I’m sure you agree: we’ve all worked for a boss at some point that was less than nice. I bet some of them have been downright awful. I know as well as you do that job satisfaction often hinges on the quality of the relationship with one’s boss and yet it’s not always clear what managers should do to create the happiest and most productive employees.
Great leadership can be a difficult thing to pin down even though we all know an amazing boss when we are lucky enough to work for one. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and author of “Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent” has unearthed some common practices that can make work much more meaningful and enjoyable for your employees. If you’re a boss, make sure you do the following:
Manage individuals, not teams. When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to forget that employees are unique individuals, with varying interests, abilities, goals and learning styles. But it’s important to customise your interactions with them. Ensure you understand what makes them tick. Be available and accessible for one-on-one conversations. And deliver lessons cued to individual needs.
Go big on meaning. Most employees value jobs that let them contribute and make a difference, and many organisations now emphasise meaning and purpose in the hopes of fostering engagement. But this is also the manager’s responsibility. You can’t rely on incentives like bonuses, stock options, or raises. You’ve got to inspire them with a vision, set challenging goals and pump up their confidence so they believe they can actually win. Articulate a clear purpose that fires your team up, set expectations high, and convey to the group that you think they’re capable of virtually anything .
Focus on feedback. Even if your organisation sticks with traditional performance reviews, supplement them with continuous, personalised feedback. Use regular — at least weekly — one-on-one conversations to give lots of coaching. Make the feedback clear, honest and constructive, and frame it so that it promotes independence and initiative.
Don’t just talk, listen. The best leaders spend a great deal of time listening. They pose problems and challenges, then ask questions to enlist the entire team in generating solutions. They reward innovation and initiative, and encourage everyone in the group to do the same.
Be consistent. Who could be happy with a boss who does one thing one day and another thing the next? Be consistent in your management style, and in the way you set expectations, give feedback and are open to new ideas. If change becomes necessary, acknowledge it openly and quickly. Here are some additional guidelines I find particularly meaningful:
Praise in public, reprimand in private. People thrive on recognition: the extraordinary boss will praise often and publically but will reprimand you in private to allow you to save face.
Allow employees a good deal of autonomy. Ask any person who has worked for a micro-manager how much having autonomy contributes to workplace happiness.
Get in the trenches. A great boss leads by example. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty and do the same work they ask their people to do.
Set clear expectations/objectives. Research suggests that employees experience increased stress levels when they don’t have a good understanding of what is expected of them.
Don’t be afraid of failing. A great boss understands failure is inevitable and should be viewed as a learning experience. Be wary of the boss that lets you think they don’t make mistakes.
Excel at communication. Just as in any relationship, communication is key.
Know how and when to delegate. An extraordinary boss will delegate responsibilities and not just tasks.
Have a sense of humour. Being in a management position is serious business, but being able to take the daily stresses with a grain of salt is invaluable..
Stay positive, but remain realistic . I found the following analogy in an article on Forbes.com: Think of a sailboat with three people aboard: a pessimist, an optimist, and a great leader. Evrything is going smoothly until the wind suddenly sours. The pessimist throws his hands up and complains about the wind; the optimist sits back, saying that things will improve; but the great leaders says, “We can do this!” and he adjusts the sails and keeps the ship moving forward. The right combination of positivity and realism is what keeps things moving forward. Remember, not all bosses are created equal. Becoming a great one may be hard work, but it’s worth it.
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