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Three Steps to Becoming a Great Boss

September 4, 2017  Min to Reads

Writing this article feels risky to me because I know my many failures as a boss. Despite my desire to be a great boss, I often make mistakes that I know I shouldn't make. Knowing that I am not alone in my desire, I ask myself this question: "What are the top three steps to becoming a great boss?"

Before I share my opinion on the subject, I want to illustrate the popularity of this question via a Google search for "How to Be a Great Boss:

~ With quotations - 688,000 hits
Without the quotations - 1.5 million hits

Clearly, a lot of people want to know how to be a great boss, and a lot of advice exists to help. That's encouraging to me. It means that there are large numbers of managers of people who want to be better bosses.

So if you'll indulge me, let me add my thoughts to list. Here are my recommendations - the things I struggle to improve on daily.


Step One to Becoming a Great Boss

Know your people

I know this step sounds simplistic, but it is more common than I'd like to admit that bosses don't know their people. There are three types of bosses.

  • Bosses that are not good people and don't care about others. They are the minority.
  • Bosses that are introverts and feel uncomfortable with personal conversations.
  • Bosses that are busy and fail to slow down long enough to get to know their people.

This group is the majority and they believe, in error, that taking time for "small-talk" is a poor use of time. They are wrong.

If you are the first type of boss, then you shouldn't be a boss. Your people are better off without you.

If you are the second type of boss, then you should get some counseling. Your people need you.

If you are the third type of boss, then you need to understand something. The most important use of your time is getting to know your people and staying connected with them.

Why? Because according to Gallup "employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged." With less than one-third of American workers engaged in their work, our businesses are in need. Specifically, they need bosses who slow down long enough to show genuine interest in their people and the lives they live.

Step Two to Becoming a Great Boss

Be Accessible to your people

This is more important today than ever before, but it has always been important. Bosses talk about open door policies for a reason. Whether the door to their attention is open or not is another matter altogether. But in an increasingly virtual workforce, the need to be accessible is of critical importance.

One major factor makes this true. According to Gallup, virtual employees don't discuss career development with their managers enough. As a result, they are more prone to leave the company to achieve their career goals.

This finding is interesting. These employees understand their job requirements more than their in-office counterparts, and Gallup suggests the cause is effective bosses. Bosses communicate job responsibilities more effectively to virtual employees than non-virtual employees. Yet, these employees leave because their bosses don't talk about career development. Their bosses don't take the time to know their people's aspirations, hopes, and dreams. They aren't accessible for that discussion.

So, here's how you can be more accessible:

  • Answer the phone when your employee calls you. They understand that you can't always answer the phone, but if you habitually send them to voice mail, they will stop calling altogether. They will disengage.
  • Listen attentively when your employee shares their thoughts and ideas with you. Especially do this when what they share is personal.
  • Be intentional about having career development discussions. What are their goals? What can they do to get closer to achieving them? How can you help? How are they progressing? Open yourself up to this conversation. It isn't a waste of time.
  • Ask them questions about the personal things they've shared in the past. Did you get that home repair done? How did your child's spelling bee go? Be interested

This is a start to being accessible. The point is: great bosses show interest in their people and are fully present when having conversations.

Step Three to Becoming a Great Boss

Give your people room to grow

Getting to know your people and being present for them means you engage with them. What it doesn't mean is that you hover over them and manage every detail of their work. Nothing will put you in the annals of a terrible boss than a tendency to micromanage.

In Great Leaders Are Patient, I wrote,

"One of the greatest faults of leaders is the tendency to rob people of the opportunity to grow.... If you care about your people you will help them learn to make decisions."

We call this "empowerment" and it is one of the most critical aspects of employee engagement. It is also central to excellent leadership. So, if you want to be a great boss empower your people by giving them room to grow.

Be cautious with this tip. Practicing it can be a mask for being a lazy and disengaged boss. We need to have a healthy balance between a hands-off approach and an engaged, interested, and present approach. The alternative is a disengaged, uninterested and absent approach. The former leads to satisfied and engaged workers. The latter leads to churn. Dissatisfied employees will leave, or you'll wish they would.

What best practices have you seen or relied on? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!

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  1. Leading a group of volunteers encourages leadership instead of management. In a volunteer environment, gone are most incentives and disincentives. Instead, you’re left with a vision and a profound need to discover and satisfy why people volunteer.

    Applying that philosophy to work and engaging with employees using a volunteer mindset results in a partnership of focus to fulfill the shared vision. Very satisfying work environment, producing superior results without the need for heavy handed management.

    Your three points developed in the post dovetail nicely with the volunteer mindset. Thanks, Mark!

    1. Wow, if we can discover and then satisfy why people come to work every day, I’m mean why they really come to work, that would transform the work place. That would transform lives. Great comment Grant. Thanks for sharing it.

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