A simple guide to being a good boss…
… or at least slightly better one…
Being a good boss is much harder than it sounds. Being poor manager is much easier than people think.
I would like to share my experience as line manager and second line manager.
There is one, big problem with promoting future managers … in most cases the reason why they are promoted is that they were good at what they did (specialists, engineers, etc.) Promoting great specialists to great managers is probably something expected and reasonable, but when great specialists turn out to be poor managers… then the company has two problems: one less very good specialist and one more manager who has no idea how to lead his team.
People change their jobs because of stupid bosses.
People stick to their jobs because of good bosses.
Talk to your team. Often!
Meeting regularly with your team members is one of the most important routines you have to develop (if you haven’t so far). From my experience you have to spend at least 30 minutes every two weeks with each team member. 30 minutes in which you’re 100% focused on honest and transparent discussion about their problems, issues, challenges and fears. No email reading. No conference call in the background. Just you and your team member.
Schedule it for the next 6 months.
Be always prepared.
Don’t skip it.
Don’t be late.
There are hundreds of reasons why you should spend this time with your team members. How they progress with their tasks? Maybe they could use some help? What are the risks that task they currently work on will be delayed? Are they overloaded? Is their work challenging enough? How interesting are their tasks? What’s their role in your team? When is the last time you asked them to help you with challenging task? When is the last time you asked for feedback? When is the last time you gave them your feedback? When is the last time you had coffee chat with them about things they do after work? Are they happy?
Being good manager means many things based on environment you operate in. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions impacting your teams. Sometimes you have to stand up for them. Sometimes you have to motivate and challenge. Sometimes you have to make them laugh. Sometimes you just need to be there.
Know your team and be flexible. Simple…and challenging at the same time.
Give feedback / ask for feedback
Every company have its own way and tools of providing feedback (both ways: from manager to employee, from employee to manager). I suggest you learn it (and use it). There is nothing worse than boss who can’t give constructive feedback. Well … there is actually — boss who doesn’t want to spend any time giving feedback.
Every person is different, sometimes: “good job, drinks on me” is enough, sometimes you need to be more formal and precise. Get to know everyone in your team and give your feedback in a way they feel comfortable with. You also need to adjust in terms of frequency of giving feedback. I know that some companies prefer to give feedback once a year, during salary review. You need to do more. Once a year is not enough. Once a week may be too much for them to handle.
There are plenty of online resources on giving feedback. Keep in mind these simple rules and you should be fine:
Be honest and transparent
Give positive OR negative feedback, not both at the same time
Do your homework, make sure you know what you’re talking about
Support your feedback with data (numbers, examples, etc.)
No matter how great tools and guidelines your company has, you will never be good at giving feedback unless you practice. So start today. Small steps. I suggest you start with positive feedback and then move to negative ones. Practice. Practice. Practice.
I was always surprised when I heard that managers don’t want to listen to negative feedback. Wrong. You should. Listen, very carefully. Analyze. Make notes. Think about actions you can take to improve. Execute. There is no better way to improve than listening and adapting to honest feedback from your employees or boss.
Feedback is great tool that managers poses. Use it wisely. Do your f...... job.
Be honest and transparent
Being manager means you will have more information than your team members. You may think that this is great. No, it isn’t. It is a responsibility and burden that you have to carry every day. Especially if it is NDA-weight category.
No matter how critical or sensitive information you have, you can always honestly talk to your teams. If you’re smart and if you know your employees you will find a way to lead your people through challenging times. Sometimes it may be very difficult path. But there is one thing you cannot do. Never lie to your teams. You don't have to tell everything, but you can’t lie.
Help! I friend my boss!
How often people get promoted and become managers of their friends? Probably this scenario happens a lot. At first, it may feel OK. But wait until first salary review … or bad feedback! Believe me, difficult discussion with your buddy is much more challenging than with employee that you don’t have any relationship.
It’s not easy, but you have to draw solid line between your work life and private life. Every employee that you invite on your family events has to be aware of it. You need to be very clear that there are some topics that you can’t share — not because you don’t want to, but because this is the way management structures work.
Manage your calendar, not the other way around
Everyone is busy these days. The bigger and wider role you have, the less empty space in your calendar. You can let it squeeze you to the limits, or you can take control. I review and challenge my calendar every month. I rearrange all of my 1:1s, team cascade meetings, management meetings twice a year if necessary. I reject meeting invitation whenever I don’t see value added from participation. From my perspective the threshold starts at 50% of your time being scheduled for meetings. Check out this book and think how can you be productive being booked at 80%? When will you THINK about what you do, NOT JUST BLINDLY execute and follow others? You need to stop being in rush all the time, think about your strategy, how can you deal with problems in different way. Be flexible. Adjust. You can’t do it if you’re always on meetings that bring no value.
Succession planning and career paths
I struggled for many years to invest enough time and effort on promotions in my team. It just felt not THAT important as other managerial tasks. Well…think about from different perspective. Let’s say tomorrow you will get a phone call from your boss with huge opportunity for promotion … BUT there is one condition — you need to pass your role to someone else ASAP. Have you ever wondered who might replace you from your team? Do you have succession plan in place?
I think many managers try to prove on daily basis how important they are. Don’t be irreplaceable. Allow your people to grow with you, delegate your work to them, identify the best candidates that potentially could replace you and motivate them with challenging tasks. Let them make mistakes, stand for them if necessary, protect them and allow learning new skills.
I think this could be easily expanded to wider topic — career path. You have to own career paths of your people. You need to know what capabilities and gaps they have. Help them expose and use their capabilities and plan with them how to fill all the gaps.
One of leadership models says that you as a leader should be hidden and it is your team who should be on the front line. You support them, you encourage them, you protect them, you promote them.