How My Bosses Taught Me To Be A Better Boss
Everyone has juicy boss stories, and I’m no exception. I’ve worked for a boss who didn’t seem to know my name, and another who sent me novel-long e-mails detailing her daily activities. (I knew way too much info about her housekeeper and her husband’s unsavory business partner.)
Learning by example can be the best teacher of being a boss. No matter how lovely your boss was, how quirky or how cruel, she had something to teach you—how to speak to a team, how not to speak to a team and a million things in between. From micro-managers to absent managers, all bosses have room to grow and to become better bosses.
Being crystal clear
Your employees will struggle if you're not absolutely clear about what you envision and expect. What are your priorities? What do you consider a stellar job? What makes your heart sing? What makes your skin crawl?
This kind of knowledge is power for you and your team. It didn’t occur to me to tell my first boss I would be late for a meeting that included company bigwigs (above him). Had I known First Boss despised being out of the loop, I would have clued him in. I failed to do so, and was taken aback by his anger. His reaction seemed out of the blue, but it was perfectly in line with his personality. Had I known, I could have avoided the erroneous conflict.
The more you communicate your wants and needs, the better equipped your employees are to deliver. When I knew my former boss cared deeply about fostering close bonds with regulars, I focused my energy on doing so. I implemented systems to give our regulars perks and extra love. This helped our business grow.
These days, I like to begin any project with a set of goals. It’s easier for everyone to work effectively when they know precisely what they are working towards.
At a previous job, I kept trying to grab my boss’s attention. I longed for a minute of her time. I wanted some direction, some instructions. I felt lost, and hoped she would hold my hand a little. She wouldn't and didn't. When I finally managed to poke into her office and ask for help (she was often nowhere to be found), she told me she'd be right back, bolted and left me waiting for her indefinitely. Oh, the awkwardness.
"She's really, really busy," my co-workers explained. I was skeptical. Too busy for five minutes for her new and eager employee?
Yes. Too busy for me! I was tempted to take it personally and sulk. But instead, I reached out to others for guidance. My boss's boss proved incredibly generous with his time and issued key advice. My colleague, too, exhibited incredible kindness. He sat with me for several hours, explaining procedures and goals and systems. He showed me around and introduced me around.
Delegate, if you need to. Say: “Bob will be explaining your role here, and getting you set up.” That’s fine. Her actions? Not so laudable.
I learned here that my boss was trying her best, even if it seemed odd. She was human. She had great qualities and terrible qualities, and she was working with what she had. She had her own headache-inducing pressures to contend with and her own bosses to manage.
Try to understand, likewise, what your staff is going through. What are their pressures, stressors and what is standing in their way? Everyone likes, and needs, to feel understood. A little empathy can go a long way.
Focus on solutions
My head would spin when I saw my promiscuously e-mailing boss’s encyclopedia-like laundry list of worries. The cooks are noisy, and the customers are distracting! The music is too quiet! The music is too loud! The bartender is texting behind the bar! Why are we running out of bread?
What saved me, and perhaps my boss, from a nervous breakdown was to transform her concerns into concrete problems. Concrete problems have concrete solutions. For example, how can we ensure an adequate supply of bread on slow and busy nights, alike? The answer: Bake extra bread for freezing so that in an emergency, we will have an ample bread stash.
Don’t waste too much energy fretting and stressing about what’s very, very wrong, even (especially) if you feel imprisoned in a worry-fest. Direct your efforts instead towards making things as right as possible. Focus your demands on creating solutions, not on bemoaning everything that’s not perfect.
The easiest, hardest, most surefire way to lead a great team is to lead by example. Knock your staff’s socks off with your insight, persistence and savvy. Work hard and smart, and work some more.
If your people know what you want and what you’re all about, if you are forgiving—or at least aware—of everyone’s challenges, if you are ready to focus on building instead of wallowing in the rubble, go for it. Blow ‘em away. Shine in the light of your talents and accomplish big things. Your staff will love you and respect you and follow you down the road to fireworks and success.