’t Tread on Me and Statistics

The Gadsden flag inspired a nation.  But the idea has merit in the office as well.  According to Gallup, most employees believe they will get stuck with a poor manager.  Statistically that makes sense: most managers are below average; as for the above average crowd, most as just barely so.  No wonder we fear more the bureaucratic Attila the Hun than the excellent manager: the bad blighters are more common.

3. A Great Manager Checklist – Looking Out for the Employee

So, the issue really is this: What makes a great manager?  Managerial greatness is a bit like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous concurrence “I know it when I see it”.  It is admittedly hard to good management.  Undaunted, Gallup describes an excellent manager as someone who had (or does) all of the following:

  • True satisfaction seeing their employees grow and succeed, even if the employee eclipses the manager
  • Knowing how to match the right person with the right roles
  • Aiding employees to grow into rather than out of their role
  • Setting expectations by defining outcomes rather than micro-managing actions
  • Building upon employee’s strengths rather than try to build / install new ones

Not hard to see the basic theme: great supervisors care about their people, adapting their style and approach to the needs of each employee.  And that, of course, is why it is so hard: it takes effort to understand each employee well enough to be effective.  Let’s face it: too many managers are too lazy to care about anyone other than themselves.

4. Middle Management as the C-Level’s Mouth Piece

Like most organization, the Big Cheese, the Person in the Corner Office, the CEO rarely talks directly to anyone other than his or her fellow C-level execs.  Thus, their messages and ideas inevitably get filtered through the rank and file supervisors, both nimble and maladroit.  Strong managers translate broad organizational goals and initiatives into individual work group and employee mandates and objective, explaining how it makes sense at the grass root level.  Only in this way can the whole organization, each individual and employees, gain true acceptance and understanding.

5. Forget the Company Wide Town Hall – Focus on the Captains and Lieutenants

Like most organizational behaviorists, Gallup recognized that the credibility of senior management is critical, leading Gallup to work with C-level executives to improve communications and visibility.  But later on Gallup realized that, while laudable, such efforts were of limited utility since senior management credibility is largely driven by the quality of the mid-managers relationship with their employees.  If supporting and trusting, C-level execs are perceived as the same; if harsh or undisciplined, senior managers suffer the same castigation.  In short, it ain’t the generals in the home office that matter most; it is the field captains and lieutenants.  There is more money and efficiency to be found here improving their skill set than setting up another town hall.


Bottom line: a manager who wants to see his employees grow will succeed even when he or she is taking someone to task.  Why? Because genuine affection for your neighbor, or in this case, your fellow employee is like a large dollop of honey in a world full of vinegar.  And with honey, many good things happen, especially in the medium to long run.

Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”.  Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous large and small companies succeed, focusing on Finance, Law, Strategy and Operations since 1999.

©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. May 2015