At one time or another, all of us have probably worked for someone who was less than an ideal boss. Maybe they were brilliant at their technical job, but had zero people skills. Or maybe they were just a jerk.
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Whatever the reason, having or being a bad boss is terrible for business. Studies by my firm and other consultancies have shown that a lack of leadership can lead to low morale, a huge drop in productivity, frequent turnover – and that’s just the beginning. It’s also bad for employees’ mental and physical health. I’m talking about workplace depression, stress and even a spike in blood pressure.
So how do you know if you’re on the path to becoming one of those managers that makes people cringe? According to Karin Hurt, author of Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, there are obvious warning signs, like:
- Your team has meetings without you.
- Your team is seeking mentors elsewhere.
- No one is knocking on your door.
- You learn nothing from your team.
- Your birthday comes and goes unnoticed.
The good news is there are several steps your can take to get back on your employees’ good side.
Get feedback. “You need to make feedback a mainstay,” Hurt told me in an interview. “Ask lots of questions, like: “What have I done that has really ticked you off,” or “What have I done for you that was truly helpful?” Listening needs to rule, now. Your team needs to believe that you want to make some changes in your management style, but can’t without their candid insights.
Know what’s going on. Get out of your office and spend time in your staff’s workplace. Build walk time into every day. If you’ve got a virtual team, save 30-minutes of dial-time to connect with remote team members one-on-one. Consider this a discovery experience—time to learn from them and about them.
Care about others’ careers. If you don’t, it shows big time and you’ll get the reputation that it’s all about you. Make time for informal discussions with team members about their career aspirations. Hurt advised that you ask probing and strategic questions with short-term and long-term applications—questions like: “What excites you about the work that you are doing here?” and “What departments would you like to learn more about?”
Bring fun into the workplace. If you don’t know how to have fun, ask others for ideas. Hurt did this during a previous career as a Verizon leader. “I’d ask my team…who’s got a wild and crazy idea of how we can have fun,” she said. And what happened was – well, wild. “I had a 6’ 6” guy on my team who was Chewbacca. We rented costumes and had our sales team dress up as Star Wars crew.” Hurt recalled that her team stayed in character and visited retail stores unannounced. “We got quite a reaction. It was a big morale booster and brought people together,” she noted. Have fun with the customers and the employees. Show that you are vulnerable and can make fun of yourself. When you have fun, people open up to you—and remember you! Hurt said her colleagues remembered that Star Wars episode years after it happened.
Make people feel excited about coming to work. Reward them for a job well done. Verbal recognition scores big and it’s free. Saying “thank you” with direct eye contact is a big prize, according to my firm’s research. Sincere verbal acclaim is most preferred. A close second is written recognition, like a thank-you note. Other tactics with impact are to give just-in-time prizes like coffee mugs or t-shirts when an employee really connects with a customer, according to Hurt. Recognize the little things that become collective big successes.
Put yourself in service of others. Get humble and simple, fast. Hurt talked about washing a team members’ car and cooking for a group of employees whom she managed. Find little ways to show that you can serve them. Bring a team member a cup of coffee. Ask her to join you at a local spin class. When you do stuff like that as a leader, you stand out and they trust you.
Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping companies get better by bringing the best out of their employees. A former communications leader for GE, Duracell and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co. in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration— a formidable competitive advantage called a Spectator-Free Workplace™.