My mom used to say “you’ll always have a boss.” Talk about an inspirational message. Her intention wasn’t to crush my spirit but to teach me that you should slow down and listen. That respect is important. She was encouraging me to work with people, not against them, because you can’t always change your situation. All valuable lessons in the big scheme of things. Yet, she really had no advice on being a manager – an inevitable outcome of eventually becoming a boss.
There’s isn’t one school of thought on being a good boss, really. However, there are plenty of books about different approaches – creating a high-performance culture, facilitating fun. Hold on I just gagged on those buzzwords a little. There are also an unending flow of articles that tout the styles of the big tech companies like Facebook and Google.
Bottom line: Everyone talks about management. Yet most managers are still terrible.
We’ve all had bad bosses. I’m sure you just stopped to think of one, or more if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of encountering a handful in your lifetime. The yellers, the name-callers, the harassers and more. Work takes up the majority of our lives and bad bosses make life miserable for you and everyone around you.
However, you can’t report someone to HR just for being a bad manager (unless they’re in the harasser bucket) so many people just suffer in silence, hoping the person will get a new job or a promotion to a division far far away from any project they’re working on. Of course, if you’ve lived this story you know that this reality typically ends with the employees quitting, not the bad manager.
Here’s the catch. Managers aren’t one size fits all. Every culture demands a different type of boss. Managers are a function of the company – it’s pace, it’s leadership, it’s status in the market and a million other things I’m probably not thinking of. A manager at a hedge fund functions a little differently than a middle school principal and their job demands it. However, there are definitely some golden rules that apply whether you’re on the stock market or the lunch line.
How to be a good boss
- Be human. Stole this one from another Katrina but this is a general baseline for all endeavors that involve other people. A little consideration for someone and their life goes a long way in building trust. Don’t leave your empathy behind to gain a little authority. It doesn’t work that way.
- No explosions. A boss has to be able to walk away from a tense moment and share feedback in a way that doesn’t minimize or belittle their team. Shit will happen, I get it. Things go wrong and projects don’t get done. That doesn’t mean you should speak down to people.
- Walk the walk. You need to know what the hell you’re talking about. You should be the one pushing out information, setting the bar and eating your own dog food. Write your own draft. Sketch your idea. Show the team you have an educated vision.
- Make room for life. Don’t play the busy card. We all know when everyone is busy because constant status meetings are one unfortunate effect of all those manager books. Talk about real life – what you do with your partner, vacations, and your dogs. Tell the team when you’re leaving early. Take your PTO. Your team will follow your example and the result will be trust and transparency. The real kind, not the over-used buzzword phony kind people shove into company mottos.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.