Learning to be a Great Boss
You may not be a great boss now, but you can become one. Do the things that great bosses do and you will get the results they do. Then you'll be a great boss, too.
Today, Jeff Immelt is the CEO of General Electric, but a few decades ago, he was a boy whose father worked on the line at a General Electric plant. In 2005, Fast Company interviewed Immelt and asked him if his dad behaved differently at home when he had a bad boss. Here's Immelt's answer.
"Yeah. He came home in a bad mood, uncertain about the future. And when he had a good boss, he was pumped."
That's just anecdotal evidence, but survey research tells us the same thing. The Gallup Organization has surveyed more than 100,000 workers in a wide array of companies. Again and again, they've concluded that you, as the immediate boss, have more impact on productivity and morale than any other single factor at work.
Most people want to be a great boss, the kind whose teams are high-performing, where team members go home at night, feeling energized and good about their contributions. The good news is that you can do it; you can become one of the great ones.
It’s important to begin this process with your eyes open, though. It won't be quick and it won't be easy, but it will be worth it. It takes most new bosses a year and a half or more to become comfortable with their role.
So, how do you get started on that road to greatness?
Learn what greatness looks like. You'll make better decisions as a boss if you are able to see what great performance looks like. Start by choosing some leadership role models you can emulate.
- Identify the best bosses you've experienced or heard of. Think about a time when it was great to come to work. What role did your boss play in your level of engagement? What did he or she do to make things great?
- When you're confronted with a problem, ask yourself, “How would my role model handle this?" Use that as a guide for your own behavior.
Ensure your actions fit your personality. While moving beyond your comfort zone can be beneficial, remember to stay authentic to your natural strengths. If you are a quiet person, you probably won't be able to force yourself to become a loud and assertive leader. Focus instead on further developing the skills you do bring to the table.
Ask for advice. Why rely on just your own brain when you can leverage the knowledge of those around you to help? When you ask for advice, make it specific and relevant to the task at hand.
Use coaches and mentors to guide and accelerate your development. If your company makes coaching available to you, take advantage! In addition, you may want to engage a coach on your own. It's one of the best investments you can make in your development to have an objective perspective dedicated to expanding your skill set.
Get ideas from reading and classes. Books and courses can set you in the right direction and keep you thinking about ways to improve, but remember that being a boss is a lot like dancing. You can read a book to get an idea of what you should do; you can even role-play in class. But your real learning will come on the job, and you will you will learn the most by doing.
Accelerate learning by reflecting. The best bosses I've worked with for over 40 years critiqued their own performance.
- Take notes. You won't remember the details so document the processes and experiences you have: things that happen, how you dealt with a challenge, and the results. Take a few notes while things are fresh in your mind.
- Schedule regular time for reflection. Take some time every week to review your performance and how you can do better. Discuss things with your coach and mentor.
- Conduct "after action" critiques of significant events. Whenever you and the team confront a significant challenge, take time soon afterward to review what worked, what did not, and what you can focus on improving and doing better next time.
Concentrate on making progress. Work on something specific every day and get a little better incrementally. Over time those little bits of progress add up, and one day, you will realize that you've become one of the great ones.
Wally Bock is the writing force behind the Three Star Leadership Blog and the author and co-author of many books, including Performance Talk: The One-on-One Part of Leadership, and Ruthless Focus: How to Use Key Core Strategies to Grow Your Business. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter.