In twenty-seven years of business I have experienced a lot of bosses and a lot of years of being a boss. Being a boss is not easy. You’re trying to get things accomplished by directing and encouraging others to affect an outcome that drives you and your business forward. Often that outcome doesn’t always match your expectations. Being a boss takes patience, discipline, compassion, empathy, dedication and most of all great listening skills. Trust me when I tell you I have made all the mistakes that come with being a boss.
However, when I look at the small businesses I admire the most for their tenure, financial accomplishments and market share they have one thing in common, great employees. Having great employees is not a matter of luck. Recruiting, selecting, and most of all a dedication to developing them are all key ingredients to having a great company. After all, your employees are your greatest asset.
Most great companies, small, mid-size or large, had a boss or bosses at one time that the employees revered and were inspired by. Their leadership attracted talented people to work for them and allowed them to build their companies well beyond their dreams.
I have experienced the best and worst in bosses and at times have been both myself. The one thing I wished I would have done differently in my career was being a better boss. In retrospect I would spend most of my time developing the people that worked for me, and less time worrying about how their actions were affecting my own career and/or business.
I have tried to list and explain the many types of bosses that exist and some of the traits they exhibit. You might be one or a combination of several. Use this list as a self-examination tool and involve your employees in determining your strengths and weaknesses as a boss.
When it comes to great leaders, they don’t take, they give back to those around them.
Aspiring – We all aspire to be successful in our careers and personal lives. However, to truly be an inspirational boss we need to help others reach their aspirations and goals. Investing your time, expertise, experience and resources to develop your employees as contributors to your company and furthering their professional skills is a great way to build loyalty among your team and attract other talented people to your company. Some may take the skills and self-confidence they’ve learned from you and practice them elsewhere, but they will always have a sense of appreciation for the skills and opportunity you provided for them. Everyone wants to be associated with success: current employees, past employees, vendors, and most importantly customers.
I recently met with a perspective client who told me his number one goal is to be the best employer in the state of Montana. A lofty goal, but one that is certainly attainable provided he is dedicated to the personal development of his team. I don’t think it is a coincidence he has the largest and most profitable business among his competitors in the Rocky Mountain region.
Human – Were all human and we have a desire to be liked by our friends and employees. However you’re the boss and your employees often feel uncomfortable approaching you or even greeting you outside the office environment. These situations almost always feel awkward. That’s why showing vulnerability is a humanizing way to breakdown the artificial barrier that typically separates you from your employees. There are several easy ways to breakdown these barriers.
First is simply by asking for their help in a genuine way. You can ask in the wrong way by puffing out your chest and demanding, “Listen Sue, I need your help.” Sue knows you really don’t want her help but you need her to do something. Instead, ask for their help in a humble way so that Sue can see you really need her help to do something you are neither capable of or have time to do. You’ve lowered your guard and you’ve shown your vulnerability. Build their trust by demonstrating that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.
Another way to take your relationship beyond that of boss-employee is to invite your employees into your home. By doing this you show your employees how you live, your interests, who your family is and their interests. You’ve also dispelled any mystery about where and how you live. The holidays, as well as summer BBQs are great opportunities to extend your hospitality and show your gratitude to your team.
Encouraging – Compliments don’t always have to be earned, Sometimes a compliment can be like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Employees need to feel they can have input on how things are done and also contribute to the growth of your company.
Let your employees feel the best ideas are their ideas and give them the latitude to take your ideas and make them their own. ·
- Employees, especially new employees, are often uncertain as to whether they are doing the job that is expected of them or are fitting in with your company’s culture. Assuring your employee(s) that they are doing a good job, fulfilling the mission of your company and serving your customers is a quick way to build loyalty in your team. Demonstrating both privately and publicly that you believe in them will immediately transform to believing in themselves. If they believe in themselves and in you, they will do the best job they possible can for your company.
- Everyone loves attention, unfortunately you don’t have unlimited time to devote to each employee. So make the most of the time you do have. Don’t just comment on big successes, find the small detail, something positive that happened that day, or something unexpected to comment on. Giving affirmation on a consistent basis will not only demonstrate you are paying attention but your employees will feel better about themselves and work harder for you.
Teacher – Managing employees and owning a business is all about learning. Good bosses constantly look for teaching moments. For example – something’s gone terribly wrong and someone messed up and you are more than a little pissed off. Instead of firing off reactionary criticisms, take a big breath, count to ten and use this opportunity as a teaching moment. The employee knows they screwed up and probably feels as bad about it as you do. The fact it cost you in the wallet is insignificant at this point. Talk about what happened, take your time and stay logical, allow your employee to talk about the decisions that led up to the problem and how they would approach it differently in the future. If you have something to add to the situation, now is the time. If the right approach is taken, whatever the cost of the mistake, you have just invested in the training of a good employee. Now let it go.
Natural – There are very few natural leaders and/or bosses. Most great bosses have learned from their mistakes. They have a desire to have a great company and know that this can only be accomplished through the help of a great team around them.
There are a few exceptions, Don Lowe, the CEO of Franchise Services Inc., is a natural leader and great boss. His personality never seems to change whether he was directing a team during a major acquisition or playing tennis with his friends. He always has a presence and command of the situation. Whether you knew more about the financial implications of the acquisition or were a better tennis player you always felt comfortable knowing Don was there and he would give you the confidence to do your best. Because of his presence, character and respect you always strived to do your best. You did not want to let him down because you knew he would give everything he had for you.
Approachable – Are you an approachable boss? If one of your employees has a personal problem unrelated to your business and needs advice, are you someone they would come to for that advice? Small businesses are often like family and you spend more waking hours with your employees than with your own family. As a business owner you are often the most influential person they know. Being a person that is easily approachable and willing to listen to your employee’s issues will build tremendous loyalty and respect. Just because they bring their problems to you doesn’t mean you have to solve them. It just requires you to be a good listener.
Good bosses are like a hat rack. Employees who need something, whether it’s a day off, a favor, a chance, or someone just to talk to often come to good bosses with hat in hand. They’re vulnerable because they need something of you. Take their hat and hang it up for them. You may not be able to provide what they want, but you can discuss their issue with compassion, generosity, and grace. Never let an employee stand with hat in hand. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world for a human being, and one you can graciously make disappear.
Accountable – Are you accountable for your business and your team’s successes and failures? Training and communication are keys to the successful execution of your goals. When your team doesn’t execute to your expectations it is often a breakdown of these fundamentals or lacking the proper tools to get the job done. This is not your team’s fault, it is your fault. Pointing fingers or blaming others doesn’t build trust or loyalty with your employees. They need to know you have their backs and will take the criticism from other employees, departments, vendors or customers when things go bad.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I was the owner of Sir Speedy Printing in Denver. We were trying to set-up an online ordering system for a customer and just couldn’t get it right. We had all kinds of breakdowns, software, personnel, vendors and so forth. I blamed our lack of delivery on all these things until the customer fired my company. The customer explained to me, “You are the owner and these things are your responsibility to fix. We don’t care about the problems, just the solutions.”
Political – Are you more concerned with being liked and being in the right company circles than you are doing the right thing? Sometimes you have to make tough decisions that may not be popular with your employees or your peers and you must be prepared to defend your decisions even in the face of these unpopular opinions. Do you participate or facilitate company gossip or rumors? If you do these are traits that will eventually erode the trust and respect of your employees. Be true to yourself and what you believe. Be consistent with the principles that guide your decision-making. Managing for popularity rarely transforms into better results. In the long run, your popularity will be based on the respect of your employees and customers.
By the Book – If you are one who reads a lot of books about creating a good business and being a better boss, good for you. I compliment your commitment to learning. There is a lot to be learned from others but everyone has their own style and experiences with being a boss. Take the skills you read about and combine them with your own personality so they become genuine and natural for you. There is nothing harder than giving someone else’s presentation or trying to be something you’re not when leading a team of people.
Undermining – Depending on the size of your business there are sometimes layers of management that require a person to have direct reports underneath them on a organizational chart and report to someone above them, often the owner.
The worst boss I ever had was this type of boss. He has no character. He would say one thing to me and then communicate something different to the people that were reporting to me. In many circumstances this not only undermined my authority but caused confusion on behalf of the employee. He would often be critical of one employee and then treat another employee differently or look the other way for the same actions or decision.
The end result was total confusion on the part of the employees, poor department morale, and complete disrespect up and down the chain of command. His own ego, insecurities, and desire to be recognized for his successes by his boss drove his actions. The result was a poor performing team and an inefficient department where all stakeholders, including customers, were negatively affected. This type of supervision will quickly destroy morale, confidence, and distrust within the organization.
One of the greatest examples of this type of behavior by a boss was when the opportunity presented itself for me to hire a new right hand employee to assist me at a former job. Your number 2 person, or right hand, should be someone you trust, respect and feel confident with their ability to make sound decisions. Even though we went through the motions of posting the job and accepting candidates, the boss had already chosen who this new employee would be. As circumstances had it this person was the last person I would have ever of hired or chosen. The end result was a total disaster. Neither of us are still at the company.
If you work for someone like this take my advice and run, find another job within the company or find another company. If you have someone like this working for you, fire them! They will never build an effective team or make a significant contribution to your company.
Self-Centered – You probably didn’t go into business for yourself just so you could create all these wonderful opportunities for your employees or serve better ice cream to your clients. Let’s be honest, you went into business to fulfill your own personal goals of business ownership, independence, creating a business that has value, and to make a better income than you would working for someone else. With that in mind, are you guilty of focusing more on yourself or on the development of your employees?
- Are you often distracted, thinking about your upcoming vacation or tee time? Do you stop and listen to your employees and tune out personal distractions when they are asking for your attention?
- Counting dollars is a good way to keep track of your business but it’s best to do it with your door closed. Constantly focusing on how much you’re making, or not making, is a sure way to turn off your employees. You can easily cause unrest in your company if you’re often talking about the financial demise of your company. In addition, if you’re always talking about how much money you’re making and not rewarding your employees they will feel neglected and soon look for opportunities where there efforts are appreciated.
Out of Control – Being out of control can manifest itself into many negative styles of management including bullying and the complete fear of making a decision. It is critical that you are capable of staying calm in the face of constant challenges. And in order to get back in control it is vital to discover what is causing you to feel out of control and then fix it as soon as you can.
- Are you overwhelmed? You have to be able to consistently prioritize and be a good multi-tasker. You can’t do everything yourself so you must be a good communicator and effective at delegating tasks to your team if you want to regain control.
- Are you overworked and feeling torn apart by the demands of leadership and day-to-day decision- making? If this is how you feel most days, relieve yourself of that pressure and find a person to be your #2 and give them the responsibility of managing your business. You can still lead your organization without being the direct supervisor of your team.
- Are you the type of boss that often raises his or her tone of voice to intimidate your employees or get their attention? In most cases your attempt to control your employees through intimidation is a direct result of you being out of control. By over reacting you quickly show your weakness by being unable to control the situation with reason, knowledge and good leadership skills. Your own insecurities, and stresses of ownership, are no reason to direct your frustration and anger toward your employees. It is the quickest way to destroy the trust and loyalty of the very people you need the most.
Controlling – Are you the type of person that needs to control every aspect of your business and the actions of your employees? Is your ego such that you can’t allow your employees to use their own creativity and work on their own solutions? Do you constantly suspect that your employees are goofing off or are trying to undermine your authority?
If you are, then not only are you demoralizing your team but you are also killing productivity, innovation and the ability of your company to grow beyond your own limitations. It is more effective to communicate the desired results and then step away, allowing your employees to employ their own means to accomplish the end result. More often than not they will find new efficiencies that will make your company more profitable. Of course there are bound to be unforeseen negative situations, so just correct their actions by allowing them to learn from their mistakes. If a mistake is made that costs the company money, consider it a training expense. In most cases it will be far less expensive and disruptive than firing, hiring and training a new employee.
The best boss I ever had is a man named Dan Beck. Dan is a savvy executive who came from modest means in South Dakota. Dan never raised his voice or showed anger. He was a great communicator of what was expected and then allowed you to work towards meeting those expectations, often asking if his help was needed but never telling you how it should be done.
Demanding – It is not necessarily bad to be demanding as long as your demands are realistic, consistent and within the capability of your employees.
Setting expectations and managing to ensure those expectations are met transforms itself into a results oriented company. Just be sure that you aren’t demanding things from your employees that are not realistic and things you would not demand of yourself or family members. On the other hand, just because you want something done a certain way, or are self-taught, doesn’t mean that your team can’t accomplish the same results through their own set of talents and efficiencies.
A good rule of thumb is to inspect what you expect and monitor the progress along the way. As I stated in the opening paragraph, being a boss is difficult. However, if you are able to master the traits of being an inspirational leader and boss, the opportunities for your business are limitless.
Magic happens when you have a talented team of inspired employees around you all focused on the same goal.
If you’re not sure where to begin in fixing issues that trouble your business, Beartooth Business Consulting can guide you through this process and help make you and your business stronger and more successful. Call us at 406-690-5988 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Booth is President of Beartooth Business Consulting. Beartooth Business Consulting is a Strategic Management firm committed to the success of small businesses like yours. We help you understand where your business is at today, create a vision of where you want your business to go, and define the steps needed to realize your vision.