What it is, and why having one means your employees will never see you as a peer.
If you’re a manager, you carry around a 5-foot-long, gleaming sword. The hilt has diamonds on it. It may or may not be made from unobtanium. It hums menacingly. And it’s on fire.
It’s obnoxious enough to be entirely distracting and even somewhat terrifying, but here’s the weird thing — it’s only visible to your direct employees. You can’t see it. Or feel it, or hear it. You might not even know you have it.
But it’s present AF.
Of course, a giant, flaming sword is theoretical (although it would make a pretty badass work-iversary gift). So what’s this really about? It’s about understanding that, as a manager, you wield the power of fire. Not the figurative kind, but the real-world, walk-someone-out-the-door-while-their-coworkers-watch-them-cry kind.
If you can’t fire people, you’re a team leader, not a manager.
When you wield that type of power, it means that no matter how hard you try to be “friendly” or “one of the team” or “an equal among equals,” you’ll never achieve it. You’ll never get beyond the velvet rope into Club Coworker, because you’re the boss, and they’re not. You can fire them — they can’t return the favor.
To your employees, this can feel like … you guessed it … a giant, flaming sword. And they want no part of it.
That’s because for the typical employee, being fired can be financially ruinous. Studies consistently show that close to two-thirds of people don’t even have $500 saved up for a rainy day. If you fire someone tomorrow, they might not be able to make their rent in two weeks.
It can also impede their chances of landing a new gig. They’ll have to answer the “Why did that job only last six months?” or the “Why did you leave your previous position?” question over and over and over. Imagine for a minute having to first admit that you were fired to an interviewer, then having to explain why. Makes you feel icky inside, right?
And finally, it just feels *awful* to be fired. The emotions of sitting in that meeting with your boss and likely HR, hearing those words, then maybe being escorted out while your stunned coworkers pack up your desk? Talk about a bad day.
This is not a statement against firing employees. Sometimes, if it’s based on a lack of measurable performance or unsuitability for the job, firing an employee is the only choice. It is, however, a plea to realize that if you have the power to cause that kind of damage to someone else’s life, you cannot be their equal. (And you shouldn’t even try.) They will always have their guard up and some level of distrust when it comes to you. Because no matter how much you reassure them, they can never not see the sword.
Effective managers know about the sword and take steps to hold it behind their backs (politely declining happy hour invitations from the team, for example) in an attempt to block some of the heat. Ineffective managers swing it about wildly, like they’re in some sort of weird workplace RPG. They not only make the happy hour happen, they force everyone to go.
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re a manager, you must know where your sword is at all times. You must learn how to use it, and, most importantly, how NOT to use it. (If you’ve ever had a boss make a “joke” about firing people, for example, you know the blade is sharp and really effing stings.)
And if you can’t find it, look for the flaming pieces of your employees who have been cut down in the past. A little bit of humility and apology can go a long way toward putting the sword back in its sheath.