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14 Ways To Be A Better Boss From A Corporate Survivor

14 Ways To Be A Better Boss From A Corporate Survivor

I’ve had seven bosses across four different Fortune 1000 organizations. You’d think I’d learned enough about being a better boss from my own years of corporate experience, plus the massive dose of leadership training I’ve had from MBA school. But after doing my own tour as a boss, I quickly realized there was a void in what I’d learned. Emulating what I’d seen before wasn’t getting me the results I wanted, and the textbook approach just wasn’t cutting it either.

So now I’m giving you the tips I wish someone had given me 15 years ago. When you follow these ways to be a better boss, you’ll find:

  • More respect
  • Higher performance
  • More peace of mind when you leave the office
  • Effective relationships with your direct reports
  • Better results.

These tips can save you years of frustration as the boss, boss-in-waiting, and even as an employee.

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The Most Important Thing About Becoming a Better Boss

It’s crucial to realize upfront that being a “better boss” is a matter of perspective. One boss might be a godsend for one employee and then an absolute nightmare for another. Your “better boss” classification is always based on opinion, so it’s never the absolute truth.

For example, your employees might interpret asking questions about a particular project as you being a distrusting “micro-manager”, or maybe they interpret it as you just showing concern over their workload.

Or, an employee might interpret delegation of responsibilities as you not being involved enough in day-to-day activities and that you’re afraid to roll-up your sleeves; while another employee may interpret the same actions as showing you trust your team and want to empower them to make an impact.

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Whatever the employee’s opinion is, it always says more about the employee than it does about the boss.

This challenge leaves most bosses in the lurch, trying to guess what their employees will think and then trying to strategize an approach to fit the employee.

While this can work, I’ve personally found it to be stressful and incredibly frustrating. There’s a far more effective way to be a better boss, if you just follow a few guidelines.

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Try These Ways to be a Better Boss:

  1. Create wins! Wins create confidence, boost momentum, and inspire action. Tee up the wins for your employees and don’t hesitate to go as far as to create wins for them. Most employees don’t know how toot their own horn — so toot it for them! When you don’t have wins for your group, make them up! Highlight the bright spots without dwelling on the mistakes. This will go much farther than berating your team’s performance.
  2. Talk about tomorrow. Day-to-day work can be a grind and often employees don’t take the time to think about the bigger picture. Talk about where the group and company is headed. Talk about how the team’s efforts impact the bottom-line. Give them a reason to face the grind that’s inspiring.
  3. Create a common mantra. A better boss ensures that their team has a simple mantra for decision-making when there’s not a lot of guidance. When I worked in a logistics role, my boss ingrained one mantra for everyone: “Move the Freight.” He’d say, “Moving the freight early gets us beat up, delaying it gets us fired”. Our goal obviously was to ship! It was awesome having this kind of mantra because we always knew what to do even when the boss wasn’t around.
  4. Spit it out. You’d be surprised how many mistakes are made when an employee is just left guessing what the boss wants. Tell your employees what you want and then ask them to be bold enough to ask you to clarify and be specific if they don’t understand. Also, don’t be afraid to admit you’re not sure what you want and then ask your team for help in clarifying.
  5. Listen to others…but not too much. Everyone’s opinion is always from their perspective. Listen to others to see what you can learn, then make your own decision.
  6. Practice marketing. It’s a trap to assume that just because your team reports to you that they’re going to be buying in to what you say. Marketing isn’t just for customers, it’s for your own team too. A better boss packages a new idea or project with the benefits to the team in mind.
  7. Be direct. Ask them to be direct. If you’ve got a problem — or even think you may have a problem — with an employee then get it out on the table. Don’t let the problem fester and grow into resentment and anger.
  8. Identify missing conversations. Employees can get in the weeds quickly on a problem and a better boss helps them identify the conversations that are missing. So, instead of solving the problem for them, you’re identifying the communication gap and helping them advance the solution.
  9. Discover your employees’ strengths. Most bosses never really understand what their employees’ strengths truly are. Instead they end up projecting the strengths they’d like to see. Better bosses take the time to ask and understand what their strengths are, so they can identify the best way to put them to use.
  10. Train yourself to see crisis as opportunity. Some of the biggest opportunities for you and your team come from stepping up when there’s a problem. A better boss practices viewing crisis as opportunity. Invite your team to consider, “What opportunity does this represent?” It creates a much more optimistic and positive mindset.
  11. Develop through experiences. Be a better boss by encouraging your employees to take action and learn from their own experiences. You may have to dig them out of a hole a few times, but they’ll learn much more, develop faster, position themselves for promotion, and take more ownership.
  12. Ask employees to generate solutions. When I first started working, I stopped by my boss’s office to ask a question several times a day. Then my boss stopped me one day and said, “Before you walk into my office and ask another question, make sure you have three possible solutions already in mind, no matter how crazy they might be.” This helped me start to think for myself and made me much more valuable in my role. I’ll always be grateful for that.
  13. Show appreciation. Better bosses show and tell. Thank your employees. Just a quick verbal, “Thanks,” or an emailed, “Bravo,” goes a long way. When you model gratitude for your team, you’ll start to see it emerge in how they treat others as well. This strengthens the entire office.

The Final Way to Be a Better Boss

The final way for being a better boss is to take action. Action puts the strategy in motion and inspires the team to get the job done.

Select one of the 13 ways to a better boss above, and write it on a post-it note beside your computer. Use it a reminder to try it in your work day.

Notice the difference.

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Share it to inspire your team.

More by this author

Ben Fanning

Ben is a Burnout Specialist. He helps frustrated executives and teams rekindle their passion for their careers.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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