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To Be a Good Manager, First Succeed at the Spinach Test

Emoji with spinach teethTime for a short self-assessment: the last time you saw someone with their fly down, did you tell them?

If the answer is no, you are probably not ready to manage other people.

It’s what I call the “spinach test.” I’ll share how the spinach test came to be:

I attended a dinner party, invited by a friend of mine. With the exception of said friend, I didn’t know anyone at the party. The party started out great – I chatted with many people that I liked, and they all seemed to like me. Then about halfway through the dinner, people didn’t seem as eager to talk to me. One or two people even looked at me a little funny.

I was confused. How did things take such a turn for the worse, when it started out so well? Was it something I said? Did I offend someone?

I retreated to the restroom. When I looked in the mirror, to realize there was a massive piece of spinach in my teeth.

Later that night, my friend asked if I had a good time. I told her about the spinach. She said, “Oh, yeah, I saw that but I was too embarrassed to tell you!” Lo and behold, the “spinach test” was born.

If you’re a manager, not giving your people direct feedback is like them having something stuck between their teeth and you never telling them. It allows them to be held back by their own blind spots.

Too many managers allow the awkwardness of giving feedback to their staff prevent them from doing it. But not saying anything can be perceived as approval by direct reports. Think of it from the employee’s perspective: if my manager is not saying anything to me about my performance, it probably means I’m doing ok. The problem behavior is allowed to fester, and then all of a sudden the manager is ready to fire the employee.

I get it – giving people direct feedback is hard. We live in a society in which it’s not polite to give feedback. But if you can’t muster up the courage to tell your friend she’s got spinach in her teeth, you are not ready to be a manager.

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