What Makes A Great Boss?

Don’t expect to enjoy the cream of life if you keep your milk of human kindness all bottled up.

The Gallup Poll says, “75% of people who quit their jobs, quit their manager.”

And they’re not alone in that discovery. After studying 60,000 exit interviews, the Saratoga Institute reports 80% of turnover is related to an unsatisfactory relationship with the boss. Research by Capelle Associates, Inc. reveals that 50% of employees feel the relationship with their boss is sub-optimal. And in her book, “My Boss Is Driving Me Crazy,” Cheryl Mader Hagen says, “Four out of five people don’t want to go to work in the morning. And the main reason sited is — their boss!”

The problem is obvious — lots of bosses don’t know how to be bosses. They may have been promoted to their position of “boss” because they were very good at what they did in their previous job. However, there is little or no connection between the skills needed to be a great employee and the skills needed to be a great boss.

Oh sure, the boss may have the “authority” or the RIGHT to rule. It’s implied in his/her title or job description. But chances are he/she doesn’t have the “power” or ABILITY to rule.

And that can lead to BIG trouble … upset employees, decreased motivation, lowered productivity, a negative work environment, and a nasty rumor-filled grapevine. That’s why I teach people HOW to be great bosses who get great results in my program on “The Leadership Payoff: How the Best Leaders Bring out the Best in Others … And So Can You.”

To become a better boss … the kind of boss employees want to work for, cooperate with, and give their best to … take a few hints from your employees. This is what they would tell you … in their own words … if they were sharing what’s really on their minds and in their hearts.

1. Speak clearly.

One of the greatest motivators at work is clarity. I need to know exactly what I’m supposed to do and how it fits into the bigger picture. I need to know how my work will be measured and when it is due. I need to know what standard of quality is expected and how my efforts affect the work of others.

In fact, the clearer I am about my assignment and the order of priority in which it has to be done, the happier and more motivated I will feel. That’s why I want you to spend time talking to me and the others on the team … inviting our feedback and comments on the work. It not only shows your respect for our work, it also empowers us to do our very best.

Perhaps the simplest way of putting it is … I don’t want any misunderstandings or surprises. So please speak clearly.

I don’t want what one little girl suggested. When her father was stationed overseas, the little four-year-old decided that she needed a baby brother. Her mother replied, “That’s a good idea. But don’t you think we should wait until your father comes home?”

The little girl said she had a better idea. “Why don’t we just surprise him instead?”

The lesson is simple: Please, boss, no surprises.

2. Get to know me. Don’t prejudge me.

Don’t fall into the trap … thinking all employees are the same … that there’s no need to spend your precious time getting to know me and the other folks on the team. If you think that way, chances are you’re going to make some big mistakes.

That’s what happened to Marc. He had to learn that lesson the hard way.

He was so preoccupied with the text message he was sending that he tripped over a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. Marc fell to the ground. His phone, his briefcase, and some of its contents were sprawled across the sidewalk; and the trench coat that had been resting on his shoulders fell across the legs of the homeless man. Marc scrambled to his feet and grabbed his things. He reached for his coat in disgust and shook it violently.

As he walked away, Marc looked over his shoulder. The homeless man wearily stood to his feet with the help of a big wooden stick. One of his arms was crudely bandaged and in a sling. “Just a moment,” the man called after him.

Marc ignored the plea and continued walking. He’d heard that some of the displaced people in that area could get a little aggressive. He turned the corner and headed down the block.

A few moments later, he looked behind him and saw that he was still being “stalked.” This is ridiculous, he thought to himself. Marc figured if the bum was still chasing him when he got to his car, he might have to get physical with him.

He stood at his car searching his pockets for his keys. The homeless man limped faster. He stopped for a moment and raised his walking stick. “Please,” the man called out in a gravelly voice.

“What do you want?” yelled Marc as the bum approached him.

The homeless man was overcome by a croup-like cough. He pulled an expensive-looking leather wallet and a car key from his arm sling. “You dropped these.”

Marc snatched his things and immediately opened his billfold. At a glance, everything appeared to be in order, including the money. His defensiveness turned to shame. “I’m sorry,” he said. He pulled out a few dollars. “Thank you. Here let me …”

“That won’t be necessary,” the homeless man said with a wave of his hand. “My reward is a clean conscience.”

Just as Marc learned he shouldn’t prejudge others, please don’t prejudge me. I’m an individual, who has gifts, talents, and insights that you don’t even know about.

I know you’re busy, and I know your time is very limited, but take a few minutes once a while to get to know me. Chances are it will be good for both of us as well as our working relationship. Don’t prejudge me and think you already know me.

And if you don’t know HOW to get to know me, ask me a “brave question” once in a while. It has dramatically improved the work relationships of thousands of people.

3. Tell me the truth.

Even though I might not WANT to hear it, I still NEED to hear it. After all, very few things in life get better all by themselves.

Tell me the cold hard truth. As dramatist Friederich Hebbel pointed out, “One lie does not cost you one truth but the truth.” So give it to me straight.

That’s what Deborah learned. The minute she walked into the post office, the postmaster noticed the new earrings her husband had given her.

“Those must be real diamonds,” she said.

“Yes,” Deborah replied. “How could you tell?”

“Because,” she said, “no one buys fake diamonds that small.”

You see, boss, when I know the truth, I can be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem. So let me know what’s going on and where I stand.

And just in case your definition of the “truth” has gotten a little fuzzy, you can start with being consistent. Don’t tell me one thing and do something else. Keep your promises, or I’ll waste company time wondering what the real truth is, and I won’t trust you.

4. Don’t ever suggest or pretend that you are perfect or infallible.

It makes me feel smaller or less significant than I am, and that only tempts me to cut you down to size. That’s not good for any of us.

By the way, don’t ever think it is beneath your dignity to apologize if you make a mistake. Rather than decreasing my respect for you, an honest apology makes me feel better about you. It helps me see you as a real human being instead of a boss-like role you’re playing.

There’s an old Amish proverb that would be good for all of us to remember and follow. It says, “Forgiveness is as valuable to the one forgiven as it is to the one who forgives.”

5. Share your appreciation now.

Don’t save your thanks, your kind words, or your positive feedback for the “right moment.” Don’t wait until my performance review or my five-year anniversary pin to give me a few pats on the back. I’ll wonder if you even notice what I do or care about what I do if it takes you that long to say something.

There’s an old saying … that says there’s no time like the present … which is so very true when it comes to giving praise. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know when it will be too late.”

Author C. Leslie Charles took it a step further when she wrote, “Don’t send me flowers when I die. Give them to me now so we can appreciate their beauty together.”

And just for good measure, in case you forget, make sure your praise is sincere and your appreciation is genuine, or you can forget it. It will only make things worse. As Cosino De Gregorio said, “Beware the flatterer: He feeds you with an empty spoon.”

So there you have it, boss. If you do these five things, you will be a better boss, and we will have a better working relationship.

Action:  Choose two of the five tips to implement this week and keep on practicing those behaviors until they become a natural part of your leadership style.