5 Qualities Every Employee Wants in a Boss

I-Love-My-BossBosses…most of us have one. Some are good and some are not so good. But every one of them has an impact. The question is, what kind of impact? Does their influence cause learning, growth, and success for their team members, or does it damper their enthusiasm, discourage autonomy, and produce mediocrity?

I believe leadership may be a complex notion but it doesn’t have to be complicated in practice. There are basic, common sense behaviors that successful leaders share.

To illustrate this principle of common sense leadership, I asked my wife, two sons, and nephew to list five qualities they want in a boss. The similarity in their lists was remarkable (and pretty common sense). By no means do they represent a statistically significant population size, but their answers are valuable nuggets of leadership wisdom that any leader should put into practice.

Here are five common sense qualities every employee wants in their boss:

1. Easy to work with – Employees want bosses who are easy to work with and make work enjoyable. Having a good sense of humor, being flexible, patient, and being a good listener all help make life on the job pleasant. Kindness goes a long way. No one wants to work for Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy-pants, so leave the bad attitude at home. It doesn’t cost much to smile and be pleasant so spread a little sunshine to your team.

2. Shows interest in me as a person, not just an employee – Employees want a boss who shows interest in them as individuals and not just workers showing up to do a job. Ask your employees how their weekend went, how their kid played in their soccer game, or how their family is doing. You’ll be amazed at how your people will respond (if they looked shocked that you even asked you’ll know you’ve got more work to do!). Your team members will engage more in their work, be more productive, and their trust and loyalty to you will increase over time.

3. Be a role model of dependability and have a strong work ethic – Leaders show the way. They need to be the role model of how they want every team member to perform. If you expect your people to work hard, then you need to work hard. If you want your employees to display excellent customer service, then you need to do the same. Behave as if your employees are constantly watching you…because they are.

4. Know the work of your team – Too often bosses lose touch with reality. They get too far removed from the day-to-day work and become callous to the challenges and demands their team members face. Employees want their boss to be sympathetic and understanding. They want the boss to be knowledgeable enough about their work so they can provide the right amount of direction and support to help them accomplish their goals.

5. Have my back – Employees want a boss who assumes best intentions and doesn’t automatically assume they screwed up when something goes wrong. These bosses assume best intentions, listen without judgement, and trust their employees to do the right thing. They protect their employees from being taken advantage of yet don’t swoop in to rescue them when they need to stand on their own two feet.

Pretty common sense, but unfortunately, not common practice. Incorporate these five practices into your repertoire as a leader and you’ll see the growth in your team’s morale and productivity.

Posted in Leadership, Management | Tagged , | 1 Comment

5 Pieces of Advice for all Those “Average Joe” Grads

Graduation CapsI attended a high school graduation this past Friday. It was similar to all the other high school and college graduation ceremonies I’ve experienced over the years. The graduates filed in to their seats accompanied by the notes of Pomp and Circumstance, the high achieving graduates received special recognition and a stream of awards, then the valedictorians (the highest achievers of the high achievers) gave speeches, followed by the mass roll call of all the graduates as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

A new thought struck me as I watched the ceremony on Friday. When you take out the time allotted for the graduates to march to their seats as well as the time for the roll call awarding the diplomas, 90% of the graduation ceremony is focused on 10% of the highest achieving students.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a high-achiever. I think every student should aim to perform his/her best and those outstanding performers definitely deserve special recognition. However, those are the exceptions, not the norm. Most people won’t graduate with a 4.87 GPA and plans to study Neurobiology at John Hopkins University. The fact is that most of us graduate with little clue as to what we want to do with the rest of our lives. What sort of leadership advice should be passed on to those “average Joe’s?”

Well, from one average Joe to another, here’s what I would say:

1. Don’t stress, it’s normal to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most of us are bozos on the same bus; we’re figuring out life as we go. Very few of us have a crystal clear purpose of what we want to do in life, and even many of those high achievers giving the graduation speeches will take unexpected turns in life that deviate from their original plan. It’s called life. We learn, grow, and mature (hopefully) and our wants and desires change over the course of time. But somehow life has a way of working out. We all eventually find our niche and you’ll find yours.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others. Playing the comparison game is a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable and unhappy. There will always be someone who has a better job, makes more money, owns a bigger house, or accumulates more “stuff” than you. But that doesn’t mean they’re happier than you. Learning how to be content in all circumstances is one of the secrets of life. If you can find contentment, gratefulness, and thankfulness for what you do have, then you’ve got it all.

3. Be patient. More than any previous generation, today’s graduates have grown up in an instant gratification society. Many young graduates expect the work world to operate the same way. It doesn’t. Get used to it. However, you are among the brightest and quickest learning people to enter the workforce in ages and that has its own strengths. Work hard, listen more than you speak, learn from the experience of others, and prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You’ll get your shot, but it will take some time and hard work.

4. Live for something bigger than yourself. If you haven’t yet learned this universal truth, I hope you will someday soon. Life really becomes meaningful and filled with purpose when you learn you aren’t the center of the universe. Life is not all about getting that job with the corner office or the handsome paycheck. It’s not about vacationing in Europe every summer or making “bank” as my 19 year-old son likes to say. Life becomes worthwhile when you realize it’s about giving more than you get. It’s about serving others, not yourself. One of the mysterious paradoxes in life is the more you give your time, talent, and treasure to others, the more deep-seated satisfaction you receive in return. I don’t know how else to describe it and I don’t think there’s a way you can learn it without doing it. Give it a try. Sooner rather than later. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted living.

5. Don’t give up. Life throws you curve balls and sometimes you strike out. Other times you get beaned by the pitch and you’re on the disabled list for a while. But if you keep getting back in the box and swing at enough pitches, you’ll get your fair share of hits. It takes time, effort, and patience but it will eventually turn your way…as long as you don’t give up. You matter. You are important. No one else in this world is like you and we need you. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

None of this is rocket science; much of life isn’t. It’s the basic fundamentals of life, that when practiced well, lead to success and happiness. Not being the honor grad with plans for a grand future doesn’t mean you’re a loser…it just means your normal. And normal is a pretty fantastic thing when you consider how amazingly gifted you are (even if you don’t realize it or believe it).

Congrats all you grads! There’s a fantastic life waiting for you. Go out and live it!

Posted in Career Growth, Leadership, Millennials, Purpose, Success | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss

Glinda the Good Witch of the NorthAre you a good boss or a bad boss? That question reminds me of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, first encounters Dorothy in Munchkinland. Glinda asks Dorothy “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” Dorothy replies that she’s not a witch at all, and besides, witches are old and ugly. After being informed that the beautiful, young Glinda is a witch, Dorothy says “You are! I beg your pardon! But I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.” Glinda responds, “Only bad witches are ugly.”

I think only bad bosses are ugly.

How do you know if you’re a good boss or a bad boss? A few years ago, Google’s People Operations group unveiled the results of a two-year study into what separates bad bosses from good bosses in their own company. They performed extensive data analysis on performance reviews, feedback surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards. They came up with eight behaviors that distinguished the best bosses at Google. How do you stack up against this list?

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

6. Help your employees with career development

  • Be a mentor and advocate for career growth.
  • Help people develop their skills so they are better positioned for new opportunities.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
  • Include the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work.

Kind of a no-brainer list, huh? It reinforces the idea that leaders can make tremendous strides by simply following the basics: Be interested in your folks, help them achieve their goals, provide the resources and support they need and get out of their way, communicate and share information, and have a vision for where the team needs to go.

Hopefully you’re a good boss and these behaviors are already part of your repertoire. If they aren’t, don’t worry. They’re all things that are very much under your control and you can incorporate them into your leadership practices. After all, you don’t want to be a bad boss. Bad bosses are ugly.

Posted in Leadership, Management, Performance Management, Professionalism, Success | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Are You Too Exhausted to be Truthful? 3 Strategies to Avoid Dishonesty

Fuel GaugeIt’s late on a Friday afternoon and you are feeling spent. You feel like you’re fried crispier than a piece of bacon on a greasy hot griddle. You are mentally and emotionally drained after a long week of work, yet you still have one important task you need to finish before you can start a weekend of much-needed rest and relaxation.

Your boss is expecting the updated project budget and you know she’s not going to be happy when she sees it. Despite your best efforts in managing the team, the project is over budget and it looks like the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

As you review the budget for what seems like the millionth time, you realize you could fudge the numbers a bit and shift some of the costs from the Implementation Team to the Design Team and it would make the overall budget look better. Who’s going to know? Besides, the Design Team consistently runs over budget and you usually take the heat for their mistakes. You could make this budget change, save yourself an hour’s work, start your weekend now, and avoid the wrath of your boss on Monday morning.

What do you do?

Well, according to research, you are likely setting yourself up to cheat and be dishonest. In this study, Dan Ariely (who has written about this subject in several of his books) and a team of researchers illustrated the connection between our level of self-control, resource depletion (mental/emotional), and the likelihood to cheat.

The gist of the experiments showed that participants who engaged in activities that depleted their self-control resources were more likely to cheat on subsequent tasks (rewarding themselves more than they actually earned), and even more alarming, were more likely to place themselves in tempting situations that resulted in them cheating even more!

So how does this apply to us as leaders? Well, anyone who has experience leading groups of people knows that leadership can be an energy draining and resource depleting activity. As a leader, nothing is more important than your integrity. All it takes is one moment of weakness to compromise your ethics and you’ve torpedoed your whole career.

Here are three practical, commonsense ways to avoid this dilemma:

1. Be intentional about recharging your batteries – This research, along with our practical experience, shows we can make bad decisions when our self-control resources are low. It stands to reason that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure our self-control resources stay high. We have to keep our batteries charged. All the things your mom told you growing up apply: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, find a hobby, and engage in activities that nourish you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I can hear some of you saying, “Easy for you to say, Randy, but you don’t understand my work environment. I’m expected to work 70-80+ hours a week, stay connected to work 24/7, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.” If that’s your situation then I have empathy for you. It must be miserable and I can see how easy it is to feel trapped, especially if you’re beholden to the large paycheck that’s usually used as an incentive to get people in those kinds of jobs. But remember, you have choices. They may be tough choices, like scaling back your lifestyle, seeking a new job, or changing careers, but you do have choices. It will likely take time and require some tough decisions, but don’t fool yourself by thinking there’s no way out. You have a choice.

2. Don’t make decisions when you’re tired or hangry – It’s important to know yourself well enough that you can tell when your self-control resources are running low. For many of us, self-control goes out the window when we’re tired or “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry). This is certainly true for me personally. I can see a clear pattern of making not-so-good decisions when I’ve been in this kind of state.

If this is true for you as well, then we both know what to do: don’t make significant decisions when we’re in this vulnerable state. If at all possible, delay making the decision until you’ve had a chance to recharge your batteries. There is wisdom in the old adage of “needing to sleep on it” when faced with a significant decision. We think more clearly and are in a better state of mind when our self-control resources are on full rather than empty.

3. Avoid tempting situations, especially when you’re running on empty – It seems too obvious to even mention but it has to be called out: avoid tempting situations at all costs, especially if your self-control resources are running low. The frightening thing about this particular research study is that people in a resource depleted state were even more likely to expose themselves to tempting situations. It’s as if our “temptation radar” is degraded when our self-control resources are low; we don’t fully recognize the danger of the situation. Using the project budgeting example above, it would be better to let that task go for the day and revisit it on Monday morning, than settle for the quick, easy, and unethical strategy of fudging the numbers…even if it means getting chewed out by your boss for being late with the report. There is never a right time to do the wrong thing, and it’s never the right time to make an important decision when you’re tired, exhausted, or feeling mentally or emotionally drained.

Leaders are givers. We give people our time, energy, support, guidance, coaching, and many other things that can leave us feeling like we’re running on empty. When our tanks are empty we expose ourselves to making decisions that can damage our integrity and erode the trust of our followers. We need to keep our own tanks full, not only so we can give to others, but also to protect us from ourselves.

Posted in Credibility, Decision-Making, Honesty, Leadership, Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The 1 Thing That Will Ultimately Determine Your Success as a Leader

Helping HandLeadership is a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and that’s definitely true in the field of leadership. To prove my point, go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership” and see how many returns you get (but wait until you finish reading this article!). What did you find? It was 138,611 as of the writing of this post.

Browsing the titles of some popular best-sellers would lead you to believe that in order to be a successful leader you just need to find the magical keys, take the right steps, follow the proper laws, figure out the dysfunctions, embrace the challenge, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, form a tribe, develop the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, learn the new science, or discover the ancient wisdom. Did I say we like to over-complicate things?

What if successful leadership isn’t really that complicated? What if I told you there was one thing…not a title, power, or position…that determined whether people followed your lead? What if you understood there was one aspect of your leadership that was a non-negotiable, must-have characteristic that must be in place for people to pledge you their loyalty and commitment? What if you knew there was one element that defined how people experienced you as a leader? Would you be interested? Can it really be as simple as one thing?

That one thing is trust. It’s the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship. Without it, your leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. People check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving you with a staff who has quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from your organization.

However, with trust, all things are possible. Energy, progress, productivity, and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty, and excellence become more than empty words in a company mission statement; they become reality. Trust has been called the “magic” ingredient of organizational life. It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that keeps everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly. Stephen M.R. Covey likes to say that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one. Trust is essential to your success as a leader.

But trust doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s advanced leadership and requires you to work at it each and every day. It starts by you being trustworthy. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool to help you understand the four elements of being a trustworthy leader.

Leaders build trust when they are:

Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the ttrustalk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

ConnectedConnected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

Trust – the one requirement for successful leadership. Do you have it?

I originally published this post last week for Blanchard’s LeaderChat blog under the title of Your Success as a Leader Depends on This One Thing and I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Posted in ABCD Trust Model, Leadership, Success, Trust | Tagged , , | 9 Comments