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  • Writer's picturePaolo Pironi

Managers: Do This One Thing And Your Reportees Will Thank You

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

Being a manager is complex: literally thousands of pages have been written on the topic. But I found that the one approach that you really want to hone as a people manager is the so-called “tough love”. Tough love is not an excuse to be a cold a**hole. And it doesn’t mean giving up on kindness and empathy. But if done right, it will make your employees loyal, dependable, and effective. And they will thank you for supporting their growth.

Executive Coaching and Consulting for Startups

Here are my 3 pointers for tough love excellence:

1. Give a damn

Have small talk, discuss how they’re feeling, ask about their hobbies and their family. Most importantly, mean it: people can tell if you’re only waiting until they’re finished talking, so you can give them orders or scoot to your next meeting.

In addition to casual water cooler conversations, you should utilise your weekly one-on-one with your reportees for this same purpose. Don’t take this time for a status update, they can send you an email or a report for that. Instead talk about anything that’s on their mind, at work or otherwise. This is where you find out the important stuff. For example, you might discover that one reportee has been training for hours every evening for a dance show, which tells you she’ll be fit for projects that require huge dedication, focus on excellence, and teamwork.

2. Let them come up with their own solutions

Instead of giving your team the solution to problems, coach them on how to develop their own. This requires you to put aside your ego that says you know better - it can be hard and frustrating because in some cases, well, you probably do know better. But if you stick with coaching, you’ll reap amazing benefits: your team will be motivated to come up with creative solutions, will deliver better results as they’ll take pride in them, and will require less of your time.

Coaching is one of the top skills that any manager must hone. I recommend that you read up on the main Coaching models (I teach tGROW), and that you get a professional trainer for you and your fellow managers, if you can afford one: HBR has found that formal training spares coaching novices from developing costly bad habits.

Before you get all studious, here’s a quick technique you can try straight away. I used to work with a C-level guy who was the “tough love” master. One time, I had an idea and asked him if he thought it was a good idea to pursue. He curtly replied, “And what would be the upside of doing that?” And the expression on his face spelled out “you idiot”, which was a bit hurtful, but he had a point: why did I waste his time asking a question, without truly attempting to answer it myself? So I did ask myself the question, I immediately realised that my idea was stupid, and I learned a lesson: if I asked myself the right questions, I could come up with my own solutions, without needing my manager. And by applying this mantra day in and day out, I became senior. Your best reportees are going to love you for making them realise their potential and for directing their growth in this way.

3. Spare them nothing

Never walk away from a quality problem: you must give constructive feedback every time your reportees mess up. People don’t listen to what leaders say, they watch what leaders do, so if you walk away from a quality problem, you’re basically saying that it’s ok. And that’s a hard message to undo. Giving timely negative feedback also makes you predictable, and that’s a great thing for a manager: your people will know that mistakes won’t be overlooked.

Negative feedback to your reportees must be delivered in private, not as a public shaming. It must be specific to ensure that it’s fully understood, and you should ask the recipient to express his feelings about it and to repeat his learnings back. Finally, it needs to occur immediately after the event, as the efficacy of feedback decreases exponentially with time.


Tough love is the mother of all people management techniques: it helps you maintain order, while giving your reportees the opportunity to step up and grow. Your best people will cherish this opportunity and thank you for it. If some reportees don’t appreciate it, they might not be the best fit for the role, but how to handle them is a topic for another post… :)


Get in touch if you want to discuss your management challenges, I'd be happy to help you,



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