The six worst things a boss can do

I think most leader-managers know what they’re supposed to do, at least in theory, but sometimes reality gets in the way. It’s easy to succumb and take the occasional shortcut and before you know it, the ‘easy option’ has become the default. Soon, you don’t even realise that what you’re doing is actually harming your team’s morale or it’s productivity.

So here is my list of the six worst things you can do when you’re a boss — usually unintentionally.

  1. Break your promises. What quicker way is there to lose peoples’ trust and confidence? When you agree to do something or say something will happen (‘Thanks for spending the weekend doing that; I’ll see you get some time off in lieu’) honour your commitment. Write it down if you have to so you don’t forget.
  2. Settle for second best. Close enough can be good enough when a task is of minor importance or adds minuscule value, but most of the time, ‘She’ll be right’ just means ‘I can’t be bothered to do it properly’. Don accept mediocre when you know you or someone who works for you is capable of better.
  3. Treat all your team members like the same cardboard cutout, regardless of their age, background, culture, home responsibilities, interests and working styles. That can never bring out peoples’ best work. Everyone has their own set of expectations and needs from work and different ways of saying ‘Thank you’ delight different people. Tailor your assignments, coaching, perks and thank you’s to individuals to ‘light that fire within’. That means not treating people as you want to be treated but treating people as they want to be treated. Easy to forget but best remembered.
  4. Just give someone a job to do and let them get on with it without explaining why it’s important and how it fits into the ‘bigger picture’ of the team’s work or organisation’s goals. Nope. Most people want to be part of something bigger and make a worthwhile contribution to it. Explain the bigger picture to light the fire within.
  5. Hide your mistakes; when that doesn’t work, blame someone else; when that doesn’t work, blame events beyond your control. Step up. Fix it up.
  6. Sit back, relax, breathe a sigh of relief and put your feet up, especially when things seem to be going well. Big mistake. Chill out, yes, but when you’ve finished that cuppa, get back to work! Now is the time to get on with important but not urgent duties, like planning and looking for ways to improve ways of working, removing bottlenecks, improving your storage space — whatever. What in your job, your team members’s jobs, your team’s processes, your learning and development and that of your team, for instance, can you improve, however incrementally? What can you do easier, better, faster, more economically, more reliably, more safely or more sustainably? When your team has hit a milestone or met their goals, spend some time recognising their hard work and take a bit of time to celebrate with them.

So there you have it. Easy-to-make leadership blunders but fortunately, also fairly easy to avoid.

Advertisements

Are you an above the line person or a below the line person?

Above and below the line behaviour is a shorthand way of describing how you relate to the world and respond to problems, mistakes and disappointments.

Below the line people react to problems by denying them completely, blaming others for them, or making excuses. Here’s an example. You’re sitting at home after a hard day’s work, feet up, relaxing. From the kitchen, you hear a crash. You call out ‘What happened’ and the response is: ‘Nothing!’ That’s denial.

You persist. ‘I heard a crash; what was it?’ If two people are in the kitchen, you might hear ‘Mary did it!’ That’s blame. Or you might hear ‘Awwww, it wasn’t my fault; the milk carton was wet and it slipped.’ That’s an excuse. All below the line responses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear ‘I dropped the milk carton; I’m just getting the mop to clean up the mess.’ That’s an above the line response. That’s taking responsibility.

A lot of children never learn to let go of below the line behaviour and carry it with them right into adulthood. They don’t stump up to their mistakes. They don’t face stumbling blocks and set-backs and fix them. They refuse to accept problems. Instead of taking responsibility, they deny, lay blame or make excuses. They never learn and they never grow.

Much better to give up the ‘victim’ mentality, stop blaming others, and take responsibility. Taking responsibility for your own choices and their consequences is more likely to move you forward, towards your goals and towards learning life’s lessons.

Are you an above the line person or a below the line person? What about your team members? How can you help any below the line team members start accepting responsibility for their actions and their consequences?

Three cornerstones of successful communication

Who are the leader-managers you admire most? Chances are, they excel at communication. Chances are, they have a knack of getting on with people and winning their cooperation. Chances are they shine at three cornerstones of successful communication.

The first cornerstone is really an attitude, or an approach to life and to people; the second two are the skill sets of gathering good information and of giving good information.

  1. Respect: respecting yourself and respecting others
  2. Gathering good information: this takes empathy, the ability to see situations from other points of view, not just your own. This makes you willing to listen and helps you understand the whats, whys and wherefores of other people’s thinking.
  3. Giving good information: what good is it to have an opinion, an idea, or some information if you can’t share it clearly with others?

Here’s your challenge: For the rest of the week, pay attention to three aspects of your communication:

  1. how respectfully you treat others and how respectfully you encourage others to treat you
  2. how carefully you listen to others and put yourself in their shoes so you can figure out where they’re coming from
  3. how clearly and succinctly you give information to others.

That will show you your strengths and where your opportunities to improve are.

Toxic bosses Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we’ve considered how to recognise and survive working for control freaks, hollow superstars, wily politicians and narcissists. This week it’s how to survive working for dictators and bullies. They all prove boss is a four-letter word.

Dictators take being the boss into the stratosphere. They take no questions and give no explanations. They issue orders and tell you what to do – even when they don’t need to. They play their cards close to their chests, they solve your problems and everyone else’s problems, too, and they make all the decision themselves – even those you’d like to be involved in and could help with.

Some dictators simply love the sound of their own voice. Some can’t bring themselves to trust their followers – any of them – even though their poor followers probably are trustworthy. In the minds of dictators, their only option is to continually drive people and push them hard to do an honest day’s work.

Here are the two secrets to working for dictators:

  1. Remember that their ‘don’t trust anyone’ view of the world is their problem, not yours.
  2. Don’t give into the temptation to become as lazy and irresponsible as they seem to believe you are and just sit back and let the dictator do all your thinking for you.

The best thing to do, I think, is to keep your head down, do your work, and look for a new leader who doesn’t turn ‘boss’ into a four-letter word.

I’ve saved the most toxic boss of all until last – the bully. Bullies pick on one or two of their weaker followers and entertain themselves by abusing, belittling and berating them, assigning them impossible tasks with ridiculous time constraints and generally setting them up to fail.

And here’s the rub – to everyone else, bullies are often charming, and clever enough to hide their bullying ways from everyone but their victims. In fact, people usually find it hard to believe that a bully boss really does intimidate, terrorise and persecute anyone. That’s what makes them so dangerous.

If anyone out there is the victim of a bully boss, do not be conned into believing that you’re the failure your boss is making you out to be. Keep a record of the bullying treatment you receive (dates, times, locations, what was said, anyone else who was present). These records can help you see, clearly and objectively, that you’re not to blame and you may be able to use these records as proof of your boss’s toxic behaviour towards you.

My suggestion is that you find another leader as fast as you can, someone who inspires you and helps you achieve feats you never knew you could achieve. Look for someone who is talented and has high, but realistic, standards, who will give you constructive feedback, set challenging targets and expect a lot of good work from you. Above all, look for a leader who makes you feel energised and confident.

(I trust you didn’t recognise any of the characteristics of toxic leaders we’ve discussed over the last three posts in yourself. If you did, you know what to do. Change your ways and learn to be a real leader-manager.)

Toxic bosses Part 2

Last week we looked at how to deal with control freak bosses and hollow superstar bosses. This week, it’s wily politicians and narcissists.

Those wily politicians are easy to spot – they’re the managers who extol whatever is flavour-of-the-month in the organisation and next month when it changes, their theme song does too. Wily politicians are verbal contortionists who rush towards power like iron filings to a magnate. To the wily politician, ‘It’s all about ME’ and their sole goal is to survive and thrive – whatever it takes and whoever else suffers.

Their political skills are actually quite awesome. Wily politicians always know exactly what the prevailing mood of the people who count most in the organisation is and some of them are so good, they can even predict changes in direction.

Maybe the worst thing about working for a wily politician is that they’re only concerned with the people ‘up the ladder’, the more senior managers – certainly not the people at their own level or, heaven forbid, those below their level! This means that if you work for a wily politician, your only value is how well you can help him or her look good and how quickly you respond to the changing fads they follow (or rather, give lip-service to).

When your boss is a wily politician who delivers at least minimal results, you can benefit from being part of their team and, provided you can offer solid performance, you’ll be highly prized for making your boss look good. When your wily politician boss is a non-performer, move on as fast as you can before your reputation suffers.

Narcissistic leaders are the ones who can ‘rally the troops’ and engage people’s hearts and minds but they also have massive ego problems. They adore the sounds of their own voices and tend to dominate meetings, even when it’s with more hot air than useful information and ideas.

Because they love themselves so much, narcissists are terrible coaches and mentors, so don’t expect to learn much from a narcissist boss. They’re often emotionally isolated, distrustful of others, self-involved and unpredictable, so unless you’re quite a strong person, they can easily destroy your self-confidence.

To top it off, narcissists are usually convinced they are always right, so they’ll take reckless risks and hear only what they want to hear. In fact, they tend to surround themselves with people who always agree and pander to their egos in all sorts of other ways.

There are five secrets to working for a self-centred self-admirer like this.

  1. Zip your lips when you disagree because putting forward an alternative point of view is very career-limiting.
  2. Make sure you don’t burst their over-inflated self-image bubble.
  3. Praise them like mad.
  4. Always communicate with a narcissist boss in terms of their own best interest.
  5. Don’t worry when they take all the credit for your ideas and hard work – that’s just what they do.

Toxic bosses Part 1

If you’re a boss, you won’t want to hear this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. Second to people’s Number One complaint about their work – ‘poor communication’ – is their Number Two complaint: my boss. Yes, it’s a fair bet you are a source of angst to those you lead and manage. Sorry about that. It’s also a fair bit that your boss is something of a source of angst to you, too.

Fortunately, most bosses aren’t really all that bad, just a little bit annoying – they’re at the top of the bell curve. Many bosses are quite good – they’re at one end of the bell curve. And then there are the bosses at the other end of the bell curve – the toxic bosses. Read on of yours is a toxic boss. We’ll look at two types of bosses we’d rather not be managed by this week (control freaks and hollow superstars); two next week (wily politicians and narcissists) and two the following week (dictators and bullies).

The control freak is a perennial non-favourite, so let’s begin there. These are the bosses who believe it’s never too soon to start worrying; never too late check, re-check and check again or review all the details – yet again. The control freak’s attention to detail can be mind-numbing, especially if you aren’t detail-oriented yourself. These bosses plan every action to the finest detail and keep the panic button close at hand. They leave nothing to chance and it’s never safe to relax.

Control-freak bosses are always looking over your-shoulder – which can be irritating. It’s easy to become dependent on them because they do all your thinking for you. But that’s the easy option and probably best avoided.

To survive a control freak, you can calm their qualms by providing plenty of information, even if you think it’s overkill. Establish priorities (which sometimes isn’t easy because to many control freaks, every task is an ‘A’ priority). Stay on top of details and deadlines and gain their trust with regular progress reports so they can see you’re on top of your job. The secret is to help your control freak boss gradually come to understand that you’re dependable and produce the right results without their continual input.

Another good idea is to notice whether there’s someone the control freak gives more lee-way to and if there is, watch those people and figure out how they operate and adopt a few of their bid-for-freedom tricks.

Remember that nothing is good enough for the control freak – and that includes you. So whatever you do, don’t let the control freak to erode your self-confidence – the problem lies with your boss, not with you. However, if you can cope with it, the control freak’s zeal for perfection can teach you how to think clearly and prevent projects from going off the rails and you may shine in the reflected light of their successes.

Hollow superstars are the publicity hounds with the big reputations. They’re the smooth-talking, high profile networkers extraordinaire, the sole operators who offer no support or guidance because they’re too busy concentrating on making themselves look good, looking in the mirror and advancing their own interests.

If you work for a hollow superstar, it probably really irks you that other people – people who don’t work for them, think they’re great – ‘Gee, aren’t you lucky working for so-and-so,’ they’ll say, ‘It must be wonderful!’ But from those who know these empty superstars best, the people who work for them, there is faint praise.

That’s because those who work for them are the poor unfortunates who are left to make the Superstar’s grandiose promises work in the real world; they’re the ones left to write their fabulous speeches and stand in the shadow while the boss takes all the glory – unless, of course, the superstar’s schemes go awry, in which case, they’re quick to take a step back and push a follower forward to take the blame.

The secret to surviving working for an empty superstar is to figure out their PR plan for themselves and help make it happen. Become indispensable to the empty superstar and have a fun ride on their coat-tail – if your own pride and ego will let you do that, that is!

Two more toxic bosses and how to deal with them next week.

 

 

 

 

The imposter syndrome

Here’s a statistic that you won’t find in the Australian census: Up to 70 per cent of leaders sometimes fear they don’t really belong in a leadership role, that they’re ‘winging it’, and that they’re about to be rumbled and exposed as a fraud. Feeling like a fake is so common that these suspicions actually have a name: Impostor syndrome.

Being a leader is seldom what people expect—it’s filled with surprises, unexpected lurches forward, dismaying steps backward and struggles to live up to what you think everyone expects from you.

Decades after becoming a leader for the first time, most leader-managers recall their first months in leadership as a transformational experience. They say they felt disoriented, overwhelmed or confused—sometimes all three at once. Most new leaders think the job is too big for just one mere mortal. Many experienced leaders feel the same way.

The truth is that becoming a good leader is a journey of continuous learning and self-development that even for the most gifted, leading and managing is a demanding—although rewarding—never-ending process. Today, you need so many more, and much deeper, technical, conceptual and people skills than leaders of even 15 years ago, never mind a generation ago. But when you pay attention and work at leadership, you end up with a strong and flexible set of leadership muscles that others can draw strength from and that you can use to make a worthwhile and lasting contribution to your followers and your organisation that lasts well into the future.