This is a follow-up to an earlier article called Good Boss or Scary Boss? Part I, where we discussed certain dysfunctional psychological character traits of “scary bosses” so our readers could discern when they are being victimized by what can be described as socio-pathological bosses. These are the bosses who make their own lives better at the expense of (read: abuse) their subordinates. To read the article, go here.
The good news is, not all bosses are “scary bosses” so the fair thing to do is to recognize this dichotomy and give equal time to “good bosses”.
The purpose of this second article is help readers recognize, appreciate and yes, even be grateful when they have a “good boss” so they can count their blessings when they compare what they have (good bosses) as opposed to what so many others have (scary bosses). So now let’s give equal time to “good” bosses.
As it relates to relationships with our bosses, human nature being what it is, we typically are quick to find fault and slow to give kudos. In other words, even when our workplace dynamic is favorable, we still default to what some call the “Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Syndrome”. This is the syndrome that Jimmy Stewart portrayed in the classic holiday film It’s A Wonderful Life where Stewart’s character, George Bailey, believed that he wasn’t making much of a difference where he was, so became obsessed with thinking that if only he could get outta “here” and get to “there” that everything would magically turn out wonderful. There’s a good reason why this mindset is so prevalent in the work world. When someone, such as your boss, has the power to make your life wonderful or woeful, that is, to create a sense of either reverence or resentment, we all tend to remember the things we resent about that person versus the things we revere.
Example: your boss gives you a compliment on Monday about how well you performed a certain task and you feel “wonderful”. Unfortunately, on Wednesday you made a major bonehead blunder and because of that, the boss had to call you into her office and discuss what went wrong on your part, and what you need to do to fix it. If you felt wonderful on Monday, now you feel woeful on Wednesday. You feel like a loser. You walk out of her office feeling lower than whale feces and when one of your co-workers asks you “How did it go in the dragon’s den?” rather than taking responsibility for having screwed up and saying something equally responsible like “She was just doing her job. After all, I screwed up, not her, but she has to deal with screw-ups, right?” instead, in our human nature we tend to defend “self” and self “image”. Our response to our co-worker is more likely to offer a one sided play-by-play of what happened in a way that doesn’t exactly put the boss in the most favorable light.
In other words, it’s human nature for us to feel sorry for ourselves, so whenever we have the opportunity to have someone share in our misery, we tend to be more miserable than merry. More regrettably, we forget the marvelous Monday moment and obsess on “woe is us” on Wednesday and that carries on for the rest of the week.
Feelings of despondency have a tendency to drain our energy, sap our spirits and ambush our ambitions. All of these responses will likewise prevent us from getting ahead. How so? Because bosses are looking for employees who can handle stress, cope with conflict and smile during the thunder showers as well as the sunny days. If we focus our emotional energy on the bad moments and fixate on those times, we look like whiners to the boss and this only serves to sabotage our own goals and aspirations for promotion. So if, as I’ve often said, a problem identified is a problem half-solved, then let’s become our own best ally by recognizing if the problem lies with us, rather than lying to ourselves and blaming everything on the boss. If our attitude and mindset on the job is detouring us from where we want to go, then we’re the ones who need an attitude adjustment. The biggest detour that will prevent us from getting ahead, is when we become naysayers and negative, rather than being affirmative and appreciative.
So how, specifically, do we show appreciation and what is it we are looking to appreciate?
Answer: when we recognize we have a “good” boss then we will want to affirm him or her.
Why would we want to do this? Simply because, as stated in the above example, the boss is responsible for having to deal with all the dumbass things that employees sometimes do. When “good” bosses have to correct somebody, they don’t look forward to it. Admittedly, bad bosses don’t have a problem with it. More regrettably, those who fall under the category of “scary bosses” actually look forward to it. But if you have a “good boss” you can be confident in this one thing: good bosses don’t like to have to play the role of disciplinarian, but good bosses are also mature enough not to shirk their responsibilities.
When good bosses have to correct a subordinate, it’s almost always because the subordinate screwed up. So now the question is, if the boss is mature enough to live up to their managerial responsibilities by looking into why a problem occurred and what needs to be done to prevent the problem from reoccurring, how often do we act just as maturely when we are the ones who screwed up in the first place and created the situation where the boss has to “play boss” and correct us? If we act like children and make excuses, point a finger of blame or maybe just “clam up” and refuse to admit where we made an error, then the boss is much less likely to want to promote us, give us a raise, or both. Why should she? We’re acting like children! She’s not our mother, she’s our boss!
On the other hand, if we are quick to take responsibility for our errors, willing to point out how our actions or thinking were flawed, then sincerely seem eager to play a part in correcting the problem and further, learning from our mistakes so we can prevent the problem from happening again, we have just made our boss’s life that much easier. When the boss feels “good’ about doing their job when it comes to correction, then the boss will feel “good” about whoever helped them feel that way. The secret to getting ahead is by having the personal character to own up to our responsibilities. The kind of employee who is most likely to get promoted is the kind of employee who makes the boss feel good by being responsible, accountable and above all, correctable.
Yet the frailty of our human nature often dictates that if we find ourselves in the hot seat, we justify in our own minds that the only reason we’re feeling the heat is because our boss is a fire-breathing dragon. Rather than looking at ourselves as part of the problem, it’s much easier to twist the situation around and dump it back on someone else’s lap. In most workplace dynamics, co-workers bond together and create an “Us vs. Them” dynamic where “us” is the employees and “them” is the management. When we’re feeling woeful, our remedy is to bond together and whine by creating an environment of antagonism, when the salve we need to heal our wounds is to put energy, emotion and effort into creating synergy. We create synergy when we sympathize with our boss and put ourselves in her shoes. When we become more sympathetic, we can’t help but create symbiosis, which is when each party serves the needs of the other and in doing so, gets their own needs met in the process. By serving the needs of the boss (recognizing their responsibility and respecting that it takes character to address problems rather than sweeping them under the rug) the boss will respond in kind, by being kinder.
If you have a problem seeing your boss in a kinder light, then maybe it’s only because you haven’t made an effort to seriously contemplate what constitutes a “good boss” and what you might conceivably have to be grateful for. Based on studies of employees who have complained that their workplace is “toxic” and the boss is the biggest piece of toxic waste polluting the environmental dynamic, there are innumerable reports of what a “bad boss” looks like. But if employees can easily identify what constitutes an unhealthy and toxic environment, then couldn’t we just as easily recognize what constitutes a healthy environment? Of course we can, because most of the factors that create a healthy environmental dynamic are simply the opposite of those which create a toxic environmental dynamic. So let’s look to the opposite end of the “toxicity scale” to consider what kind of boss contributes to a healthy workplace dynamic.
Five of the “boss traits” which score highest in studies of employees who feel empowered and a sense of personal engagement at work are as follows:
Allows employees to tell their side: when problems occur, many bosses simply bawl out the department as a whole. This creates resentment in the spirit of the employees who had nothing to do with the problem, but still suffer the heat. Good bosses allow employees the opportunity to identify what went wrong, why it went wrong, and then come up with a joint solution to address the problem. While any boss worth their salt is expected to have to make certain judgment calls, good bosses allow employees to tell their side of the story. Only after considering all the available information does a “good” boss move on to making that judgment call.
Doesn’t Expect Perfection: there’s a difference between repeatedly making the same mistake and making a mistake for the first time, then learning from it. Most often the bosses who hold their people accountable to a high standard of performance are “good” bosses because they believe their employees are capable of great things. These are the kind of leaders who help their people push the envelope and grow, but they know that when people are pushing the envelope they are going to make a few mistakes in uncharted territory during the journey. In essence, good bosses believe that perfection only exists in the dictionary.
We are only human, and humans make mistakes. Robots might not, but a good boss doesn’t want robots, she wants warm-blooded, caring, compassionate individuals who will sympathize with what an individual client wants, in order to meet that client’s unique needs. If a company’s approach to customer “service” is dictated by a set of rules that can never be broken, then all that’s needed is an automated voicemail system that tells clients to punch the number 1, 2, 3 on the touchtone pad in order to get “service”. It might be cheaper than paying people salaries, but it’s not very personal. But our customers are people, and people want to connect — it’s part of that same human nature we spoke of earlier. This desire to connect with warm-blooded, caring, compassionate individuals is why companies who invest more in helping their people perform compassionately are making major inroads as compared to companies who have bought into the myth that technology-performs-perfectly, because people like to deal with people, not technology. Of course, when we choose to connect with our clients via people rather than with technology, then people are going to make mistakes. A “good” boss recognizes this and doesn’t expect perfection.
Establishes Clear and Measurable Guidelines: one of the reasons good bosses prefer to invest in hiring more people rather than having more technology, is because people have the ability to be flexible. Just as dealing with the complexity of human expectations is one of the greatest challenges to sales and marketing, dealing with those same complexities is what makes resolving problems with our customer base so difficult. Robotic technology doesn’t have the ability to adjust to peoples’ tone of voice, body language or cultural differences, but people do. That is, assuming they have been properly trained and provided with clear guidelines as to how far they can go to satisfy a customer.
Good bosses create clearly defined Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) and then provide ample training time to ensure that those who deal with the public on the front lines understand how the SOP’s are meant to function. Good bosses also incorporate measurable criteria to ensure that if an employee’s performance is below an expected standard that corrective measures (and yes, more training) can be incorporated to address any deficiencies. More importantly, good bosses use these same measurable criteria to determine when employees are exceeding the expected standard, then recognize the efforts of stellar employees. Bottom line? “Good” bosses don’t make their employees guess what’s expected of them because that only creates a workplace environment where doubt and fear exist. Unless employees are confident about what they can (and can’t) do, there is a danger that employees will suffer from “paralysis by analysis” in which case, they are most likely not being empowered to solve problems, so they will do nothing.
Provides Training: this is closely related to “Establishes Clear and Measurable Guidelines” but is much more encompassing. Nobody starts a new job completely equipped to handle every situation thrown their way. Good bosses know this, so they invest in the lives of newbies to provide training in professional areas such as customer service, communication and product knowledge. The really GREAT bosses, however, go a step beyond the professional to the personal. They provide training in areas that will enhance their employees’ personal development, such as time management, conflict resolution, goal setting and even personal budgeting. The reason this makes for a GREAT boss is because it shows that the boss is more motivated to have healthy people as opposed to just having healthy profits. Great bosses also know that investing in the personal development of their people results in a multi-fold ROI, not the least of which is that their people will be much more likely to appreciate that the boss “appreciates” them.
Which leads us to the whole concept of what appreciation means, and doesn’t mean.
Shows Appreciation — Where Warranted: “bad” bosses seldom compliment good performance and as we determined in Part 1 of this series, those who fall into the category of “scary” bosses actually look for ways to demean employees who perform well (because good performers accentuate a scary boss’s own sense of insecurity). One of the easiest ways to determine if you have a “good boss” is if she frequently praises people when they have done something that is praise-worthy. Note there is a qualifier to receiving praise — the employee has to have done something that is “worthy” of praise. This does not include things like showing up for work on time, putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, or being willing to be called in to cover for a co-worker who is ill. These things define a good worker who has a good work ethic, not a great worker who has a stellar work ethic.
If a boss was to give Dairy Queen ice-cream cakes for every employee who showed up for work on time for a month, then everyone would be overweight with elevated blood cholesterol levels. In other words, a good boss never engages in sucking up to her employees by offering superficial praise for superficial efforts. This falls under the category of “flattery” and flattery is a form of insult and manipulation. Showing appreciation where warranted can be defined as a boss recognizing what employees are responsible for and have been sufficiently trained to do, and then showing recognition, appreciation and affirmation for times when employees demonstrate efforts that go beyond what they should reasonably be expected to do. The “good” bosses want to celebrate with their co-workers, so they are always on the look-out for when someone has done a task exceedingly well, exceedingly quickly, or perhaps under budget (but still with a level of excellence). By virtue of our human nature, we all like to receive kudos. It typically creates an enhanced level of self-worth, if even for a moment or a day. Studies have shown that in the absence of receiving positive recognition from the boss, employees will become complacent or even despondent about the value of their contribution to the company’s health and welfare.
When this kind of apathy sets in, the company can’t help but suffer. Good bosses understand this aspect of human nature, just as they understand that they are responsible for ensuring the company stays healthy (if for no other reason that it ensures the job security of every employee under the boss’s supervision). Good bosses want to see their employees feeling both engaged and fulfilled, so good bosses are quick to offer praise when people do something worthy of praise. Good bosses are also very appreciative when other employees point out something that their co-worker did that was praise-worthy which the boss might not have been in a position to notice. Whereas “bad” bosses don’t give compliments and “scary” bosses will be impressed by brown-nosing employees who expose some flaw or deficiency in a co-worker’s performance, the hallmark of a “good” boss is that they will take careful note of employees who are quick to give credit to fellow workers, because giving credit where credit is due is very much part of the DNA of a “good” boss. If you have a good boss and you want to impress them, then make a point of giving credit to your co-workers when they do something they should be given credit for.
There have been innumerous studies that show how employees feel more engaged and enthusiastic about their work when they feel they have bosses who take an active interest in their professional development. In spite of the volumes of data that would reasonably lead employers and supervisors to simply ask their employees “How are you doing and is there anything I can do for you?” it seems that most bosses haven’t heard the news (or don’t read the reports). The fact remains, the boss has the greatest ability to influence a worker’s attitude and mindset, either for the positive or for the negative.
What this means for those of us charged with the challenge of leading others, is that we choose whether we have employees who are engaged and enthusiastic, or whether we have employees who are antagonistic and at enmity with us. We choose by how much (or how little) energy, emotion and effort we contribute to our relationships with our employees. We create our own workplace heaven, or hell.
There is a flipside however, and this relates to choices made by those of us who are employees and have a boss to “answer to”. We decide what kind of attitude we have towards the boss. If we were to categorize bosses (as this two-part series has done) you might say that bosses can be defined as being either good, neutral, bad, or scary. The vast majority of us have neutral bosses. This means that most of us can thank our lucky stars we don’t have “bad” bosses or worse, the “scary” bosses we described in Part 1. Being grateful is a better choice than being grumpy.
Some of us, however, are truly blessed. We have the kind of boss that exemplifies some (or even all) of the five traits listed above, or else exemplify other traits which couldn’t be listed but which are self-evident that the boss is in your corner. If you have such a boss you might want to count your blessings. Why? Because your attitude determines your altitude, which means that if you have a positive attitude at work, sooner or later your boss is going to promote you because the boss needs allies, not enemies.
As easy as it is to say “count your blessings” the truth remains, it’s not so easy. As suggested at the beginning of this article, the reality of the workplace is that our human nature tendency is to recognize fault, rather than recognize favor. All too often we cling to a dysfunctional myth that leads us to believe that the grass is greener at some other place of employment. If we were to debunk the myth, we would realize that, just as often, the real reason the grass seems greener at some other place of work is because there is a lot of “fertilizer” that is looming just under the surface. So if you’re willing to risk the BS on the other side of the fence, jump ship as you chase the myth and look for employment utopia. Otherwise, you might want to see your glass as half full versus half empty. It will make a world of difference in your outlook and as you become more positive (and thankful) don’t be surprised to see your boss become more positive (and thankful). If your boss is the kind of guy or gal who looks for the best in their people, then you can bet your pay check that they’re also looking for like-minded people to promote and form their inner circle of trusted lieutenants. The moral to the story is:
Be like your boss and your boss is going to like you.
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