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.
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.
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.
Try These Ways to be a Better Boss:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Share it to inspire your team.