Be A Better Boss – The Twenty-First Century Imperative

If you have had a boss in your professional life, which is probably everyone reading this, you are acutely aware of the impact they have on you professionally and personally. They have either helped you succeed on the job, or have possibly created obstacles to your success. They may have supported your wishes to balance your family obligations with your career, or caused you to sacrifice your family to succeed at work. They perhaps gave you opportunities to grow and develop and are partly responsible for the success you are experiencing in your career. Or, they have been ambivalent towards you and your colleagues, by demonstrating no interest in your career, but only in their success. If you are like me, I’ve experienced all the aforementioned scenarios. I think you will agree that the type of boss we have, or the kind of boss we are, is extremely critical to our daily work experience and entire career. Said another way, your boss directly impacts the quality of your life. According to Robert Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst, having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack!

I’d like to suggest the following steps to help you begin the journey of becoming a better boss.

  • Understand that you have the greatest impact on your employee’s engagement — which is both their commitment to the job and their performance on the job. The latest research from Gallup finds that 70% of U.S workers are disengaged — “checked out,” sleeping-walking through their days. Recently, I overheard two business professionals chatting at lunch, and I could tell by the conversation that they were discussing situations at work. When they were finished with their lunch, one of the individuals said, “Back to the unhappy place!” I had to ask what they meant by that comment. Their response, “You don’t want to know!”
  • The need for bosses to develop self-awareness has never been more important. Your emotional intelligence quotient should be a priority right up there with your knowledge of your business. A good boss knows themselves well, as well as knows the business well. If you’re not already aware, your employees are listening and watching everything you do and say! If that doesn’t cause you a little concern, I would question whether you are “fit” to be a twenty-first-century boss! I recently interviewed a client’s executive team, and in giving feedback to my client from those interviews, they responded numerous times with regret that they have behaved in ways that had undermined their credibility. When I asked if they were aware of their actions at the time, they often surmised that they were completely unaware. So my question to you is, are you not watching your boss closely, hopefully to learn from them? If they are thoughtful, kind, respectful, intelligent and fun, then it is likely that you will adopt some of these good qualities. On the other hand, if they are dishonest, obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant, you may have to fight your better self to fend of adopting such destructive characteristics.
  • A twenty-first-century boss listens to his or her employees. I remember a former boss who during our 1-on-1 meetings would spend the entire hour typing and looking at her screen. Either she found me incredibly dull and boring, or she was oblivious to the fact that by typing on her keyboard and glancing at me on occasion sent a strong message to me that she could not be listening to me.The twenty-first-century boss does everything possible to help people experience dignity and pride. Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants. Today’s bosses must have a keen awareness that people in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what followers need, do, and say. If you will make a commitment to listening well, you can stave of falling into the trap of becoming a bad boss. In conclusion I’d like to leave you with a selection of Bob Sutton’s “Commandments for Wise Bosses”:
  • Do not treat others as if they are idiots
  • Listen attentively to your people; don’t just pretend to hear what they say
  • Ask a lot of good questions
  • Ask others for help and gratefully accept their assistance
  • Do not hesitate to say, “ I don’t know”
  • Forgive people when they fail, remember the lessons, and teach them to everyone
  • Know your foibles and flaws, and work with people who correct and compensate for your weaknesses
  • Express gratitude to your people.

To be a better twenty-first-century boss, you must remind yourself that you are a steward — of careers, capabilities, resources and organizational values. Challenge yourself today —  to be a better boss — nothing less should be acceptable.

Authenticity at Work – The Antidote to Acting

I have noticed a growing trend in the workplace that has concerned me now for several years. I will label it simply as “acting”. Other synonyms come to mind; dramatizing, feigning, imitating, posing, posturing, pretending, and showing off. I do not intend to finger point or cast judgment on anyone who has found themselves acting; it has become commonplace in certain corporate cultures which demand that their employees behave in a particular way, which amounts to acting. Acting is the opposite of reality! This means and implies that certain cultures do not want individuals to be their authentic selves at work, but rather act in a way, i.e., pretend that you bring your best self to work. 

I’m certain that when we hire new employees, we aren’t looking for good actors (unless you’re auditioning for a part in a movie). We have a “real” job that needs be done, and we want an individual with the requisite skills and hopefully just as important, an individual who is a good cultural fit. To avoid falling into the miserable trap or worse, creating the prison of acting-at work, I like to suggest a few antidotes.

Remain Authentic – Be Real

At times we can experience immense pressure to play politics, behaving in a way which our peers and superiors expect. This is the very problem which I believe leads to more problems than solutions. When we act, unless we are sociopaths, we are neither authentic nor congruent with our true selves. Less this sound like psychobabble, I’m suggesting that we are lying to ourselves when with behave in a way which lacks authenticity — the way we think of “people pleasers”.  As psychologist Richard Boyatzis says of this type of behavior, “… in mild forms it’s dissociation. In major forms it’s called psychosis. It’s unhealthy.” It is imperative that one has the ability to discern if the organization or team you are on is more concerned with your authentic contribution or your conformity and compliance. 

Getting the Right things done.

Peter Drucker the greatest business and management philosopher of the twentieth century reminds us to ask ourselves the question, what am I getting paid to do? Even the most jaded and unenlightened boss would recognize that no organization wants to pay people for what a colleague of mine calls ‘fake work’. We want real, tangible deliverables, engaged contributors who have the capability of making our organizations better and quite possibly great.

So what does one say to managers and employees who prefer compliance over engagement? It is an unfortunate reality that the primary focus of most large corporations is creating a culture of compliance and not one of employee engagement. Within the US workforce, disengaged cost $300 billion in lost productivity alone, according to a study by Gallup. 

Leaders need to declare war on autocratic and draconian practices which drain the very soul of the organization, not to mention to killing profits. Whether the organization adopts a cutting edge model like Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), or an approach which allows employees control over their schedules, I suggest we revisit our business sage Peter Drucker. In his book, The Effective Executive, he suggest returning to basics such as getting the right things done, eliminating time wasters, results, values and developing people.

I believe it is time to wage war on bureaucracy. In a bureaucracy, there’s no thought of developing people, rewarding results, engagement or authenticity, only acting and pretense.

There is a better – authenticity is good for business, and for the soul.