The best bosses aren't the ones you work for, it's the ones who work for you. Being a huge proponent of servant leadership, I always work to serve my team. To not be "the boss" but to be one of the team with a different role. To represent my team to the organization and put them in the best situation to succeed. That's the tough part, because not every executive in an organization is a good leader. Most people are promoted into leadership positions because they were a hard worker and an excellent individual contributor. Great individual contributors don't automatically make great leaders. Leadership is something you really need to study, practice, and hone. There are people who are naturally good leaders, but leadership is about more than getting people to do what you want them to do. A great leader cares about his team. They know them personally. They take the time to talk with each member of their team individually. A great leader asks questions and wants feedback from their team members. I've always felt the worst situation a "boss" could ever be in is to meet with their team, then upon leaving the room, the team talks about what a horrible meeting it was and how the boss is out of touch with them and isn't engaged with the team. I attended an American Management Institute class in New York City several years back. The instructor was absolutely fantastic, and we still stay in touch till this day. I remember him saying something that really rings true, "The employee always wins". As leaders, you have to remember this. If you forsake your team, focus only on your own career while ignoring theirs, mistreat your employees, don't develop them, don't have discussions about career path and how they can achieve their goals...or worse yet...you don't know their goals. You will struggle with retaining top talent. Top talent has options. Top talent has marketable skills and will shop the market to find an opportunity where they can achieve their goals and do work that is meaningful to them. That leaves the poor leader with a team of either unengaged individuals who don't care and are "turning the crank" to get a paycheck and employees with no marketable skills who will need development which they aren't going to get.
One of my favorite bosses had a medical procedure and was unable to come into the office. She was such a fantastic servant leader that she asked me to come to her house. We sat on her back porch, ate lunch, and talked. That meeting yielded a fundamental change in how my team performed our duties and reduced delivery of critical infrastructure to customers from 51 days to 18 days. While I'm sure she didn't feel like working, she respected me enough to make time to meet with me. That deepened my loyalty to her and earned her a higher level of respect from me. That meeting impacted several people and the organization as a whole.
Ready to do things radically different than those bad "bosses"? Here's what you can do to be a great "boss":
- Establish regular meetings with your team.
- Same time each week.
- Unless it's absolutely necessary, DO NOT miss this meeting.
- ENGAGE with your team. It's the most important meeting on your calendar!
- Sometimes conflict is unavoidable, but do your best to respect your team by always being present.
- Take time to meet with direct reports individually
- Don't make it a "status update"
- Grabbing lunch together is a great opportunity
- Have genuine concern for the individual
- Ask open ended questions and let them talk
- Get a feel for what motivates them. Keep that in mind as you make assignments and offer praise. Everyone has different motivators. It's not a one size fits all.
- Empower your team
- Don't make the mistake of hiring experienced, skilled employees and telling them what to do. You'll only get your way of doing something that way.
- Explain the desired outcome, and let your team solve the problem. Even if it takes a little longer, let them do the work. Don't micro-manage.
- Give credit to the team when things go well, shoulder the blame as the leader when things don't go well.
- This one is tough.
- Never take credit for work your team or an individual does.
- If things go sideways, you're "the boss" and you have to take the blame. NEVER blame a team member.
- If you need to take corrective action, or give constructive feedback to an employee, do it in private.
- Don't throw anyone under the bus.
- Remember they are human
- Employees aren't machines. They have families, friends, hobbies, etc.
- Treat them with respect
- Be concerned about them and care about them
- If you've had to take corrective action, follow up.
- If you've had to correct an employee, understand it's highly stressful for them. You're impacting their livelihood and their family's livelihood.
- Make sure they are okay. Give them an opportunity to discuss their frustration.
- Help them make a plan not only to fix the problem, but to move past it and be better.
- If you're not happy with an employee, act!
- Don't let things fester.
- Address the situation as soon as possible
- Don't assume the employee is a "lost cause". Help develop them. Set clear expectations and talk about how to achieve them.
- Give the employee meaningful feedback! Everyone can always get better. Help them!
And if you aren't in leadership, much of this applies to customers too. It all boils down to having the heart of a servant, loving people, and understanding that we are all in the same business...the relationship business.