Leadership advice

Good managers are guides, not guards

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

Leading remote teams demands a lot of managers. You need to be a better communicator than ever. Your emotional intelligence needs to be fine-tuned for each employee’s needs. Even if you hate detail work, you need to be a planner.

But here’s one thing you should never be: a high-tech prison guard.

Two recent articles make that clear. NPR business reporter Bobby Allyn examined the rise of “tattleware,” software that lets managers monitor employees’ keystrokes, download videos of their screens and use webcams to snap images while they are – or aren’t – at their desks.

New York Times tech reporter Adam Satariano and his editor, Pui-Wing Tam, gave one such software program a test-drive. Their findings:

“After three weeks of digital monitoring, the future of work surveillance seemed to both of us to be overly intrusive. As she put it, ‘Ick.’”

“Ick” is an understatement. 

Remote surveillance of employees isn’t a management tool, it’s a weapon.

Wise leaders know better. Their goal isn’t to guard the office, it’s to guide the people.

Yes, they share clear expectations, talk about ethical guidelines, set deadlines and hold folks accountable – but not through hyper-micromanagement. They do it through regular, rich communication and coaching.

They understand that autonomy is a key intrinsic motivator for people, who are energized by being able to have a strong voice in their work. That voice, and a sense of self-direction and control are especially important to journalists.

The best leaders aren’t guards. Instead, they are managers who provide the guidance and glue that create great working relationships and quality journalism. 

The foundation of it all is this sincere message: I trust you.


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