The Smart Boss
Smart bosses understand that, while the business stuff matters (plans, processes, products, systems, strategies), the people stuff matters more. The best business strategy will produce the worst result if it’s driven by people who don’t feel valued, respected or cared for. If you’re a boss, take care of your people and they will take care of your business.
I’ve been a boss since I was twenty-two. Four years after I finished high school I was running a fitness centre and managing a team of gym instructors, group exercise teachers, swimming teachers, sales people and admin staff. So for me, the last twenty-seven years have been an on-going lesson in how to lead, manage, listen, connect and survive. And while I still own a gym, these days I’m less of a boss and more of a coach (for other bosses). It’s fair to say that some (not all) bosses are academically, intellectually and theoretically brilliant (high IQ) but when it comes to the people stuff (EQ, emotional intelligence)… not so much. Pretty good at business, not so good at people.
Which means they’ll never be exceptional at business.
In my experience, the single biggest mistake made by bosses (and there are many) is that they assume their team thinks, communicates and perceives (situations, challenges, conversations) like them; with the byproduct being disconnection, not connection. Confusion, not understanding. Resentment, not respect.
So, if you’re an open-minded boss, you might find some of the following suggestions helpful. Conversely, if you have a boss who needs a little… er… help in this area, you might want to staple this article to his or her forehead.
1. Be less BOSS!! and more caring leader. Less ego, more conscious communicator and connector. Of course your staff know you’re the big cheese but do they believe that you genuinely care about them and value their thoughts and feelings?
2. Don’t be vague. Be clear and specific about what you’re saying and not saying. Don’t send mixed messages, don’t contradict yourself and don’t infer. Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t make people guess.
3. Be consistent with your communication and leadership style. Don’t be the stand-up comic on Monday, the grumpy bastard (bitch) on Tuesday, the inspirational orator on Wednesday, the courageous leader on Thursday and the best friend on Friday.
4. Give less instructions and ask more questions. Encourage and coach your team to become the problem solvers, the creators, the idea sharers and the adaptors.
5. Don’t always talk about work. If you’re my boss, every now and then have a conversation with me about me. Not business plans, not projects, not timelines, not bottom lines and not KPI’s. No, talk to me about me. My life. My stuff. Take an interest. It matters. You don’t need to be my best friend and you don’t need to cross any kind of personal line but next week when you ask me about my dog’s knee reconstruction, I’ll think you’re ace.
6. Walk the talk. As a member of your team, if your actions aren’t a reflection of your words, I don’t respect you, trust you or want to work for you. Besides, I’m more interested in what you do than what you say. Words are cheap.
7. Don’t assume they understand you. Walk away from your window and look through theirs. After all, the only person who thinks (exactly) like you, is you. Make your conversation a two-way interactive exchange, not a self-indulgent monologue. Nobody wants a lecture. By the way, you don’t need to agree with someone else’s opinion to respect it.
8. Ask the hardest question. Put on your hard hat, bite your bottom lip and ask your staff to give you feedback on your leadership and communication style. Not always comfortable but done thoughtfully and intelligently, it can provide you with a level of insight, awareness and perspective that can’t be gained any other way.