Clarity in People Management: Striking a Balance

As a manager, how do you balance kindness and corporate responsibility?

Managers, particularly those in tech, might not think of themselves as care workers. Claire Podulka, the Chief of Staff for TXI Inc., a Chicago-based digital consultancy firm, explains that her role requires a complex combination of strategic and operations planning, communications, and DEIB; at the end of the day, she is responsible for managing people with care.

Claire recognizes that we often create false distinctions between those who care for and care about people; those who are strategic, big-picture thinkers; and those who focus on tactical operations and getting things done. It’s the manager “who can operate at the nexus of care and strategy and efficacy”, though, who really brings out the best in a team—and therefore a company—in times of change and ambiguity.

Understanding Clarity and Transparency 

First-time managers have a tendency to overemphasize transparency in their pursuit of creating a caring, open, and vulnerable management style and company culture. While Claire confirms that being clear—about expectations, future changes, and individual barriers an employee might face—it’s vital that managers understand where to draw the line between clarity and transparency.

Being a great manager doesn’t mean giving your employees everything they ask for and about. While they certainly need and deserve to be kept in the loop about business directives that affect them, dumping all the behind-the-scenes details—particularly those details over which the employees have no control—has little benefit; it simply creates unnecessary stress and overwhelm for your direct reports.

Claire gives her company’s transition to an employee-owned organization as an example. As this move developed, her team had to be informed. They needed to know what the move would look like and why the company was pursuing it; they had to understand that it wouldn’t cost them any money and that it wasn’t a sudden shift to a democratic system. On the other hand, shifting to this model involved a massive amount of paperwork and other administrative hoops, meetings with lawyers, and more. Sharing all these details with the team would have served only to muddy the waters and transfer pointless stress to Claire’s team.

The Managerial Balance: Your Team and Your Leadership

Managers have to capably navigate relationships with their executives, too. Usually, they possess the business acumen to empathize with the motivations behind leadership goals and speak the language necessary to convince executives that the approach best for the team is the same one that will help hit those goals. 

For example, plenty of research supports that increasing hours reduces productivity. In balancing caring for employees and supporting the business, it is the responsibility of the manager to ensure what’s best for their team without alienating those who determine the overarching goals.

The focus on clarity over transparency is essential in these cases, as well. If the leadership team is frantic about meeting a certain target, it’s the responsibility of the manager, once a strategy is established, to bring the plan to their team in an even-handed manner. As Claire says, “If you’re acting like the sky is falling, your team, who is a degree removed from having any power over that, is going to extra feel like the sky is falling because they can’t try to hold it up, even with one hand.” It’s the manager’s job to extract the necessary information from the whole.

Balancing Team Care with Self-Care

As with so many care roles, those in people management have a tendency to overlook caring for themselves. Ultimately, though, overburdening yourself to avoid overburdening your team negatively impacts both sides.

To stay healthy—mentally and physically—for yourself, your team, and your loved ones, Claire encourages managers to seek out support and space.

Claire achieved the first by finding a community of peers outside her organization who are in comparable professional positions. The ability to share looming problems and get feedback from different angles and experiences, or simply receive validation, goes miles toward keeping her grounded and burnout-free.

Finding space calls for creating moments away from the grind of all those stressful day-to-day aspects of management. Whether that’s scheduling 15-minute walks after meetings or taking a long weekend after review season, it’s vital to make space for a small or large pause to prevent that work from piling up over time. 

New and established managers alike will feel an immediate connection to the topics Alida and Claire cover in this episode. The exploration of mindsets and approaches essential in a great manager are concepts that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a direct report or is pursuing a future in people management.

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