I’ve started my career as a typical Software Engineer, messing up with C++ and Java code on B2B software (good time !). During that same time, I had the opportunity to see Lou Gerstner on stage as he was visiting our IBM campus. It was right in the middle of the e-Business period and Lou was here to explain us what e-Business was about and what it meant for us. It was one hour which changed my life. I was so impressed by the message, the clarity, the energy, the motivation. I knew from that point on that this was something I wanted to do: Being able to have this type of impact on people. being able to share a vision, drive a business, etc. I guess I would have had the same conclusion if I had the opportunity to see Jack Welsh on a stage. He’s also one of my role model.
Setting a target is the easy part, hitting it requires a bit more work ! Especially when you’re a software engineer and you want to become someone like Gerstner. There is not one way to reach this type of objectives and I could have chosen a lot of different way. I was in IBM, looked like it was a good opportunity to learn and experience management so I stuck with it.
I had my first management role about 10 years ago. And boy didn’t I know anything at that time! Between the project pressure and the learning process, I was a bit overwhelmed. I hadn’t received formal training yet and at that time and was looking for some clues. I was fortunate enough to have my manager close by (pretty much next door) and who was very hands-on on the day to day activities of his team. I thought that if that guy was at that position, he was probably doing something right (If you’re fortunate enough, that’s usually the case). So I started observing him, picking up what I thought was good practices, tried to understand the impact he had with some of the behaviors he was demonstrating. The overall team was fairly successful, so he became a good first model. Stepping back, there is one thing he taught me which stands up from the rest: learn as early as possible to manage the emotional bank accounts you have with people you work with.
The term was coined by Stephen Covey while he was giving course on organizational behavior. He also wrote about it in his acclaimed best seller, The seven habits of highly effective people, In a nutshell, Covey tells us that we’re keeping an emotional bank account with everyone we have a relationship with. It is true for the one you love, your spouse, children, family, your friends but also your co-workers and your employees. In a sense, this account represent the level of trust and confidence we have with people.
Any account we have with people will start at a neutral level. As we make deposits in this account, the level of trust and confidence go higher, the relationship grows. If we start making withdrawal from the account, the relationship and the trust suffer. The goal is to have a positive account with people at all time, deposit often so that the relationship will have a greater tolerance to mistakes we might make.
Covey describes 6 major ways of making deposit into all your emotional bank accounts you have with people.
Understand the individual
With employees or co-workers, you need to be able to listen in order to understand what’s important to them, their aspiration, what make them happy. Being able to listen is a very good way to make large deposit in their emotional bank account. Listening is not as easy as it sounds! You need to put yourself in their shoes, understand their thought process, empathize. Remove yourself from the picture. It’s all about them.Listening to people is a good way to understand them. Being there, visible and observing is also another way. I encourage you during the day to walk around the office to observe, touch base with people, try to get the temperature, encourage, make small personal connection, laugh ! It shows people that you’re here and that you care.
Breaking a promise is one of the largest withdrawal you can make so you better do what you promise to people. You basically need to walk the talk so that everything that comes out from your mouth means something to people.
If you want to avoid major withdrawal from people emotional bank account, you want to make sure that expectations are clear. You need to invest time and effort to make sure roles and goals are clear. Some people needs general direction. Some needs greater detail. But in any case, you need to make sure people understand what you expect from them.
Remember the little attention
In a way, this is an area where you can make the largest deposit over time but it is the most forgotten. Smiling, thanking people, small encouragement, kind words etc. These are all small things we should all do as individual. It shows that we care, that we’re aware of others. All these deposits are small but numerous. You can really load an account with these. Think about it as the long tail of emotional bank accounts ! (I’m currently reading the Long Tail … ! )
Show personal integrity
You could do perfectly all the previous points, if you don’t demonstrate integrity your accounts are doomed. Since they represent trust and the strength of a relationship, if you lack integrity your balance will become overdrawn. Don’t talk behind people, don’t criticizes or complain (be constructive), don’t be rude or aggressive, don’t use people mistakes as weapon, don’t hold grudges, don’t take offense too quickly, forgive, be loyal etc. Be whole and complete and people will trust and respect you.
Apologize with sincerity
Being a good person every day is difficult. We make mistakes. Sometime we’re going to offend someone, break a promise, forget to thank someone, we’re going to be angry, not clear enough etc. We’re human, we screw up, and it’s ok as long as we’re able to recognize our mistakes and apology. Sometime, an apology completely offset a withdrawal and makes it a deposit in an account !
All these concepts are kind of obvious when managing a relationship but applying them requires awareness and effort. Integrating them into your management best practices is definitely a good investment !