Why should your manager 'fake it till you make it'

What comes first? Your manager's belief that you can do a job well, or your own belief that your manager has got your back? Why? Read on!

Being a silent observer as two sides of the same story are sharing with me their frustration in the workplace. 

The manager says: "I've hired this person for their skills, but also their potential. I expect to see them diving straight into the deep end with minimal swimming instructions from me"

The employee says: "I know how to swim and am very experienced and maybe even decorated swimmer. I just need to know that the manager is happy with my style of swimming and that I'm swimming in the right direction".

What then happens is that both manager and employee are frustrated. Neither of them gets their expectations met. The manager doesn't feel they need to explain what they want to see, and the employee doesn't feel they can bring this to the table for fear of being 'exposed'.

It's possible that the manager simply doesn't have the time or the capacity to check in with each and everyone of their direct reports, but the underlying question is, can they afford not to make this a priority?

I'm thinking back to one case study in particular. The employee was a high achiever. In silo, she knew what was expected of her and how to do a good job and be successful at what she did. The problem was that at the same time, she also sought validation from her manager. 

Without the validation, she felt frozen. She felt she could get on with the work at hand, but she craved the validation to let her know she was on the right track, that she was a valued member of the team and that she was doing a good job.

If she needed to do something outside the scope of the manager, she would snap out of the need for validation and find her focus and clarity, but if there was a chance the manager was to be involved, my clients would instantly get back under the spell of needing the validation.

The manager, on the other hand saw the whole story in a very different light. She didn't think she needed to validate her employee. She said it was up to the employee to show her that she's capable and earn her 'being valued' by the rest of the team. 

As you can probably see, this case was going no where. There was too much at stake for the employee and not enough empathy for the manager, and it was only when I was able to get the employee to see the need for validation was putting on a performance detour, that she was slowly able to break free of the spell and create an alternative chain of validating herself and showing the manager she was good enough and therefore valued.

In this post I would like to suggest that managers, and especially those that don't subscribe to the softer side of the workplace, adopt a 'fake it till my employee makes it' approach.

What would that look like?

I suggest having an honest and open conversation with each of your direct report. In a non-threatening and maybe an 'off the record' environment, find out from them how they operate:

How do they know they are valued? What do they need in terms of validation? How often do they need a 1:1 catch up? What is the kind of communication they feel comfortable with and what isn't? Find out what works for them, take notes and then share your own preferences. Your own way of working, evaluating and validating and make sure you are both on the same page!

When you go back to 'the shop's floor', make sure to follow what your report told you. If they need a cheerleader in their corner, be that cheerleader! Do whatever they need for as long as they need it and until they find their feet and feel valued and validated.

When you show up in the way they need you, and in some time, their needs will not be as profound because you will have faked it and now they made it! 

Now they know they are valued they can put their mental and emotional efforts in getting on with their job at hand, leaving you to do yours. 

Nearly each one of my clients has mentioned at least once their need in validation and appreciation at the workplace and from their direct manager. Knowing how much it means to them and how easy it is to put in place, won't you take a moment to make your team work better, not harder at what you need them to do?

When you invest in your team, you reap the results. You might want to consider this and put it into action straight away, regardless of where your team is in the review cycle... You've got the key - feel free to unlock your team's confidence and empowerment!