You Can’t Make Everyone Happy All the Time

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

John Lydgate and/or Abraham Lincoln

Here is one of the hardest lessons to learn and manage as a leader and manager. Remember when, before you were a manager, you thought that your boss was out-of-touch, ill-informed, and making bad decisions? Well, if you’re the boss now, guess what? It’s a guarantee that at least some of the people on your team think the same thing about you.

So what can you do about it? What should you do when someone on your team thinks that you are making a mistake, don’t have all the information, or are just incompetent?

You Can Please Some People Some of the Time

The first step is definitely to look inward. You need to be humble and vocally self-critical. Are they correct? Are you making a bad decision? Maybe you don’t have all the information. What are they seeing that you are not? This weighs on my mind when multiple people seem to be saying the same thing to me. If several people are independently asserting that I don’t have all the facts, then it seems very likely that I don’t.

Fortunately, this is the easiest one to address. Just take that time to gather the facts! Have 1:1 or small-team-session meetings and encourage those people to share the information that you aren’t seeing. I’ve learned that it is helpful to be candid, yet tactful. “Please share with me information or data that I may have overlooked.” And don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You don’t have to take it, but it is extremely useful to see other people’s points of view.

You Can’t Please Some People All of the Time

Another thing, as a manager and leader, is to be mindful of other people on a personal level. Remember, people have bad days. You never know what is going on in someone else’s life. And there are times that people have told me I was wrong on something, and we had an open and honest conversation about it, and in the end, we found a way forward that worked for both of us.

This takes a lot of skill and care. You have to be candid and forthcoming, but also be kind and empathetic, and still also be rational and solution-focused. But if you can focus on trying to “solve the problem as a team” as opposed to “winning”, usually you can find a path forward.

Some People Are Just Never Pleased

But now for the hardest lesson I had to learn. Despite what people may think about me, I truly want everyone to be happy and succeed both professionally and personally. And I honestly believe that everyone around me feels the same. But the pragmatic reality is, not everyone is like that. Some people are unhappy and bitter. Some people are just struggling to get through the day. And some people are full of ego and contempt, and nothing you do can convince them that you might have something useful to contribute.

This really bothers me personally. I continuously try to look inward and see what I’m doing wrong and how I can adjust and improve, and if someone is constantly pointing out issues then it can be very draining and disheartening. But there’s a point where you have to non-emotionally realize that it may not be all about you. And once you realize that you can accept the situation, not let it bother you, and find a way forward.

I’m not going to try to psychoanalyze this. There’s plenty of books and podcasts and blogs that talk about why people act like this. But as a leader and manager, I’ve had to learn that I can give people second, third, and fourth chances to be a team player, but eventually there’s a point where it’s just no longer a good fit. (And in some cases these are people that I personally hired, which was a sharp blow to my ego, and a huge learning experience.) The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a manager is when someone has finally used up their chances and I’ve had to make a change, and sometimes it’s not for the better for someone (or anyone).

One of the hardest parts about being a manager is that you are working with people, with all their individuality, strengths, and weaknesses. You have to strive to find a balance between success for your organization, your customers, and your team members. Always be introspective and seek to be humble and improve yourself, but the reality is that sometimes people you work with are just not the right fit and you’ll have to make an adjustment. But you should never let go of your professionalism or your compassion.

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