Self-Aware Manager: What Do You Do When You Stress Employees Out?

© microimages -
© microimages -

I’ve managed people for a long time, and although I have pretty good instincts, I really learned how to do it the old-fashioned way: by just getting thrown in and forced to learn on the job.

That’s not the best way to master people management, and I know I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. However one thing I don’t think I ever did, even way back when I was still a green new manager, was stress my employees out.

I can’t ever recall a time where my management style impacted or disrupted a worker’s personal life. It’s not how I roll.

But, I also know how that can be because I’ve been on the other end of it. I’ve had jobs where I had supervisor-inspired anxiety attacks Sunday night because I dreaded going to work on Monday. And, I’ve had bosses who loved to phone me from their office and say, “can you come down here for a minute,” which was always code that I was going to have some long and contentious conversation that was going to eat at me for days.

A wake-up call for managers

I remember that kind of behavior and have gone out of my way not to indulge in it myself. I consider myself a self-aware manager when it comes to that, but a lot of managers don’t seem to have that kind of personal insight about themselves — or don’t care if they do.

That’s why this New York Times Corner Office column jumped out at me this week, because it gave some great insight into how one manager became more self aware of how their managerial behavior was impacting the lives of the people under their command.

The Times talked to Selina Lo, president and chief executive of Ruckus Wireless, and here’s what she said when asked, “how has your leadership style evolved?”

I’m impatient. I can occasionally get emotional, and sometimes when you’re too passionate about something, it can become disruptive. However, the one thing I learned is that a lot of people actually respond well to that because it means you can cut through all the stuff and get things done. That was what I lived for — to get things done, and really be the cheerleader for those people who want to move faster than the system is moving.

But I also had a wake-up call. One of my employees told me that he wanted to report to another person. He said my pace was just way too fast for him, and I was just way too abrupt, that I was too demanding and expected people to know what I wanted just by osmosis. He also told me that I created too much stress for him and that he was having trouble sleeping. And I thought, really? It had not occurred to me that people would actually have a physical reaction to my style. And so that was a wake-up call. I was greatly humbled.

There’s a Chinese proverb that doesn’t translate very well, but it’s basically a spoonful of sugar, a spoonful of tar. Tar is like the Chinese medicine, the herbal thing that is always very bitter, and that was me. And so, people love me and hate me at the same time. But I thought that was O.K. The problem I had was the balance. I’m sure, even today, people love me and hate me at the same time. Today, I’m much more mindful of that balance. But in those days, the hate part completely dominated the love part.”

Why managers need to adjust their behavior

Well, I respect Selina Ho for being honest and introspective about her managerial behavior and the impact it has on others. That’s always the first step in dealing with any problem.

In my experience, though, her introspection is pretty rare. Maybe I’ve just worked at the wrong places for the wrong people, but the managers I toiled under who were like Selina Ho were hardly introspective enough to focus on their own behavior and negative impact it might be having on others. Or, they knew and simply didn’t care. Either way, they never adjusted their behavior because they never felt they had to.

I’ve told the story many times of the newspaper publisher I once worked for who sometimes would come into my office in a rage. She would be swearing and shouting, and she would end up balling up that day’s newspaper and throwing it at me before stomping out.

Article Continues Below

Needless to say, her behavior didn’t encourage me, her top editor, to do better work. Nor did it make me sleep better at night.

It’s about getting the best out of people

But, bless her, she would always manage to come back to my office within an hour after her outburst, contrite, and apologize for how she acted. As much as I hated her behavior, I loved that she was always a big enough person — and a smart enough manager — to realize the impact it was having on me. She readjusted her style and did what she could to make amends.

That’s the lesson today from Selina Ho buried down in this New York Times interview. Smart executives and managers are continually readjusting their behavior, their actions, and their managerial style to help get the very best out of their people.

A great manager doesn’t want people working for them to go home with a headache after dealing with them all day. Unfortunately, a bad manager doesn’t always know they’re doing it, or worse yet, knows and doesn’t seem to care.

The core job of a manager is to get the best out of people, to get them to work beyond what they think they can do, and to get them to do it without hating you for it. When I have been at my best and succeeded the most, I was able to do that.

You should learn from the words of Selina Ho and try to do that, too.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *