Aubrey Rhodes

Being a Manager When the World Feels Like It's On Fire

June 04, 2020

You’re going to learn real quick in this job that you can’t fix every problem for every person. Especially when the problems your team members are facing feel insurmountable. There’s no action item you can put on your agenda to end a global pandemic or to wipe away systemic racism. To be a good leader you also need to learn that you should still be a resource even if you don’t have all the answers.

Be Human

Find a way to acknowledge what’s going on in the world and how it’s affecting you. Share this in your conversations with your team. If you act like nothing is going on, this will erode their trust in you. Understand that your team members may need to talk about how they are being affected as well. Being your whole self at work isn’t weakness, it’s honesty. Reassure your team members that it’s safe to feel this way as well.

Over Communicate About Expectations

Like when someone is going through a personal crisis, you need to change your expectations . They’ll need room to cope. Now might not be the time for them to tackle the stretch goals you were planning together. Make sure they know that’s ok and be clear about your expectations you do want them to still be meeting. Be specific. E.g. “It’s ok if you want to hold off on delivering a tech talk this quarter. But make sure you’re still delivering stories right now.” When you’re clear about your expectations, it removes a huge source of stress. Your team won’t need to wonder about where they stand with you.

Be a Resource

Companies offer Employee Assistance Programs and other benefits to help in difficult situations. If you don’t already know, reach out to someone in HR and have them explain the programs. Be ready to share your knowledge with the team. Encourage them to understand what programs are available. These can help and your team members may simply not know what’s offered.

Be a Role Model

Whether you like it or not, people will look to you to see how you’re responding to these situations. This doesn’t mean that you should change your actions; you already know what is right and what is wrong. It does mean that you will disappoint people who are looking to you if you stand on the sidelines. If you are doing work to help others, be open about it. People will see what you’re doing and you might inspire someone to help too.

Written by Aubrey Rhodes who builds software engineering teams in Atlanta.

© 2020 Aubrey Rhodes