Managers can be too hard, too soft or just right

“Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks,” a manager explained. “I wonder if I am I too hard, too soft, or just right, when it comes to interacting with my employees.” 

Like the fairy tale about the three bears, too soft and too hard just aren’t right for a manager who wants to develop a credible style. This is an important question for every manager but particularly for new managers, because it is the degree of softness or hardness that often gets them into trouble. 

Here’s how managers get into trouble by being too soft:

If they are managing their former peers and their predecessor was too hard, the new manager may be tempted to swing to the other side of the pendulum. After being on the receiving end of a lousy boss, he or she may vow, “If I ever get that job, I’ll never treat people that way.” The problem is that the new boss may not have had a role model to demonstrate what a good manager in the middle looks like. 

Then, when their former coworker gets the promotion, everyone is ecstatic, “Oh, you’re going to be wonderful as our new manager,” they gush. “You know how miserable we’ve all been. You’ll be much more understanding because you’ve been one of us.”  

The problems start if the new manager isn’t clear about where the line should be drawn. For example, employees may make special requests that won’t be fair to others, or one or two employees may come to work late, “because our new manager will understand what it’s like to have family commitments.” If the new manager doesn’t fairly balance the four needs: the employee, the team, the customer and the organization, trouble will brew. 

Or, worse, if the new manager was guilty of bending the rules himself on occasion, such as stretching lunch hours, he or she may feel hypocritical about commenting on that behavior when their employees do it. This catch 22 begins a downward spiral that results in a dissatisfied employee group who has no respect for the manager. 

Here’s how managers get in trouble by being too hard:

Sometimes managers use a heavy hand when a light touch will do. “I’m the boss now and what I say goes,” they seem to imply. Often, they are masking insecurity about their ability to lead by over exerting their power. Heavy-handed managers are usually secretly afraid that no one will do what they ask unless they demand obedience and threaten punishment.  

They are quick to criticize employees for any little mistake. They set rigid rules and enforce them without regard for individual needs. Sometimes they are harsh or even abusive, with little regard for their employees’ egos or self esteem. 

When managers do things “just right”:

Good managers set clear expectations. Employees expect the manager to set limits that keep the playing field level for everyone. If they enforce the rules and standards fairly and consistently, everyone can focus on their own performance, rather than grumbling about how some people are favored. They can be friendly without being “friends.” 

Good managers give feedback and coaching. They notice employees’ performance and comment on things that are working and give advice when things are off track. They care about helping their employees do the best job possible, so they invest the time to get involved without doing the work for them. They also give thorough performance reviews, so employees know where they stand.  

Good managers recognize and reinforce good performance. They know that a simple “please” and “thank you” go a long way. They spend time with good performers and are careful not to overload them with work.  

Good managers help their employees grow in their jobs. They are interested in their employees’ goals and are willing to stretch them with new assignments and training. They know that good employees want challenge, so they set high standards and goals for them to reach. 

Learning how to be a good manager can be a bit of a “bear” but like Goldilocks, you need to find the right comfort level for you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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