Leadership advice

Managing the “give” and “get” ledger

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

Great bosses know that we all keep a mental ledger of what we give to our workplace and what we feel we are getting in return. Here’s what’s interesting about the “give” side of our ledgers:

  • Our “gives” are very clear to us. We keep track of what we’ve done, the degree of difficulty, the extra effort and sacrifice.
  • Our “give” side also contains our good intentions. We judge ourselves by those, even when we make mistakes. As in “Oh, I meant to call you but I got busy.” or “I didn’t mean to offend you with the suggestion, I was trying to be helpful.”
  • Our “give” side is key to our sense of self-worth and self-image.

That’s why it’s so important for every manager to see their team members as people – not just producers. Every person keeps a different ledger. When I, the supervisor, know you well enough, I have insights into your bookkeeping and how to make sure that both of our “give” and “get” perceptions are in sync. Sometimes, I have to show you what I hope you’re getting from me.

Feedback is the best tool for this and cannot become a casualty of the coronavirus crush. It’s more important than ever — when people are working under extreme stress — to let them know that you see what they’re giving and the conditions under which they’re working. Praise what’s working and carefully address what needs to be better by providing guidance that’s realistic and respectful.

If not, you will create a “tipping point” moment when they think the ledger just blew up. They may not quit, but they sure as heck won’t throw themselves into their work. They may hold back when they could have volunteered ideas. They may do “just enough” and no more. They may complain to others. If they’re influential, their negativity becomes contagious.

What are some tipping point moments?

  • Tone-deaf messages, especially delivered in management-speak.  Example: “Refrain from engaging in personal activities during work hours. Exceptions should be arranged with your supervisor.” Is the message necessary in the first place? If you really fear that people don’t know the organization’s expectations and may stray from them, at least be human about it. “We know you’re juggling many responsibilities in your home work space. We encourage you to take care of your family and continue your good work for us. If you run into problems, check in with your manager.”
  • Silence. You’re cranking out great work under duress and hear nothing. Day after day.
  • Requests that reveal a manager’s ignorance of what it takes to do your work: If managers don’t know the time or tools it takes an employee to do something, their blue sky requests trigger red hot reactions.
  • Managers who let some people play by different rules. When some employees are uncollaborative, underproductive or unkind to others and nothing happens, it’s demotivating to others. And they may be sitting and stewing about it, at a distance – and you don’t even know it.

Here’s to all the managers out there who are ledger-balancing experts – or trying to be. Because of you, your teams are more likely to be happier, healthier and more highly motivated as they do great journalism.

Have questions? Ask away.


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