12 Feb Why do good bosses tune in to their people?

iStock_000016695762XSmallRobert Sutton, a Stanford University Professor writes – Know how to project power, since those you lead need to believe you have it for it to be effective.  Lock in your team’s loyalty and boldly defend their backs.

Bosses matter to everyone they oversee.  They matter because more than 95% of all people in the workforce have bosses, are bosses, or both.  They set the tone for their people and organisations.  Many studies show that more than 75% of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of the job. Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation or the head chef at a restaurant, your success depends on staying in tune with the people you interact with most frequently and intensely.

When running workshops for large organisations around team dynamics some of the same behavioural traits come to light.  Brainstorming ideas often result in the Senior Manager forcing their comments on others, not listening and interrupting others who were putting their ideas forward.  When this type of behaviour is pointed out it is often a surprise to the person concerned and in some cases annoys them.

As a leader, people are looking at you in a way that you could not have imagined in other roles.  Your subordinates watch you constantly and will often mirror your actions.  The ripple effects of your actions can all too soon reverberate through an organisation and undermine cultures and performance levels.

So what can you do to keep in tune with your people?

  • Show you are confident, even if you don’t feel it.  Confidence is crucial for inspiring your workforce, because like all emotions, it’s contagious.
  • Don’t dither.  Indecision, delay and waffling are not good hallmarks to be associated with.  Good bosses know that crisp and seemingly quick decisions show they are in charge.  You can always change your mind later if needs be.  People don’t mind that, but they do mind agonising over matters which just need a decision.
  • Get and give credit.  Being the boss when your people do good work you can get too much of the credit.  This can be used to your advantage, knowing that people want to work for and do business with winners.  However, don’t forget to give credit where it is due.  This way everyone wins and your team will see you as truthful.
  • Take some of the blame yourself.  When things go wrong taking some of the blame is usually necessary.  Bosses who take responsibility for problems are seen as more powerful, competent and likeable than those who deny responsibility.
  • Bolster performance.  The best bosses focus on boosting the performance of their people.  They spark imagination and encourage learning by creating a safety zone where people can talk about ideas, test them and even make mistakes without fear of ridicule or punishment.   They also shield their people from judgments of fellow bosses or others who may undermine their work.  People who have this protection have the freedom to take risks and try new things.  Good bosses are especially adept at protecting their people’s time – for example, by eliminating needless meetings.
  • Make small gestures.  The phrase “thank you” is often neglected.  Too many projects end without acknowledgement and celebration and that whether a project succeeds or fails, the best bosses take time to express appreciation.

Good bosses don’t just get more from their people and do it in more civilised ways; they attract and keep better people.  If you think your employees are not performing well look in the mirror.  Why don’t the best people want to work for you?  Why do people who appeared to be stars when they joined your team seem to turn out wrong?
Of all the skills and aspirations good bosses must have, self-awareness is probably the most important.  The most effective bosses devote enormous effort to understanding how their moods, quirks, skills and actions affect their followers’ performance and humanity.  To be a great boss, you must constantly ask and try to answer many questions.  Perhaps the most crucial is “What does it feel like to work for me?”
This article is adapted from Robert Sutton’s book – Good Boss, Bad Boss:  How to Be the Best …. And Learn from the Worst.

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