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"It’s business, not personal.” If that is true, then why does it feel so personal?

A memorable line from one of the Godfather movies — “It’s business, not personal.” turns out, is one of the most important and yet the most ironic things I have learned in my career. As a manager, I find myself forced to make unpopular decisions almost every day. And so, I deal with the impact or perceived impact that my decisions make on my employees on a regular basis.  I try to follow the mantra of “it’s business, not personal”, but sometimes it feels personal, even to me - an obvious example being in cases where I am ending an individual’s employment with the company.


When I first began making decisions that I knew would be unpopular, I initially became quite discouraged and started to second-guess my decisions.  However, I soon realized how unproductive this was and instead began to focus on a more forward thinking perspective. When I have doubts about how I may have handled a situation, I consider the alternative actions I could have chosen and try to identify a more appropriate response for future situations. Of course, it is impossible to remove all uncertainty and guarantee that future decisions will be correct, but focusing on actions is a more positive behavior, while also not forgetting consequences. By setting goals, one takes a more objective approach and removes some of the emotion and defensiveness that can arise from an error. There are several practical steps any individual can take to manage performance effectively.



How Do I Manage?

The absolute starting point for good management is to review your own performance objectively. Take a moment to look in the mirror – managing your staff always starts with you. You must know how to manage yourself before you can begin to manage others. Get to know your own personality and management style before taking on the burden of leading others. Remember the successful managers you have known and think of examples of what made them great. Effective managers are always respected so consider what they used to do to gain this respect. From this, write down ten qualities that encapsulate these examples. For example, “She also did what she promised she would do.” Now, you have a template of positive qualities that can act as your guide. But remember, you are seeking to adapt qualities to your own personality and style of working. Avoid trying to imitate someone else.




Do an exercise of reviewing three major mistakes or poor decisions for the last year. Objectively assess what went wrong and why? Think about the context of the situation and take responsibility for your part in the decision. Be honest – no one is looking at this except you and the exercise is for your benefit. Once you have identified your error, resolve how you would act differently to ensure a better outcome and resolve not to allow the situation to reoccur.


Seek out feedback from colleagues, mentors and key employees. Explain that you are trying to identify where you can improve and would really value their input. Also ask for people’s views on what you do that works well. Be prepared for responses that are negative however, as well as positive. Encourage people to provide additional information on any areas you wish to clarify, so that you understand what behaviors people are describing. However, listen to what people are saying and do not try to justify any aspects of your behavior that come in for criticism. This will only result in colleagues withdrawing from the conversation. You have asked for feedback, so be prepared to listen to responses in a professional manner.



Undertaking HR related analysis of personality and management style can be a good way of utilizing a professional tool to provide you with professional insight. Often, your HR team will be able to provide you with examples. And do not worry - these are not in the form of tests, so you will not pass or fail. The intention is to provide you with a neutral review of your working style.



Sit Back and Listen

Good managers are firstly good listeners. Learn how to actively listen to those who are doing the job. This means actually thinking about what a staff member is saying and then responding accordingly. If your staff believes that you are really listening, they will see it as your recognition of the value of their roles, which in turn will make them feel more valued. Additionally, if staff know that you take in what they tell you and will also clarify points with them, they will put thought into what they are telling you, and you may benefit from better quality information.



Ask – Don’t Tell

Resist the temptation to tell your employees what to do. Instead, ask them to tell you what they would do to solve the problem. Once you have done this with them a few times, staff will begin to solve issues for themselves or will at least come to you with solutions as well as problems. In this way, you are encouraging individuals to take ownership of their roles, which helps their own development and moves your role from being a parent who solves their problems to being a manager who leads a team.



Find Teachable Moments

People learn best from actual situations. Use practical examples from your interaction with the team to teach successful ways of working. These form much deeper impressions than just words.



Encourage More, Punish Less

Punishment stops bad behavior, but it does not produce new good behavior. Therefore, learn to reinforce the good! And please remember, positive behaviors do not happen because of money. People work in better ways when the value of their contribution is recognized.



Reward One Positive Act Each Day

Always take time to seek out the positive and recognize it. It is almost guaranteed that every employee does good work in some area. So be sure to notice it. Highlighting a positive aspect of behavior also makes clear what behaviors you value, both to the individual and the rest of your staff.



Genuine Rewards

Bearing in mind how important it is to reward staff, ensure that the behaviors or achievements you recognize are those that warrant it. Your staff knows when a gesture is meaningless and will only respond positively when it is worthy of reward.


Treat People Fair but Different

Your team is not a clone of one another and they will respond in different ways. Learn what motivates each of them and what works best to make them work effectively. For a competitive person, challenging them to strive harder may be very motivating while for another, helping them to avoid a negative situation may be a key driver. Take time to understand what works.

The human aspect is undoubtedly one of the most challenging factors in business and life in general. Whether you are dealing with business partners, employees, customers or other stakeholders, if you are in business, there will be times when unpopular decisions are a necessity. You may have to do things that you would rather not do, but if you are making these decisions, you have the opportunity to make them fairly and to aim for the best outcome. Be prepared for these to affect you from time to time. However, by making decisions neutrally, you can remove the emotion and ensure it isn’t personal. In this way, you can feel confident that you have sought the fairest outcome in a way that is business-like but not personal.

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There is always something that we can learn from managers that we have had in the past and "Effective managers are always respected so consider what they used to do to gain this respect" is a really great piece of advice. I hope that this article helps out a lot of managers who want to do the best job that they possible can in the near future.   If managers could only get the best training then there would not be many problems in business but everyone needs help sometimes. everything changes

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Great article. Reminds one of the human factor. I think the most important statement you made was "look in the mirror". I have always made my decisions based on what the man in the mirror would truly think of it. Your story reminds me of a situation I encountered early on in my career. It was one of the first people I ever terminated. I had worked very hard to motivate him and correct his actions (or lack thereof) for some time. I could see a lot of me in him and knew he had amazing skills. Unfortunately, it got to the point where I had to let him go. I thought about him for years and second-guessed my decision. About 6 years later I ran into him again and he was a very successful and happy man with a position equal to mine for another company. He told me that my firing him was exactly what he needed to reassess his "you're lucky to have me here" attitude. He changed his behavior and his attitude was far more successful. It's unfortuante I couldn't reap the benefits of his epiphany, but I was very happy that my decision changed his life for the better. It seems the man in the mirror was right all along ;).

  Brian Dryer

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