Managers are typically not the most empathetic figures within an organization. So, while saddled with the responsibility for finding new employees and keeping existing ones happy, they’re rarely tuned into the more subtle goings-on in the hearts and minds of their employees. Yet, somewhere in nearly every company, someone does know. I call this person the “den mother."
While it is not necessarily a woman, there is almost always someone who plays the den mother role. He or she knows who is thinking of a career change, who is struggling through a painful break-up, who is feeling apathetic about their work, and who is the manager that no one can stand. In short, people confide in him or her.
Although a particularly adept manager can play this role, it’s usually a less powerful employee. But, regardless of their hierarchical position, the den mothers are tapped into a crucial – and potent – well of HR knowledge. And if asked, they can provide valuable recommendations as to which employees need a dose of motivation, which need a change of pace, and which are at risk of leaving the company.
For this reason, wise managers will seek to identify and ally themselves with the den mothers within their organizations. They might also consider going so far as to empower them more. The den mother is usually a natural fit for integrating new hires into the company culture, coaching drifting employees back on track, and raising the flag when meaningful, company-wide concerns bubble up.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Jocelyn K. Glei, a creative strategist with expertise in editorial, design and publishing. She regularly collaborates with Scott Belsky and the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develop knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.