How to be a great boss
Learn how to inspire loyalty, dedication and yes—happiness—in your employees.
Being a good boss isn’t just about delivering results or even producing award-winning work (although that’s nice too!). It’s also about hitting an important corporate goal: employee retention. And for the people who work for you, it’s about having another reason to achieve greatness at work—not just for the company, but for you.
That being said, about half of workers have left a job to get away from a manager, according to a Gallup poll. In a study by work-happiness company Woohoo Inc., when employees were asked what factors cause bad days at work, the top answer was “a lack of help and support from my boss.”
But what if you’re the bad boss? Not only does it keep you from moving up the ranks, but it could cost you talented employees, not to mention future job opportunities. Follow the strategies below to keep your work team happy—and on the job.
Be clear about your expectations
Few things frustrate workers more than feeling like they’ve given their all, only to be told that they didn’t deliver what was expected.
“Employees want to feel a sense of accomplishment,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. “And if you don’t know when you've achieved that, you’re never successful. You’re always left wondering.”
So before you assign new projects or tasks, be sure to set clear expectations, and follow up with emailed instructions, if necessary. Then, schedule regular check-ins so that you—and they—are on the same page.
But don’t micromanage
Setting expectations doesn’t mean managing the process of the work. Let your employees know what you want from them, and let them deliver it—even if you think you could have done a better job yourself.
“Yes, you could do it yourself, that’s why you got the job of boss,” Halpern says. “In doing it all yourself, you’re soon going to reach capacity and explode. You’re going to get resentful and take it out on your people, and they’re going to leave.”
Sometimes helping people grow also means letting them stumble, so let them make mistakes—and then learn from them. “You can’t expect perfection, but you do want growth,” Halpern says. “Some failures are okay. Your people aren’t going to learn anything if you save them at every opportunity.”
Develop your talent
Employees are often loyal to managers who help them advance their skills—and in turn, their careers.
“Many bosses are so busy trying to get the job done, they do not take the time to engage employees around their professional growth and goals,” says Tammy Gooler Loeb, a career and executive coach based in the Boston area. “If they were to be more supportive of their employees’ growth and development, they would have a much better chance at retaining those employees.”
So encourage your team to attend industry conferences and take courses to improve their skill set, and give them challenging work that will help them develop those new skills.
Find out what motivates your workers
You’ll be a more effective boss if you adapt to your employees, rather than expecting your employees to adapt to you. (If they’re good employees, they’ll be trying to do the same thing.)
Some people on your team crave autonomy. Others respond well to regular feedback. Some will want to have a very formal relationship with you, while others work better when they feel like they’re your peer rather than in a hierarchical relationship.
“[Adapting to your employees] means understanding who they are as people in order to be the right kind of boss to them,” Loeb says. “Some bosses do this, but many don’t, and it can lead to poor communication and messy dynamics.”
Give good feedback
Your workers can’t improve their performance if you don’t tell them where they’re going awry.
“I am staggered by how fearful managers are to give feedback or say something that they are afraid is critical or will be viewed as critical,” Halpern says.
If something isn’t working, tell your employee it isn’t working, and let them know how they can improve.
Be generous with praise—in public and private
“You should recognize someone for the effort they put in,” Halpern says. “They stayed late, they made it their number one priority. It really balances out [any negative] feedback.”
Nothing makes employees feel better than having their hard work acknowledged, especially in the day-to-day, while they’re grinding it out. They’ll be happy to keep hitting tough deadlines and burning the midnight oil if they know their efforts are appreciated.
You can send a quick email to acknowledge long hours or great work, and be sure to single out those efforts in group meetings where their peers and your superiors can hear you singing their praises.
Remember that you’re all in it together
Just because you’re the boss, it doesn’t mean you know everything.
“Even if I have more field experience or technical knowledge, someone on the team is going to have better-honed interpersonal skills or computer skills,” says Lewena Bayer, author of The 30% Solution: How Civility at Work Increases Retention, Engagement and Profitability.
“If, as a boss, I choose to recognize that everyone brings something of value to the table, and we can all learn from each other,” she says, “this helps build positive culture and trust.”
Good bosses are team leaders, not dictators. Try to bring that spirit of inclusion and shared effort, and your employees will want to be part of your team—earning more wins for the boss they’re proud to support.
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