Everyone has that manager.
The one you’d follow from company to company.
The one that challenges you in ways you didn’t expect.
The one that teaches you things you didn’t know you needed to learn.
The manager that inspires you to become a manager.
Early in my career the manager that inspired me to become a manager – the person that made me think, “when I become a manager I want to be like him” – was Brian Grundei.
Maybe the things he imparted to me are taught in text books and management courses. Or maybe they were uniquely Brian. All I know is they made an impact on me and I pay it forward to my team today.
Brian taught me 4 things that are forever imprinted in my mind. (Note: these are not the ONLY things that make a great manager. These are the things that made Brian a particularly fantastic manager.)
Start every conversation with “how are you?”
I’m not talking about a polite, perfunctory “how are you?” whose answer is quickly brushed aside as you rush into the business at hand.
I’m talking about asking the question for the sole purpose of getting an authentic response. Then using that response to trigger a conversation.
Brian instinctively knew that how our team felt directly correlated with the quality of our work. And our ability and willingness to work well together.
When someone screams and/or stomps their feet, stay calm. Walk away.
Our workspace was filled with very passionate people. The volatile type. The type that cared so deeply about the company that they would sometimes erupt in rage. Some people would fight back (right in the middle of cube land! Oh my!). Some would cower away.
But Brian? He would calmly say, “I understand you feel [fill-in-this-spot-with-anger-triggering-remark]. Let’s take some time to think about it and meet in the morning”. He never flinched or wavered.
When everyone was calm he addressed the issues. He sat down with the screaming foot stomper, got to the root of the problem, and solved it. He didn’t let bad behavior slide. He addressed it head on with grace, diplomacy, and effectiveness.
Listen with all of your senses.
Brian had that ability that few people possess of being fully present. He seemed to listen with his eyes (body language), ears (obviously), mouth (by asking lots of questions), touch (by knowing when to be close and when to keep distance.).
His team and the people he worked with knew their words were heard and deeply understood.
Say what needs to be said directly, honestly, and kindly.
I remember our first major layoff in 2001. He walked into my cube said, “You’re safe. We’ll talk tomorrow.” That was all that needed to be said.
Brian knew when fewer words would have a stronger impact. He knew when to listen. When to ask questions. When to share. When to empathize. When to say the hard thing that was uncomfortable to hear.
He wasn’t shy about saying things like “I don’t know”. He rarely said “that won’t work.” Instead he would ask, “will that work if…”, “do you think that might be an obstacle”, “what will you do if this happens?”.
Now that I am a manager I think of Brian often when I ask someone on my team, “how are you?” I think of him when someone has an outrageous reaction to a seemingly mundane request. He is on my mind as I try to stay present. And each time I reflect on the 4 things I learned from Brian I am grateful.