Coaching Group Meeting

Be Tough on Expectations, Gentle on People

Two core capabilities for creating a high performance work environment that is psychologically safe

Inspiring and effective managers embody a paradoxical leadership style. They relentlessly drive business results while equally expressing care and concern for their people.

The following descriptors are commonly shared by many to describe the “best boss” they’ve ever had, while highlighting the seemingly contradictory dimensions of effective managers:

  • Tough yet fair
  • Demanding but caring
  • High expectations with focus on employee development

It’s important to note that striking this balance is often challenging for female leaders; through no fault of their own. These complexities are beyond the scope of this article but the following quote reveals one dimension why:

“When a man is tough, there is the underlying implicit belief that he is tough and fair and that that’s acceptable. But when a woman is tough, it seems as though there is no option that she is being fair because it’s unreasonable for any women to be tough.”

Soraya Chemaly

So how does a manager deal with this dichotomy? By developing and embodying the two core capabilities below.

#1 Communicate clear direction while inspiring people.

An early mentor of mine often said, “Steve, I expect perfection but will settle for excellence. I have confidence in you and our team that together we will deliver a distinct experience for our clients.”

Note the three key elements driving this statement: Clarity of expectations, ensuring I felt valued, and communicating core values (e.g. teamwork and collaboration).

Paradoxically, this boss created a productive and safe workplace by consistently holding us accountable, being candid with feedback, being very approachable, and being open to our ideas. She equally emphasized the task and the relationship.

Gifted leaders embrace what Jim Collins coined – genius of Yes/And thinking and reject the tyranny of the Either/Or.

#2 Manage less and coach more.

Good managers are clear and fearless in setting specific expectations, monitoring results, and providing quality feedback that fosters trust and engagement. Great leaders coach people to be their best.

Effective manager-coaches are skilled at:

  • Setting regular one-on-one meetings that are customized for each team member
  • Expressing authentic interest in other’s perspectives and aspirations
  • Asking great questions and are attentive listeners
  • Growing people by delegating stretch opportunities
  • Holding others accountable to specific actions and commitments

New managers will experience early success if they internalize that being firm and strong does not conflict with being caring and kind.

Tenured leaders need to appreciate that strong company performance is correlated with workplace psychological safety. A reminder that the soft skills are the hard skills to master. Building a collaborative, results focused culture is also smart for attracting and retaining top talent (a ubiquitous source of manager stress today). Being tough yet kind is simply good for business.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring! -Steve

As always, check out my other blog posts for even more great manager-coaching tips!

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