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Through hard work, dedication, loyalty, luck, or maybe even birthright, you’ve become “the boss.”
You are now in charge of a team, a department, a division or perhaps an entire organization.
Unfortunately, many people become a boss without getting proper training on how to manage. Entrepreneurs or heirs to family businesses often find themselves in charge without knowing how to effectively lead their companies. Even great performers who rise to leadership positions may not have been trained in how to manage others.
Being a good boss isn’t complicated, but it does require focused thought, attention, and consistency. Because the organization and the people for which you are responsible are depending on you, I’m going to provide you with guidance on the keys to successful “bossdom.”
Establish meaningful and realistic objectives
The biggest change for those who are new to management is that your performance and success are now measured by the accomplishments of those for whom you are responsible — not just your own. You will not be able to handle all of the work yourself, so you must (and should, in the interest of challenging and developing your people) delegate tasks and responsibilities to your team members.
Assess your people, and distribute a workload that is manageable. Establish a few well-defined and achievable objectives, provide the resources and training to enable success, and drive your team to complete them. Reaching the objectives builds confidence and allows you to raise the bar next year.
Lead rather than dictate
Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean that people will do what you say. Leaders must inspire their followers to reach their full potentials. Effectively communicating expectations and empowering your people to provide input and make decisions will help them to connect with the objectives and to take ownership. They will take pride in their work and be grateful to you for holding them accountable.
A critical concept to remember is to lead by example. The boss who behaves one way and continually exhorts his or her employees to behave differently has no credibility. Your people won’t respect your authority, and will perform at a level they believe is just sufficient enough to maintain their own security. Show your employees that you are an example of what you are asking from them. When you are willing to dig in and get your hands dirty, to work the extra hours in a crisis or when a deadline is looming, and to occasionally take on tasks that may be perceived as beneath you in order to help the team, you earn the respect of your people. They will be far more likely to enthusiastically follow the lead that you provide.
Accentuate the positive
Many bosses spend a great deal of time correcting subordinates for every little thing they do wrong in the hope they will eliminate errors and increase efficiency. Unfortunately, most people don’t thrive in an environment of constant criticism. The great motivator, Tom Hopkins, says it best: "Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it." That reinforcement will encourage continuation of the desired behavior and keep your employees’ energy and gratification at a high level.
Don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore mistakes, a lack of professionalism, and poor performance. The absence of response from the boss to undesirable behavior will be interpreted as “it must be okay.” Reinforce the way you want things done or the way you want employees to treat customers, and let them know in no uncertain terms when they have behaved or performed in a way that is unacceptable. It is critical that you are consistent in this. Providing either praise or constructive criticism to some employees and not others is the surest way to lose the respect of your people.
Invite and engage team members to solve problems
As the boss, you are accountable for everything that goes wrong! But that doesn’t mean that you’re the one who must do everything needed to correct the situation or fix the problem. Your team wants to help; they want to work together to solve problems for the benefit of all involved. The differences in education, experience, background, and ability among your people creates a powerful, diverse resource for assessing and solving problems. They look at things from different perspectives, they think in different ways and they solve problems differently.
The result is a powerful resource for improving performance and solving problems.
If you have an employee who isn’t interested in working as part of the team or working for the greater good, then it’s your responsibility to the group to either motivate the person to become engaged and participate or remove them from the team. Either way, you and your people can move forward in a productive way.
Maintain continuous personal growth
Becoming the boss is truly only the beginning. You now have more autonomy, but that comes with more responsibility. Your biggest task is to continually grow yourself. Assess your own performance — what are your strengths and weaknesses? Nothing will inspire those who work for you more than seeing you identify your weaknesses and consciously and publicly work to make the needed adjustments. Every time you succeed, both you and your team will benefit!
Listen more than you talk
Of course you have lots of experience, insights, and advice to share with those working for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to share it all the time. Providing direction and communicating expectations is an important part of your job. So is listening. If you are always telling people what to do and how to do it, they won’t develop their abilities to think for themselves, and they’ll be less likely to come up with new and better ways to get things done. Let them explore the problems and find their own great solutions.
The other downside of not listening is not finding out what’s going on with your people. It’s important to know what’s bothering them, how they feel about their job and their life, how excited or sad they are. The more you listen, the more you learn.
Pick your battles
This was a strategy that my wife and I applied when raising our two, now grown, sons. You can’t and shouldn’t fight every issue. You will get tired, they will get tired and they’ll have the feeling that home is not an enjoyable place to be and that you always have to win. Direct your attention to the areas where you will have the most impact.
People learn from their mistakes, just like you did. While you will undoubtedly have your own ideas on the best course of action in a particular situation, let your people figure it out for themselves. Let them have their disagreements within the group. The process will take some time and they will make some mistakes, but both you and they will be better for it.
Make it personal
For most people, work is a means to an end. Chances are your team members have a life outside of work and their job supports that life. The people who work hard for you do so with responsibility and dedication to the company in order to support their own needs for pride and self respect. Be generous with praise, gratitude and concern for their personal well-being. A related piece of advice: praise in public, correct or discipline in private. No one deserves to be called out for poor performance in front of their fellow workers.
Taking time to talk one-on-one with your employees about their lives, their children, outside activities, and interests or hobbies is a wise investment. Your interest in them as people, rather than just as resources used to get work done, makes for more engaged, satisfied, and motivated employees. Just remember there are boundaries to be respected in these discussions, and listening is more powerful than talking.
Becoming the boss is a great step forward in your career and in your life. Remember what it was like when you had a boss. Treat people as you want to be treated. Most importantly, commit yourself to continued growth and development. Be the best boss you can be. Your people will recognize you for it and will work harder because of it.
Tom Cline has a 28-year background in sales, marketing and operations. He is currently a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA) where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA's services and programs visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.