Being in charge is not just about getting the job done

The National's Workplace Doctor, Debbie Nicol, says being in charge also means taking the time to help your staff in times of crisis.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Sarah Dea / The National

I run a team of 20 for a large corporate organisation and find that most of my time is spent managing the people in the team rather than the project we are working on. Everyone has personal issues that need to be resolved and I find myself acting more like a caring parent sometimes than a boss. Whether it's sickness, death in the family or concerns they are not achieving, the staff come to me with all their problems no matter how personal. How can I balance the personal needs of each individual with the more important role of "getting the job done". PK, Al Ain

Hi PK or should I say “Mum”. How does that make you feel – like it or loathe it?

I would love to know your definition of what a boss is. I sense your definition aligns with the majority whereby a boss is considered to be an external agent, separate from the people, one which holds a natural “power” over the other to get things done.

I also read that your priority is clearly to get the job done because in your world it is the most important thing for you, but right now it’s not happening in the most efficient or effective manner due to interruptions from people issues. Two questions can be asked at this point:

1 How can tasks be completed without people?

2 Will people ever exist without human implications?

I have bad news for you. Gone are the days where distinction exists and isolation rules the world.

Those people who seem to be currently disturbing your world are your world, and the sooner this is appreciated the better.

They are intrinsically linked to both you and their personal situations. Let me draw an analogy with your own children. They are yours, and nature will have them moving forward yet meeting challenges while doing so. You are always there to help your children through these challenges because both the person and their problem are part of you.

Do you see your team members in the same light and if not, what could be the difference if you did?

I had a team member once who needed to quickly and unexpectedly return home due to death. He was in a state of chaos in his mind and couldn’t possibly handle the arrangements as he was an emotional wreck.

Once he was back, that small assistance on my part seemed to come back to me tenfold, with offers for overtime at any time I need it. Yes, handling this situation did throw my day out of routine, yet it showed assistance from the heart with genuine care.

It’s true what they say – your people don’t care what you know until they know you care.

I liken heart in the workplace to water for the marathon – is it an option to live without it?

You seek to balance effort in both people and task. We love balance because it is predictable, aligned and feels right.

Balance implies equal focus on both sides. More bad news coming … brace yourself.

Each person is different, and handling each one’s issues will be unpredictable. When the unexpected happens with people, is balance really possible? How would you feel if a personal situation emerged in your life and your boss indicated that he or she had neither the interest nor the time to assist with the issue as that would unbalance their day?

An alternative may be to focus on the intention of completing tasks, but also building in a buffer of flexibility to allow you to handle unexpected situations when they come along.

I believe parenthood involves sacrifice – is this true also for a ‘boss’ or leader? Intend to complete tasks yet sacrifice this and finish your shift later in order to provide one of your people a shoulder to cry on.

Could sacrifice be your next task to master?

Doctor’s prescription

Tasks will never get done without the people. People will never exist without “realities”. Task and people can never be separated, nor balanced.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague