How to Deal: To be an effective boss, value employees and don't be a hypocrite

By Lily Garcia
Sunday, August 15, 2010

How do I become an effective boss? This is a question I have wrestled with for the past several months. Until recently, I have not had anyone directly reporting to me. I have worked more or less independently or on a non-hierarchical team for most of my professional life. I have come to recognize that being good at what I do and having the ability to get along well with others are not enough. How do I go about learning how to get the most out of those who report to me as I help them to grow? What are some traits of top-performing or "good" bosses?

Being a good manager is a rigorous task that demands a significant personal investment, self-analysis and periodic reassessment to ensure that you remain on track. As you astutely note, technical competency and people skills do not automatically make a good manager. They are, however, a good start.

I have certainly heard stories of gruff or socially awkward people who manage to motivate and inspire employees through their dedication and hard work. Generally speaking, however, it is the affable who tend to excel at being a boss. And it is the managers who lead by their example of professional excellence who most easily win -- and retain -- the respect of employees.

If you are good at your job and play well with others, therefore, you enjoy a sizable edge. But the making of a great boss remains a mysterious alchemy. If the circumstances are right, if the team is cohesive, if the personalities click, if the competencies are complementary, then everything can come up golden. If the chemistry of the situation is wrong, however, even the most devoted student of the bookstore business section might be destined to failure.

With that, I can enumerate a few basic habits that will generally produce a happier, more motivated and effective group of employees.

-- Value your employees. And show it. Employees thrive on feeling that they are heard. Ask your employees what they think and carefully consider what they say. If you decide that an idea is not worth implementing, explain why. If you make business decisions based upon an employee's input, give that person credit. Spend one-on-one time with each of your employees reviewing his or her performance and developing a plan for professional growth. Keep a copy of the plan and hold your employee accountable for following through on the steps you have articulated -- with your support and guidance.

-- Don't be a hypocrite. Conduct yourself with at least the same standards of professional behavior and performance that you demand of your employees. Get down into the trenches and work. Respect your organization's policies and the law. Follow through on your commitments. Meet deadlines. Come in to work on time and take reasonable lunches.

You can squander years of hard-earned goodwill by giving yourself a free pass on an undesirable office obligation or personal sacrifice. I am reminded of a friend whose boss insisted that everyone sign up for a Saturday morning walk-a-thon to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. On the day of the event, the boss attended by speakerphone. Do not follow that example.

-- Be respectful and considerate. How you say things is just as important as what you say. Be mindful of your tone of voice and word choice. Pick the appropriate communication tool and forum for the subject you want to discuss. E-mail is a poor choice for performance discussions because it does not allow the transmission important non-verbal cues that add subtlety and context to a message. Offer constructive criticism in a private setting to avoid humiliating your employee. Be meticulous about addressing performance problems without assailing the character of the person. And during any important discussion, give your employees your undivided attention. Place the BlackBerry on vibrate and keep it in your pocket.

Bad bosses -- bullies, slackers, suck-ups, recognition thieves -- generally violate at least one of these rules of conduct. If you follow these rules religiously, which can be admittedly challenging in the high-pressure environment of most workplaces, and you are nice and competent to boot, then I predict great success for you in forming strong and productive relationships with those who work for you.

For philosophical elaborations and refinements, I recommend the business section of your favorite bookstore. But beware of any writer who promises you the managerial equivalent of a bikini body by summer.

Managing people the right way is not easy. It is frustrating, tedious, sometimes tiresome work that requires the type of patience and dedication that can only come from a passion for the work. If you do not live for the thrill of watching an employee transform from disengaged to inspired or the satisfaction of watching a team coalesce into one efficient, masterful organism, then management is not for you.

I, therefore, leave you with one final rule: Do it for love, or do something else.

Lily Garcia has advised companies on employment law and human resources for more than 10 years.

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