Updated: Sep 1
Most people can tell you about a horrible boss they've had because it's really easy to be a horrible boss.
Meanwhile, some people can tell you about a great boss they've had and will do so passionately and with great admiration. Which are you?
Firstly what's the difference between a boss and a manager?
A manager is responsible for coordinating the work of a team and ensuring tasks are completed efficiently, as well as for managing any number of direct reports. While leadership is an essential aspect of management, not all managers exhibit strong leadership qualities.
On the other hand, a boss who embodies true leadership goes beyond simply managing tasks and people. Leadership involves inspiring and guiding individuals or a team toward a common vision and goals. A leader, whether they manage direct reports or not, can influence others positively, fostering a collaborative and motivated work environment.
Key traits of a boss who is a leader, include:
Vision: A leader can inspire others to work towards the same objective.
Empathy: Effective bosses actively listen and consider the well-being of their employees.
Coaching and development: Leaders invest time and effort in nurturing talent.
Leading by example: Leaders lead through actions, not just words.
Building relationships: Leaders encourage open communication and collaboration.
Adaptability: Leaders can navigate through challenges and changes while still encouraging a culture of learning and innovation.
Recognition and appreciation: Leaders recognize and appreciate the contributions of their team members, boosting morale and motivation.
So what sets a great boss apart from a bad one?
Lots of characteristics and behaviors make a great manager, but in my experience, these three things stick out above the rest.
1. Great bosses prioritize and excel at active listening.
Active listening is an incredible skill. When someone is actively listening to you, it means they are completely present and fully processing what you're saying. Active listening is rare because it requires concentration and attention, something that doesn't come naturally for human beings. Throw in some deadlines, endless incoming emails, and a bustling office and you can see how it's easy to default to multitasking.
That said, all humans feel great when we're really heard and feel a sense of empathy from the person we're talking with. Great bosses know this and create this space for their direct reports by disconnecting from all the moving pieces to really be present for their check-ins with team members.
Where to start: Practice active listening during your next 1:1s with employees. Close your computer and put away your phone. Take notes on a pad of paper and recap what you heard from them at the end of your chat. Make sure to note anything you heard that needed clarification during the recap.
2. Great bosses create an environment of psychological safety.
A few weeks back, I shared that one of the best ways to receive honest, actionable employee feedback is to create psychological safety at your company. The same is true at the team level. Great bosses work hard to ensure their team trusts them and feels comfortable coming to them with issues. This is accomplished through both words and actions.
Early on it's important for a new boss to frequently communicate a genuine desire to support their team through both the good and the bad. Then, when someone does come forward with a difficult conversation or failure, great bosses make sure to take the most thoughtful and delicate actions possible.
Where to start: Trust is a huge part of psychological safety. One way to start building trust among your team is to readily admit when you're wrong. It doesn't need to be a big production, but consistently showing your team that you are comfortable owning when you're wrong will make space for them to do the same without the fear of negative repercussions.
3. Great bosses know they don't know everything.
The pressure to "know everything" only increases once you're put in charge. Great bosses understand that it's not their job to know everything and remain open to the suggestions of their team, regardless of age or job title. They also aren't afraid to ask for help and see doing so as a strength, not a weakness.
Of course, this is easier said than done. We all want to feel like we have it together and know what we're doing - especially when the stakes are high. It's why fighting this tendency makes such a big impression on employees.
Where to start: Go out of your way to ask your team for their opinions this week. You'll likely be surprised by the number of ideas they're willing to share when you ask for them. This is especially true when it comes to introverted employees, who are prone to holding back suggestions unless they are explicitly asked for them.
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