What four things separate good bosses from bad bosses?

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If you ask someone what he or she loves or hates about work, you're likely to hear about a great working relationship with a subordinate or about some sneaky little weasel in the next office. You’re also likely to hear about his or her relationship with the boss. 

It's no surprise that bosses are often the primary cause of people either loving or leaving their jobs. In your own career, you've probably been deeply influenced by certain bosses. 

Learning to be a good boss isn't as clear cut as learning technical skills. There is no degree to earn or tests to pass. Most of us learn how by watching our own managers and by making our own mistakes. 

The other day someone asked me if I've seen any patterns emerge from the letters I receive about good and bad bosses. Over the years, I have begun to see that there are four main themes that seem to separate the good bosses from the bad. 

They are: setting expectations, coaching, feedback, and recognition. These big four can make all the difference. 

Setting clear expectations:
Every time I interview a new employee I ask him or her, "what kind of manager do you like to work for?" I'll bet you know what they say: "Someone who tells me what they expect and how I'm doing." 

Managers need to sit down with new employees and point out priorities. It's a good idea to pull out the performance review form and discuss how you define "excellent performance." Paint a picture. Don't assume. 

For experienced employees it's critical to discuss your expectations at least once a year when you're forming plans for the coming year. It's even better to discuss the results you expect when you are delegating each assignment. Too often, we simply tell our employees what we want done --not the results we expect. We deserve to be disappointed. 

Coaching: 
Too many managers lead through mental telepathy. They assume their employees know what to do and how to do it. 

Managers must learn how to be good sideline coaches. Too often a well-meaning boss will run in and play the game for the subordinate rather than calling in the plays from the sidelines. The boss may be having fun but her subordinate isn’t learning a thing. 

Overcontrolling bosses make their employees feel inadequate and undermined. Because they don't force them to take the responsibility for solving their own problems their employees either give up andbecome passive or the good ones quit. 

Undercontrolling bosses cause different problems. Their hands-off style contributes to confusion about priorities. They don’t like to make unpopular decisions because they want everyone to be happy. Their team ends up running around the field in circles bumping into each other. Fights break out. They usually end up being ignored or despised. 

Feedback: 
Why wait until the formal performance review to surprise your employee? Then it's too late to do anything about it. Managers get into trouble by not confronting employees early enough. 

They often tell me they don't want to hurt employee’s feelings or are afraid the employee will lose their motivation. 

The next time you struggle with whether or not to share negative feedback with your employee, ask yourself, "if I had this problem, would I want my boss to tell me?" 

A good way to give negative feedback in a constructive way is to use the employee’s personal goal as a lead-in. For Example: " I know you're trying to bring in bigger retail clients, so I'm sure you'd want to know if there was something getting in the way of that..."  It helps them hear what you have to say because you have their best interests at heart.  

Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching; not like punishment. 

Recognition: 
Employees demand recognition for their efforts. They are actively managing their own careers and won't tolerate neglect. 

We can't afford what happens when good employees begin to wither from lack of positive reinforcement. In spite of themselves, some of them begin to say, "why should I kill myself? He or she doesn’t appreciate it anyway!" 

There has been a lot of research on motivational theory. One of the things inherent in all of the findings is that humans thrive on recognition. Nothing improves our hearing like praise. We never get too old for it. 

Giving positive reinforcement is the most powerful coaching tool you have as a manager. Mention the thing you like and you'll get more of it. 

Remember to be specific, don't mix negative and positive. Give feedback and compliment as soon after the event as possible. If you wait until their performance review, the effect is lost. 

Your job has a tremendous impact on the people you manage. Your success or failure to pay attention to the "big four" will not only affect your employees but your future as well. 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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