On the Job: Best bosses help employees gain new skills
What makes a good boss?
The question was posed on Twitter recently, and here are some of the responses:
• "A good boss treats employees with respect, works as hard as everyone else, solves problems quickly and fairly," Pop Culture Nerd says.
• "A good boss listens!" Matt Eventoff tweets.
• A good boss "mentors her [or his] employees" while providing ongoing opportunities for professional development, Jeana Harrington says.
Those seem like reasonable requests, but too many bosses fall short. They get caught up in complicated leadership theories or make trite declarations without any intent behind them.
Bill Treasurer, author of Leaders Open Doors, says he learned a key leadership insight when his son was 5 years old.
Treasurer's son, tapped to be class leader one day at his preschool, noted that his job meant he "opened doors for people," Treasurer says.
"That really said it all right there," he says. "It was so simple. But that's what real leaders do. They open doors for people."
A Hogan Assessment Systems study found that the worst quality in a boss is arrogance, while great bosses are trustworthy. Bad bosses also are seen as manipulative, micromanaging, passive-aggressive and distrustful of others.
Bosses who focus on providing opportunities for others are the most memorable, Treasurer says.
"Think about the people you admire, the people who have affected you most. Those are the people who give you a shot, who give you a chance to prove yourself," he says.
These are not the kind of leaders who tout an open-door policy or some other leadership gimmick, he says.
"You do need to mentor other people, but you've got to be strategic and think deeply about what you do and having an open door lets people distract you all the time," Treasurer says. "The people who talk about an open-door policy are often immature leaders because they're not focused."
Research from Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the University of Utah finds that teaching better methods or skills to workers is the biggest part of what makes a boss effective.
Treasurer says leaders need to spend more time getting to know their workers better so they can understand a worker's motivations and career goals. Once that is understood, then the employee and leader can work together on achieving the objective.
While leaders work with employees to develop skills and reach goals, Treasurer says they also should look for ways to make employees afraid.
He clarifies that he's not talking about fear through intimidation or threatening job loss, but pushing a worker into areas that may scare them professionally or push them out of their comfort zone.
"Growth and comfort don't go together," he says. "It may not endear you to them, but you've got to help them confront uncomfortable things. Have the courage to tell them the truth when they need to hear it."
Treasurer had his own uncomfortable moment: A boss told him that while he thought he was doing a good job, he also "thought I was becoming a bit of a brownnoser."
"He was willing to say that thing to me that made me uncomfortable, but he did it because I needed to hear it," Treasurer says. "The boss who is willing to confront those uncomfortable truths with you can end up giving you more confidence."
Treasurer says any leaders wanting to make a difference for workers should do these things:
• Push workers to stop playing it safe.
"Too many bosses talk about 'you better be careful' or 'you better clean that up,' and that's not telling workers to take a risk," he says.
• Keep the best days in front of them.
"You can't be reliving the glory days of the past," he says.
• Stop using the word "problem." Instead, talk about "challenges."
• Not lead through fear.
"A common response from leaders these days is to talk about what keeps them up at night," Treasurer says. "They're transmitting fear and anxiety to their people. They're too focused on what they need instead of what others need."
Treasurer, who says his book royalties will go to "organizations that open doors for people with special needs" notes that leaders should never underestimate the power of providing opportunities to employees.
Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.