For all you bosses out there, you know that it can be the best of times and the worst of times all on a single day – all in a single hour. It is a constant weight of responsibility on so many levels, and because you are not dealing with robots that simply need to be programmed and away they go to complete the tasks, but rather humans who have different ways of seeing the world with complex personalities and sensitivities, you’ve got your work cut out for you pretty much 100% of the time.
Bosses are often held up as the primary reason for why employees either love or hate their jobs, and a recent survey by US careers website Glassdoor found that two-thirds of people felt their boss had a direct impact on their career. Around half of those stated that the impact was a positive one, while 20% claimed a current or former boss had actually harmed their career prospects.
It highlights the responsibility that every boss has. It’s not just about the results of your company or division, but about your responsibility towards all of those under your command. You are of course there to guide and lead and develop those who report to you for the betterment of your company or division, but you are also there to help them with their own development. Do those two things together and you will see good results.
20% of people felt their boss or former boss had actually harmed their career prospects.
But how exactly to do this? And what exactly does it mean to be a good boss? There are as usual endless potential considerations, but in this article I take a look at some of the top things that I believe have had a positive impact in helping me be a better boss over the years (I’ll be clear, though, that I am always still learning, as I don’t think there is an end to this journey).
Set an example
When I think about how to become a better boss, I am reminded of the famous drawings of a team of workers trying to pull a large slab of concrete. In one version is the image of the boss, sitting up high on top of the concrete, pointing forward and telling his team exactly what they need to do, while the other has him standing at the front, helping to pull the concrete along and get the job done.
The obvious point to convey here is that a boss can be a better boss by getting more involved at times. Roll up your sleeves and lead the charge. Aside from the obvious benefit of motivating your team and winning their respect, there is an even more important advantage to this approach that is often overlooked.
Namely, it keeps you tuned into the challenges. In other words, being involved helps you identify where things need to be improved on and how to improve them. It is very hard to get this picture when you are too detached – sitting up there on that big slab of concrete – and that can result in poor leadership decisions.
I will caution that there is a fine line to tread here. You’ll want to find the right balance that sees you working closely enough with employees to be a source of help and inspiration, but you do not want to crowd your team and rob them of their independence. Lead by example, impart knowledge, encourage, coach, and support, but do not micromanage, enforce, or suffocate.
Compassion goes further
It would be nice to think that this particular entry would go without saying, but unfortunately there is still an all-too-common school of thought that putting on a tough exterior and ramping up pressure to the point of discomfort is a way to get results. Being clear on objectives and goals is important, and measuring and monitoring results is a must, but I am not in favour of communicating this in a threatening or intimidating manner.
A recent paper in the Harvard Business Review found that the only thing that increases from a hard-line managerial stance is employee stress – not employee productivity – and far from bringing out the best in employees, this type of pressure actually leads to higher staff turnover, and potentially even an increase in workplace healthcare costs.
In actual fact, connecting with employees as human first and a boss second – displaying warmth, compassion and understanding – is far more likely to bring out the best in your team. The Harvard Business Review report goes on to conclude that employees work far more efficiently when their boss trusts them, and this trust comes in large part with how things are communicated.
A recent paper in the Harvard Business Review found that the only thing that increases from a hard-line managerial stance is employee stress, and that productivity actually suffers.
Help your team members achieve work-life balance
Of course you will always want the undivided attention of your employees while they’re at work, but not allowing them to unwind outside of office hours can actually have a detrimental effect on performance levels.
A recent study by Bowling Green State University in Ohio looked into work-life balance and found that psychological detachment from work during non-work times was vital to employee recovery and health, noting that not taking the time to unplug makes it harder for employees to relax and focus at work the following day. In other words, performance is negatively affected.
And the reason why employees struggle to switch off? I’m afraid to say it’s fear of the big bad boss. Surveys reveal that the majority of employees worry that if they are not seen to be always available they are more likely to be overlooked for promotions and pay rises.
It is therefore down to a good boss to help team members achieve that work-life balance. Dispel the fear that not working around the clock will result in missed opportunities, and develop a sensitivity with respect to the actual workload of your team. They should not have to constantly be working overtime to get their job done, as that kills the work-life balance outright, leading to a vicious circle that ultimately results in poor productivity – which in turn directly impacts the company performance.
Communicate clearly what you want
This one is much harder than it sounds. The truth is that many bosses struggle with communicating clear objectives because they are not so sure what to communicate, and this stems mainly from not being sure what the objectives and goals are or how to achieve them.
This final point on my list is in fact the big one, as it goes beyond just being a good boss and touches on one of the main challenges of being an entrepreneur. While many of us assume that the business greats all have a very clear vision all the time, in reality that is not always the case, and when that clarity is not there, it is very hard to be the boss – and virtually impossible to lead.
Bosses need to research, they need to consider the opinions and feedback and ideas of their team members, and they then need to sit quietly and develop their plans. If you do this, you will be in a position to communicate clearly what you want, because you will genuinely know what you want – or, rather, know what the objectives are and how to achieve them. That’s down to the fact that when someone knows what they want or what they are doing, it shows, and people get on board very quickly. The flipside, however, is that few things are more transparent than lack of confidence and insecurity, and no one wants to follow the insecure leader.
It’s never going to be easy. If you one day wake up and tell yourself that you have mastered the art of being a boss, take another look, because you are doing it wrong. Working with others is one thing, but leading others is an entirely different thing, and whether you’re overseeing a single marketing intern or you’re CEO of a large company with a number of senior executives reporting to you, you’ll always be facing your share of challenges that are part and parcel of this unique hierarchical relationship.
So take what you will from the above but always remember that there is no textbook method for achieving success as a boss or leader. Over time you will want to find your own way, and keep in mind that you will have to adopt different styles for dealing with different people and situations. It’s a constantly evolving challenge that you’ll do well to remember is never easy for anyone.
Neil Petch; Chairman at Virtugroup
With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit.