Think back over your career. You probably had bosses you would follow into battle without hesitation. You probably also had bosses you wouldn’t trust to tie your shoes for you. The great bosses probably had a unique constellation of traits that worked together to make him or her inimitable, but someone worthy of your best efforts.
Now you’re the boss, and you probably didn’t get that way by being ineffective. But everyone can improve – even those who are already exceptional. Here are 7 ways you can be a better boss. If nothing else, perhaps they’ll help you take stock of your relationship with employees and be less likely to take them for granted.
1. Own Your Mistakes
Admitting you’re wrong may seem like a weakness, but in fact it acknowledges the “elephant in the room” and helps everyone breathe easier. When you admit to a mistake, don’t follow it up with “but … ” Don’t say, “I was wrong about that ad campaign, but (I was under stress / Marketing assured me it would be OK / etc.).” Own your mistakes and follow up with “and.” For example, “I was wrong about sourcing that part to somewhere new, and I’m speaking with our original provider about a new contract.”
2. Always Work on Improving Communications Skills
For many bosses, this means listening more and talking less. For most of us, it means not multitasking while communicating with someone. It’s hard to pick up on someone’s tone or body language if you’re simultaneously checking if your dry cleaning is ready or skimming over a spreadsheet. When someone speaks to you, focus on them, listen with your ears and with your eyes. Nonverbal communication is too important to ignore.
3. Hold People Accountable
When you fail to hold someone accountable, not only do you infuriate those who have to pick up the slack, you subtly tell that person they’re somehow fragile, and “less than” those who get things done. This does nobody any favors. Make clear what you expect from people, and if they slack off, hold them accountable. Sure, it could eventually mean letting someone go, but it also could mean helping them prove to themselves they can be a valued contributor.
4. Recognize Unique Strengths in Your Employees
This, of course, requires that you get to know them, which takes effort, but is worth it. Who is great at remaining calm under pressure? Who shows amazing creativity in problem-solving? Who is willing to roll up their sleeves and power through difficult tasks? Let people know you recognize their unique strengths, and that you hope to put them in positions where they can really shine. Individuals, your organization, and you all benefit from this.
5. Avoid the Temptation to Micromanage
Counsel is one thing, but spoon-feeding instruction is another. Try to remember the qualifications your team members bring, and that will help you avoid micromanaging them. The engineer who spent a decade building bridges in developing countries isn’t going to forget to take torque measurements from an experimental welding technique. Micromanaging is notorious for causing team paralysis, where everyone becomes afraid to try anything.
6. Cherish the Oddball
If you have someone on your team who thinks differently, who is willing to tell you when you’re wrong or why a new strategy has flaws, count yourself lucky. Being surrounded by “yes-men” is ultimately bad for everyone’s success. Sure, you want cohesion and shared purpose, but that doesn’t mean everyone marches in lock-step and nobody brings up unpleasant topics. As long as this person fulfills expectations and contributes to the team, resist the temptation to make him or her just like everyone else.
7. Build, Don’t Advertise, Your Reputation
Living your reputation is infinitely more powerful than “marketing” it. A reputation built on real accomplishments and meeting challenges can’t be swept away when winds of change blow through. Everyone must continually strive and grow so as not to stagnate, but when you remain true to your essential self and core values, you build a reputation that withstands trends and holds fast in difficult times. There’s no reason at all for you to settle for being “good enough” when you have it in you to be exceptional.