What It Takes to Be A Facilitative Manager – Part 3: Feel, But Not Too Much

By Oliver W. Cummings, 4/3/2020

Feedback from my previous post:

I’ve been using this space to provide a little continuity for this series of posts on facilitative management. This time, however, the pandemic has intervened, and I am foregoing comments on the prior post.

Instead, I am going to provide some things I learned from the best boss I ever had. Bud was, in my view, a facilitative manager and now, after a couple of address changes and a few years of not being in contact with him, he took the initiative to reach out to a couple dozen colleagues from the time when he was our boss.

It has been a surprising and gratifying string of communications among these reconnected people from 20-plus years ago. In an exercise in some training program I took sometime in that 20-year span, I responded to the question, “What did you learn from the best boss you ever had?” That was Bud, and here was my answer:

  • Leadership is ½ attitude, ½ action, and ½ attention.
  • Good management is marked by a focus on outcomes, taking down barriers so your people can accomplish the outcomes you expect, recognizing those accomplishments and the people who made them, and being quietly loyal to those you manage.
  • The way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas; base them on good foundational knowledge – read a lot and synthesize.
  • You should surround yourself with people who complement your skills or who are better than you technically, rely on their expertise.
  • Postponing personnel decisions can be poisonous to the rest of the staff, so make the tough decisions when you need to.
  • Hire initially for characteristics you will need if your employee gets promoted.
  • Hire for personal qualities, fit to the organization, and basic skills – you can train the rest.
  • Invest in people as if they are going to stay with you forever.
  • Question everything (with integrity).
  • If the system is fouled up, fix it from within.

While Feel, But Not Too Much was not among my answers, I think it applies as well.


Facilitative Mangers

Here is what I mean by that statement about the third of the things beyond using good foundational management skills that the facilitative manager will do.

  • Believe, but not too much
  • Care, but not too much
  • Feel, but not too much
  • Foster trust, but not too much
  • Demonstrate what you can’t have too much of: Integrity

Each of these balancing acts is important to establish and enhance your working relationships with your subordinates.

Feelings are the basis for rapport and fuel for common understanding. Feeling, in your role as a middle manager, involves being able to “walk a mile” in the other person’s shoes. In the psychological literature this is called empathic understanding, that is, understanding your employee’s feelings, ideas, and experiences from their frame of reference.

Common or shared understanding encompasses not only literal content but meanings and affective elements, as well. Understanding your employee at this deeper level lays a path to developing stronger trust, confidence and mutual commitment. Communication for a facilitative manager is at this deeper than typical level.

To develop your ability for accurate empathy you must know, and perhaps work on, your own attitudes about others. You should hone your active listening skills (part of really understanding what the employee is trying to convey) and your other facilitative communication skills.

As a facilitative manager you will:

  • Employ Stephen Covey’s[i] admonition to seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Suspend judgment on another’s action or interpretation of events until you know why the individual reacted in the way they did
  • Practice active listening
  • Bring your own parallel feelings (from personal experience) into the discussion in order to
    • assure yourself that you truly understand the individual, and
    • demonstrate to the individual that understanding or correct your misunderstandings in real time.

It is in your self-interest to work toward accurate empathic understanding of employees and others in your business relationships, and to develop those relationships to the highest level you can reach on the Manager’s Relationship Hierarchy.

At the same time, it is important to recognize the limits that you need to place on feelings and not do too much. It is inappropriate, for example, to go so deeply into the individual’s feelings that the employee’s privacy is threatened. You are trying to understand the totality of the employee’s experience in a given situation, in order to facilitate their work-related responsibilities, not more.

How do you feel about feelings?

Next time:

  • Foster trust, but not too much

[i] Covey, S. 1989. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster

Reader Interactions


  1. Bill says

    This is an interest point. Early in my career, I was promoted to factory foreman (1973 terminology there). I had worked on my line that was always late and used to make excuses for her. Finally, I had to write her up for disciplinary action because her tardiness was affecting the production line. That afternoon the plant manager took me out for a beer because I was “finally acting” like a supervisor. Yep, feel, but no too much, is sound advice.

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