Horrible vs. Extraordinary Bosses

I entered my office on Friday to a box on my desk. I assumed it was some equipment from my IT team, but upon further examination I saw it was from a Prime online retailer. I opened it to find a personal gift to me from my Chief HR Officer; something not random, but useful; something that aligned with one of my hobbies. It was a great end to an exhausting week. Equally important was the thoughtfulness behind the gift. As I read the gift card, I got all warm and fuzzy, clutched the gift tightly and spun around and around in my chair (figuratively of course) and thought, “what an extraordinary boss”!

This got me thinking about what makes a horrible vs. extraordinary boss? Whenever I tell people I work in Human Resources more often than not they respond “I don’t know how you do it”; As if it’s some extraordinary virtue to want to uplift human capital in order to attain the vision of an organization. If I’ve learned nothing during my HR tours I’ve learned that employees will only care about your business to the extent that you show that you care about them. Most bosses focus on the general welfare of their organizations but extraordinary bosses care to an exceptional degree about the organization AND the people who work for them.

Since 2000 Gallup reports show that less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs. A more recent Gallup Report State of the American Manager, provides a detailed look at the primary characterizations of extraordinary bosses and draws parallels between talent, engagement, job satisfaction and other critical objectives of an organization such as profitability and productivity. Research shows that managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. Given that consistently for nearly a decade one-third of Americans have been disengaged from their jobs, It’s a fair conclusion that most managers are not creating, at a minimum, an environment in which employees feel motivated, much less an environment of comfy coziness. One in two American adults leave their job to get away from their manager thereby improving their quality of life at some point in their career. If you have had the misfortune to be one of that two, you know exactly the situation. A “Horrible Boss” is the kiss of death for productivity, not to mention they make employees feel helpless and undervalued at work which leads to stress and negatively which ultimately affects their emotional and often physical wellbeing. So, you have a horrible boss or two in your midst? Pay attention to what they are doing in the workplace to create but more often, destroy engagement, thereby stagnating the overall level of performance of your business.

In thinking back to past and present bosses, and how effectively they led their organizations to success  I have come up the following characterizations and practices of extraordinary bosses:

  • They encourage autonomy and independence – Engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy, independence and trust.
  • They strive for a real sense of connection – Admit it, we all work for a paycheck (otherwise we would do volunteer work), but we also want to work for more than a paycheck: we want to work with and for people that we respect and admire–and with and for people who respect and admire us. That’s why a kind word, a quick discussion about family, an informal conversation to ask if an employee needs any help–those moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations. A true sense of connection is personal, and makes employees feel appreciated and valued.
  • They set meaningful objectives – Without a meaningful goal to shoot for, work is just work and no one likes work.
  • They help develop a true sense of purpose – Everyone likes to feel a part of something bigger. Even when it comes to their work lives.
  • Provide opportunities for significant input – Engaged employees have ideas; disregard their ideas without consideration, they immediately disengage. It’s just that simple.
  • They help develop a meaningful future – To expect someone to work without the possibility of personal betterment is the very definition of slavery, and where did that get us? Every job should have the potential to lead to greater things. Extraordinary bosses take time to develop employees for the jobs they someday hope to have, even if the job  is with another organization.
  • They set clear goals and expectations – While every job should include some degree of independence, everyone needs a little guidance.
  • They give private criticism – Extraordinary bosses always do it in private. Rule #1. Never yell at or talk down to a subordinate, publicly or privately.
  • They give public praise – Public praise, does not a weak boss make. You might have to work hard to find reasons to recognize an employee who simply meets standards, but that’s OK: A few words of recognition–especially public recognition–may be the nudge an average performer needs to start becoming a great performer.
  • They Care – It doesn’t mean you are not about business. It’s means you recognize that people are the business Extraordinary bosses have the talent to motivate employees and build genuine relationships. Those who are not well-suited for the job will likely be uncomfortable with this “soft” aspect of leadership. Extraordinary bosses take time to know and understand their employees as people so that they can motivate them to become high performers.

Employees are prepared to give the their ALL to your organization which is what you need to reach your goals. But none of this can happen if employees do not feel valued or cared about. If bosses in your organization struggle with what is considered the soft aspects of leadership, check your engagement scores, you may find that they find that they not suited for the role.

Author: William J. Wiggins

William is an HR Business Partner for Eating Recovery Center who prides himself on providing sound direction and building collaborative relationships with leaders around Employee Engagement. His professional passion is helping partners manage their human assets with respect all things HR, including Employee Benefits, Onboarding, Diversity and Inclusion, and Employee Engagement, and EEO compliance. William has held positions in Health & Welfare Sales and Consulting, Employee Benefits and Human Resources serving healthcare, consulting, and retail organizations to include Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Williams-Sonoma, Inc., Kaiser Permanente, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. “I believe that a true Human Resources leader is like a wizard that works feverishly behind the curtain pulling all the necessary levers to make sure that the path to success for employees and employers alike is a smooth one".

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