Managing with tough love is being tough AND loving

Animal skeleton in the desert

When applying tough love in management, make sure you balance the tough with love.

I hear a lot of managers say, “I’m a tough love kind of person.”

I hear a lot of employees say, “My boss is a tough love kind of person.”

The term ‘tough love’ as I recall, was first used to describe the way some parents bought up their children and then, as often happens, it has snuck into corporate language.

While it is true many parents treat their kids strictly, most also are continually sharing much love, so the kids in a good family see both sides of the coin. I think a lot of employers and managers miss the point here. You need both.

This is never truer than in high-pressure industries like recruitment with its constant personal performance focus and mining with its 24/7, ‘never sleep’ focus.

You cannot just be a hard ass to your employees and other people you mentor. Some hard ass recipients might endure, but most will eventually be ground into the dirt by a feeling they are surrounded by relentless harshness and a focus on their shortcomings.  

They also don’t just need to be tossed a platitude immediately after a tornado of negative feedback. 

And they definitely don’t want mission statement-like pronouncements no one truly believes anyway at the start or end of performance reviews, such as:

  • Call me anytime
  • I’m here to help
  • My door is always open
  • We have a culture of team support

If not backed by genuine expressions of compassion and love, long term these things are unlikely to help. In fact, they will almost certainly create more negativity.

I would argue the same applies to the relationship between clients and suppliers.

The mining industry has gone through an incredibly tough cost out phase as a result of commodity price contraction. Additionally, the recruitment business is seeing technology accelerating a supposed commoditisation of labour in some sectors.

We have observed the best and worst behaviours as different companies managed these processes in different ways – some with incredible fairness and evenness and others with blunt ‘take it or leave it’ negotiating strategies.

I was reminded of this recently when reading a brilliant article from one of my favourite bloggers, the prolific Kevin Roberts, founder of Red Rose Consulting. He’s a business leader and educator, author and speaker, and adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.

The article’s initial emphasis is on the wellbeing of kids but draws awesome parallels to the corporate world. If, as a corporate leader, you accept that you have a role to play – perhaps even responsibility some would say – in the wellbeing of your team, then there is obvious massive benefit. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, and I recommend you do, to briefly quote Kevin:

Personal wellbeing is a key element in sustainable peak performance – and filling buckets is one of the ten most potent behaviours in building our own wellbeing – and thus our own performance.

Wellbeing is important because:

  • It energises positivity and commitment to purpose,
  • It enhances flow, productivity and performance,
  • The best companies to work for deliberately create happy work environments,
  • Happy companies significantly outperform their peer group.

The full article and a link to Roberts’ kid’s book on which it was based can be found here

You might not agree that this is food for thought, but I would very much doubt you would argue that love isn’t food for the soul. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Steve Heather FRCSA
Managing Director & Principal Executive Search 
Mining People International
Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

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