Just read a good article by Bill Simmons about the pending retirement of Phil Jackson and one point really stood out to me:
His players competed for him for many reasons, but mainly because they truly believed Jackson cared about them. Which he definitely did.
This in my mind is the one core tenet to being a great manager at any level. You can be hard on people, soft on people, funny, serious, quirky, brilliant, micro-managing, absentee, etc. and still get by as a good/great manager if you truly care about the people you are managing.
Obviously you can’t always make them happy, especially when there are a lot of competing interests, but if you truly care about them, even in the heat of a fierce argument with them, then it will show through, and it will earn their trust, because they know that you won’t just discard them for no reason or be a complete asshole to them for no good reason.
Here’s the kicker, though. Almost every manager probably does think that they care, because at some level they do care, but they probably care about other things first.
This is is where it gets complicated, though, as you probably should care about other things first, such as yourself. And when you have competing interests, both from yourself, the rest of your team, and your organization as a whole, then this whole caring thing becomes more of an art then a science.
I think the key aspect is that when you truly do care, you’ll take in to serious consideration each person’s perspective as you seek out the correct course to take. When you’re good and you do truly care, this isn’t that difficult. It will happen at a gut level as you take in to consideration all of the competing interests. You’ll be wrong fairly often, but you’ll be reasonably good at verbalizing the thought process you went through and, because your team trusts you based on previous experiences, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt because they will see in your reasoning that you were honestly trying to think about them within the context of the larger group.
It’s not easy and will probably cause you to feel a great deal more guilt along the way, but I think the benefits are enormous, both for you as an individual as well as your team.