When Your Direct Report Just Needs a Friend

I was reflecting recently on a meeting I had with one of my managers. Our 1-on-1 didn't quite go as planned and we ended up talking primarily about his life for about 45 minutes. Without getting into too much detail, apparently a lot is going on for him in his personal life and he just wanted to talk about it. What should have been a 1-hour discussion about his team, his current projects, and his reactions to some big announcements turned into a therapy session basically. When I was reflecting on that hour a bit later, I couldn't help but think that it was some of the most productive time I've spent with that manager. It could have been so easy for me to cut him off and make sure we stay on topic. But I am so thankful I didn't. Even though we didn't tackle any of the items we intended to, it was an hour where he was able to completely open up and be vulnerable about the things outside of work that were impacting his ability to be his best self in the office. Not only did I learn more about him, but we were able to strengthen our relationship by relating over some tough topics.

I mention all this to say that sometimes being a manager means being a friend. Your team will look to you for a plethora of things, even life advice. It can be so valuable to push your to-do list aside every once in a while and just connect with your people. This probably goes against everything you've been told. Sure, you can keep your personal life to yourself and out of the office, but sometimes the reward of opening up with your team can be so much greater.