In this time of the continued golden age of television, shows such as (and yes, it’s a great show), with its easy-to-digest illustration on being a decent leader and mentor and an even better human being through the eyes and story of a fish-on-the-other-side-of-the-pond football coach, encourage everyone (and their mother) to have their own view on being a leader. Just take look at LinkedIn… people posting their opinions as if they were law, and then additional people taking screenshots of other people’s opinions, poaching them, and making it like it was their idea to begin with.

Do you really expect me to be impressed by your (that probably never happened) of an employee situation that gets resolved when the manager truly listens to their team's issues and actually talks to their employees and direct reports if they are showing difficulty in their work and (GASP!) their overall life?

Give me a break, kindness and communication isn’t a novel approach, and human decency and empathy should always be established at the base of every manager / managee relationship.

Post-pandemic mental health has been put at the forefront in the professional working world. The number of articles being written about the difficulties that many of us, if not all of us, faced and are still facing both in our professional and personal lives is tremendous. We are tired, we are scared, we feel unsupported, and we want to be able to trust our superiors beyond the typical “clock-in / clock-out” working relationship.


The Common Reality of A Friend vs. A Colleague

A lot of posts on LinkedIn and some work-centric subreddits state the - “your co-workers (and your boss) are not your friends.”

Well, Why Not?

Did they not establish a friendly relationship with you, or you with them, when you were first hired? Are they cold individuals who are tough to understand and figure out? Are they an introvert, and you an extrovert, or vice versa?

Yes, you aren’t going to be blood brothers or sisters with every person you work with, I get that. But as with recovery programs, friendships develop because the individuals there are trying to overcome the same difficulty in their battle with addiction. In the working world, you are all striving for the same goal from a labor perspective, be it mass production of steel beams for skyscraper construction, or trying to get the finishing touches in code for the beta-launch of a new mobile product. That bond can develop a strong friendship with your co-workers, and in time, the stories and other elements that make a human, well… human, will come out and make you feel connected.

But honestly, that’s not enough… you as a person, and as a leader, really need to do more to make the environment great and make your team feel empowered. That “more” is the base of my personal tenets.


The Happy Content Person Produces Better Work.

“What is happiness? The moment before you need more happiness.”
- Don Draper (Jon Hamm)  | 

Yes, I know that quote is from a fictious creative director, but there is a ton of truth in that statement. In the embedded scene, Don is talking to the head of Dow Chemical, who stated that they as a company were happy with their current advertising work which gives them 50% of the market-share.* Don was incredulous at how he can be “just” happy with just 50% market share, and why he doesn’t strive to get 100%? In reality though, even if the Dow Chemical C-Level suite ended up going with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with Don at the creative helm, which will eventually lead to them getting 100% of the market share, what brings happiness to Dow after that? And then after that?

How do you become happy and stay happy? It’s a tall order, and truthfully, as a both a human and sometimes leader, sometimes manager, and sometimes employee, (and not to mention an everyday father, and an always spouse), it is hard to initially attain, sustain, and maintain.

So what do I strive for? Contentment.

No, it’s not a cop out. Seriously, it's been written about by as well mental health and even the has a few passages describing the benefits of being content. In my ever-so humble opinion, being content is more a state of being, while happiness can be viewed as an intense emotion that can be fleeting depending on the day and circumstance, potentially in the same veil of a narcotic high. (And the hustle, hecticness, and intricacy of the modern digital age can make the modern worker cycle through emotions more than your average teenager.)

How to circumvent this is to simply strive for contentment and making sure your employees are content. The doses of happiness will come and go for them through life and work events, and they will be much more intense and satisfying since they will have a stronger emotional baseline of contentment and having that baseline will make the day-to-day be more enjoyable.

You may be asking, "That's great, Marc, how in the hell do I do that?"

Some of the core tips to being content are familiar, positive human actions such as practicing gratitude, controlling ones attitude, helping others, and to stop comparing yourself to others (essentially being satisfied with what you have most of the time.)

You can distill these down a bit and apply them easily to the working world. A content employee will have most if not all of the following:
  1. A / Ready-made solutions to their day-to-day problems and issues
  2. B / An open communication structure with the important people in their lives
  3. C / People they rely on to help them and provide support inside and outside of work
  4. D / A safe outlet to vent about difficulties and challenges without worry.

And these four elements (which focus most on helping and aiding your employees in finding gratitude) are what you as a manager can easily provide to your team.

A / The idea of having ready-made solutions is based on the availability of said solutions in that working environment. An employee may not be aware of them, so it’s up to you to help them find it or simply find it for them. This assists them in building up that catalogue of solves, so they have plenty to rely on in their work. (Efficiency breeds satisfaction).

B / Open communication is key, but how do you establish it? It’s easy, actually… and the magic answer is to always reply quickly and efficiently to every request. That doesn’t mean you need to give an answer to a question, as a simple “Let me find out for you” or “I am not sure, but I will get back to you” should be enough to let your team know you heard them, you acknowledged them, and you will (eventually) help them. This will make them comfortable in being able to reach out to you, and goes beyond the “I have an open-door policy” line… as it’s the action of response that speaks louder than all. To add, this clear act of helping will become infectious and lead others to want to help one another much more.

C / And both A and B lead to C… as if you give the solutions and quick responses to your team, they will learn to rely on you and realize you are there to help. (And word will spread, and then more people outside your direct circle of employees will end up reaching out to you, and that in turn will bring further positive attention to you, which is never a bad thing in within a company’s walls.

"Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on."
- Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks)  | 

D / Finally, having an outlet to vent unconditionally is something employees need, but most are fearful that it doesn’t exist. Yes, again, a movie is providing the context here, but it doesn't make the fact that this is part of the military any less truthful. This "griping" should be a part of the culture of the working office, as an employee who issues a comment or complaint should be heard without repercussion and the complaint should be assessed and solved without retribution, and you as a manager should be able to listen, provide input and support, and bring the more difficult situations up the chain in such a way that the employee will not become a target. This will lead to a more comfortable employee, and essentially, a more content employee, and one that is more accepting of the outcome of any circumstance because they feel safe and supported.

And remember, the moment that you as a boss / manager fail to do any of the above, you end up breaking the foundation of that employee’s contentment. The further you disregard them, the deeper those cracks go, and the less content that employee will be, eventually leading to that employee leaving. (Remember, people don't necessarily leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses.)

// * Funny enough, the head of Dow Chemical was actually CONTENT with their advertising and 50% of the market share, and contentment is something Don himself doesn't understand at that point. //


The Absolute Necessity of Emotional Maturity & Intelligence

Coronavirus brought forth the deep human need for stability and support, both mentally, physically, and most importantly, emotionally. Most of the world dealt with isolation, depression, anger, etc… emotions we all dealt with as a population of 7.5-billion some odd people. It still was difficult for all of us, but knowing we weren’t alone helped us a bit, and helped us (in some ways) to get through it.

Coronavirus brought forth the deep human need for stability and support, both mentally, physically, and most importantly, emotionally. Most of the world dealt with isolation, depression, anger, etc… emotions we all dealt with as a population of 7.5-billion some odd people. It still was difficult for all of us, but knowing we weren’t alone helped us a bit, and helped us (in some ways) to get through it.

This core is what separates great bosses from decent ones, and spectacular ones from the great ones. That emotional strength is one that helps you connect with your team as a manager.

So yes, we all got a crash course in empathy for the better part of 2 and half years, so there is really no reason why we can’t use it every day.

Understand that most of us are not professional therapists nor psychologists, (unless you have a PhD that others may not know about), but being human and the ability to relate to someone really makes the world of difference.

How does one do this?

I will get to that but first, a quick story: At the start of COVID, most companies went remote. I fortunately was used to remote work, since I worked out-of-the-office around 80% of the time. I had new colleagues that were part of our new company who were completely thrown off by the new working world. One individual in particular, during a manager team-building meeting, asked me directly a very simple question “How can connect with someone whom I've never met face-to-face and I now suddenly manage?"

This colleague often relied on in person facetime as the emotional base to getting familiar with their fellow employees, but he didn’t know how to do it remotely. (Water cooler talk doesn’t exist online unless you call someone first). As a response (and after I realized I had a solid response), I offered a simple answer which can work in almost any scenario.

The easiest way to get someone to become comfortable and to essentially open up to you in any way or degree (deep or shallow) is to offer up a part of yourself. This can be a story from your current or past life that pertains to the topic(s) at hand, or a difficult situation that you are dealing with. It takes the whole idea of “be nice to everyone because you don’t know what they are dealing with” and reversing it to let people know what you may be dealing with. That puts out there the idea of that you are “emotionally connected” and aware. That tells people that you are warm and that you “get it” … and dare I say, comforting, which is an easier pathway to being trustworthy.

There is a fine line between being genuine here and overdoing it, and it’s up to you to find out where that line resides. It also depends on the person you are interacting with, and trying to adapt to them or meeting them on their level (as long as it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable or go against your beliefs). In the end, it will take a lifetime to build up the knowledge and strength to be that open person who can relate and make others feel comfortable and content in their daily work and life.


You Cannot Do It All

The pinnacle of human awareness is knowing your limitations. (Dirty Harry Callahan said something similar to that). You may have a case where the individual on your team is in a spot that needs a lot more effort than you can provide, or a situation where you simply do not know how to help solve their issue. This “awareness” is actually quite easy to get the hang of and is also a major part of your overall emotional maturity.

First, a seasoned manager (and all-around great human) knows when they can’t help or when they need outside assistance.

Next, they have a candid or gentle conversation about getting the help to the person who may need it. (This is a tough conversation to have, as its outcome is never a black or white answer. Your best bet is to address it by a case-by-case basis, and if you aren’t sure, then simply reach out to your manager (with the necessary permissions) to find out what you should do.

Finally, once the conversations about help have been established, all you need to do is to support your employee… and the best way to do that is to check in on them, and listen to them. If they spend your weekly, one-on-one meeting time simply just dumping their emotions out onto you, so be it. If they actually ask your advice on something that is a part of this difficult situation, you can answer only if you feel comfortable enough or if you have enough information to give a sound response.

One final way to obviously help this employee is to make sure their work-load is manageable and that they are able to do their tasks. (That should seem obvious, but don’t be afraid to delegate their work to others, or to yourself, if need be).


To Summarize

I know a lot of what I wrote may seem obvious, but it’s really incredible how often it doesn’t happen in the workplace. Bringing this type of support will be infectious, and others will learn from you and do the same with their employees/managees. In the end, your gut instinct will guide you on your journey to be a tremendous leader and human to those who look up to you, and those techniques will do you some good in other aspects of your life as well. Be a good egg and not an asshole… it will make a world of difference.