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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.

How to Get Motivated to Work and Start off Your Day with Positivity 14 Ways To Be A Better Boss From A Corporate Survivor

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Last Updated on April 9, 2020

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common types of leadership and how you can determine which works best for you.

5 Types of Leadership Styles

I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

The Democratic Style

The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

    The Autocratic Style

    The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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    The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

    While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

      The Transformational Style

      Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

      Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

      Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

        The Transactional Style

        Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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        The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

        The Laissez-Faire Style

        The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

        In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

        Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

        You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

        Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

        The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

        Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

        I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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        In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

        What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

        Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

        1. Context Matters

        Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

        2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

        When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

        As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

        “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

        The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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        As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

        When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

        The Way Forward

        To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

        As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

        “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

        The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

        If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

        Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

        Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

        More Leadership Tips

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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