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September 05, 2019 | Dr. Christine Wilson and Dr. John Foltz
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How to Differentiate Bosses

Becoming a good boss involves more than giving orders

Bosses. Most of us have had at least one, some of us several. Many of us may be a boss. What are the characteristics and actions of someone you consider a good boss? What about someone you think is a bad boss? Have you stopped to think about how those you manage view you? Might be time to take a self-audit and assess how you are doing. In this column, we’ll explore some of the behaviors, characteristics and strategies that can help you be a valued, appreciated and effective boss. 

A boss needs to be a leader, not just a boss. There is a difference. A boss who is a leader will usually be held in higher regard than someone who is just ordering others around. Being a boss and leader can in some respects be similar to being a teacher. Many of the same strategies and traits that help make a successful teacher are also those considered important in being a good boss and leader. No boss is perfect, but appreciating and being conscious of some of the unique qualities of good bosses can help you in your daily interactions with your staff and colleagues. 

Honest & trustworthy

It’s hard to work for someone you don’t feel you can trust. Being trustworthy or not breeds and influences the culture of your organization. Honesty and integrity build confidence and trust in you as a leader. It helps you earn the respect of employees. Trust can relate to many areas in the workplace — communications, quality of decision making, intentions and motivations. 

When staff believe the boss is honest and trustworthy and displays good integrity, the staff can focus on their job and doing good work for the organization. When they don’t have these beliefs, they spend more time wondering about almost everything, possibly generating inaccurate information, and maybe even considering other jobs — none of which helps them be as productive and positive in their current position for you and your feed and grain business. A boss who is honest with employees and the organization, who has built and earned the respect and trust of employees will encounter better productivity, morale, and attitudes from employees. 

Communicates & listens

We preach all the time how important communication skills are. Communication may be the single most important thing that a boss who is a leader does and does well.  It may also be viewed as the biggest weakness of one who does not do it well. To not communicate well takes a person and the organization down the path of discontent, generates feelings of lack of respect for employees, and agitates rumors amongst groups or cliques, and generally promotes unhappiness and poor morale.

Good bosses communicate frequently, clearly, and honestly and with tact, diplomacy, and insight. They share their vision for the organization. They engage and inspire others; this provides the opportunity to generate positive momentum throughout your organization. Such bosses keep others informed about situations that may impact them and they seek input from those who may be impacted. They don’t let employees hear first from others about news that will impact them. 

An important piece of communicating is listening. Listening involves seeking input and taking action. Listening and hearing are not the same. A good boss and leader is able to make sure that employees feel that they have truly listened to them and understand their perspective. The lesser boss leaves employees saying that they let us tell them (so they “heard” us) but they weren’t listening and aren’t going to take any action for change. 

If the decision is not to make a change after listening to concerns from employees, then communicating and explaining your decision can go a long way in relationship building with employees. To not do so negatively affects the employee/boss relationship, makes employees who have brought what they consider important and legitimate concerns to a boss feel unrespected, unappreciated, and marginalized. You will see and hear them converse in small groups. They will likely not share concerns with this boss again in the future. Listening also involves truly taking the time to listen and focus on the topic or issue at hand when an employee is talking. Avoiding eye contact or doing anything but looking at the employee will be regarded as not listening, not being interested in what the employees have to say, or not caring.  

Communicating well with employees also includes providing feedback on a consistent and regular basis. Performance feedback should be timely, clear, honest, and understandable. There should also be clear communication about expected follow-up and future actions. Good communication and feedback should lead to positive and productive action and outcomes. 

Empathy & understanding 

Empathy is the ability to understand others by putting yourself in their place.  Better leaders and bosses display empathy and understanding. They also exhibit higher emotional intelligence, which helps them to better navigate and handle interpersonal relationships. Good bosses know their employees. They understand what motivates and what upsets their people, and they understand that people are diverse and are motivated differently. They also know how their employees learn, and once again, that various people learn differently. 

Further, they understand that many people have lives outside of the office and work. This does not mean that they do not expect the job to get done, but they understand the necessity of work/life balance. 
They are able to motivate generally with positive reinforcement rather than fear. 

Employees will work hard and strive for excellence for a boss and leader who they believe cares about them as a person. 

In her book, “Sum It Up,” Pat Summit, who is often described as one of the toughest and most challenging women’s basketball coaches ever, discusses her aggressive and demanding coaching style and why it worked for her. 

“I’d learned the single most important principle of teaching: they don’t care how much you know, unless they know how much you care,” she wrote.

And, she indicates that she made it clear to them — in other words, she communicated it. Leading as someone’s boss is like teaching. You can drive and challenge your employees, and if they know you care, then they will attempt to rise to the challenge. If they don’t feel the boss cares, then they will need to depend upon their own moral character and personality to strive to do more or even better. 

Give & share credit, take the blame, develop others 

Good bosses know that taking care of their people is good for the organization. They know that treating employees with respect is important and motivating. Failing to do so makes employees mad. A good boss is one that typically puts other people first, makes sure they are recognized and shows gratitude and appreciation. A good boss does not wait for something extraordinary to be done by an employee to express gratitude. It is a habit of a good boss to thank employees all of the time for their work, their help, and something they have done today. A good boss might also do something more, like a thank you note or gift card, at the completion of a big task or objective or upon achieving a stated professional or organizational goal. 

A good boss does not take credit for the work of others; they give the credit to the employees and is then recognized as the leader of these employees. A good boss holds themselves accountable for both the positive and the negative consequences of their own actions as well as those of his/her employees. 

A good boss does not use an employee as the scapegoat if something did not work out. He or she accepts the responsibility for the poor outcome as the leader of the team and communicates and works privately with the employees to understand what happened and why the desired outcome was not achieved. A poor boss publically blames others for the undesired outcome. In this same vein, a poor boss is more focused on him/herself than on his/her employees. The selfishness does not permit this boss to see that when the employees do well, it is a positive reflection on them as a boss or leader.  

A good boss also recognizes that encouraging professional development of employees benefits not just the employee but also the business and them as the boss. Good bosses will advocate for their employees for resources and opportunities. They coach, train, help develop and enhance skills, and create additional leaders out of employees. They will suggest “stretch” assignments for employees, give them opportunities for development, and encourage them to pursue continued learning and development. Good bosses are happy for the successes of their employees and recognize and celebrate them rather than feel jealous of them. 

Make decisions

Being the boss means you are faced with many types of decisions.  There are personnel decisions such as hiring, firing, role and responsibility assignments, and conflicts between employees, etc. There are various types of resource allocation decisions such as allocating people (human resources) to departments and duties, allocating capital resources, such as equipment or money to projects, departments, and people and allocating space. There are financial decisions such as pricing and purchasing, and compensation decisions for people. 

In decision-making, a good boss thinks critically about decisions, especially hiring decisions. A good boss deals effectively and in a timely manner with problems. If an error has been made, then the mistake is remedied and communicated and an understanding of why the mistake happened is gained and discussed. If there is a problem with an employee, then a good boss examines the problem or issue and makes a decision regarding how to address the problem. A good boss terminates problem employees.  A good boss handles surprise situations with calmness and decisiveness and that gives others a sense of calmness in a chaotic time.  A good boss respects the time of employees and displays this by making decisions in a timely manner and communicating them. 

Final thoughts 

You’ve probably heard the comment that people don’t leave jobs rather they leave bosses. It takes a very self-aware and moral person to always take the high road when someone feels mistreated or not respected at work. The lasting impact of a boss can be significant — with awareness you can take steps to make sure that impact is one that is good and positive rather than bad. ■

Dr. Christine Wilson is Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs, Department of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University.

Dr. John Foltz is Chair, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH and Dean Emeritus, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Professor, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID.

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