When the Going Gets Tough

Why do employees hate their bosses?

Is that question stated too strongly? Is "hatred" too strong a term? Recently on LinkedIn, someone asked a similar question. And most of the first twenty or so replies reacted to the word "hatred."

Having worked with many diverse organizations for thirty years on management and leadership development, I've got a take on this.

Sometimes the boss becomes the focal point for employees' "hatred" because they see him or her as the source of their unhappiness at work. In some cases, the boss may indeed be a contributor; being "boss" is not a job for just anyone. In other cases, the boss is simply the conduit or messenger of pressure from higher levels.

There is an old expression "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." While there is truth in it, we need to create some new sayings to accompany the first one.

- When the going gets so tough that the pressure starts to make employees crack under it, productivity is going to suffer. (See the Yerkes-Dodson curve)

- When the going gets tough at work, the really good bosses will stand out. You'll know them when you see them.

So, what is it that really good bosses do? Good bosses do a number of things, but here are a few critical things to start your self-assessment:

- Good bosses love people: Being a boss is not for everyone. The ones who thrive have a fundamental trait: they love other people. If you are a misanthrope or just can't stand other human beings, do something else with your career. Don't manage people.

- Good bosses honor and respect their people: Being a boss doesn't mean controlling, dominating, and keeping people under your thumb. Quite the opposite! Good bosses respect the dignity of the other person. They recognize that people are an organization's greatest asset. One that, when fully engaged in the mission of the business, will work hard each day to help it grow. As Jack Welch said famously, the boss' job is "to guide, energize, and excite."

- Good bosses are humble and hard working: Good bosses put the interests of the team, and the interest of the organization, ahead of their own self-interest. And good bosses work hard, doing whatever it takes to get the work done. When workers see that, they take note. Workers have a keen sense of smell about bosses and they know a good one from a lousy one.

- Good bosses develop others: Good bosses know in their guts that their job is take really good care of their people. Take care of your people, and they will take care of the customer, the saying goes. Good bosses get it. And they invest in developing their people, believing that if they grow their people, it will help grow the business.

If you are a boss, and you do the above, will your employees love you? Or will they still hate you?

In today's high-pressure workplaces, it could go either way. Console yourself with the fact that, as a good boss, you're doing the right thing.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday December 15, 2010. For more ideas on managing and leading people, contact Terry and invite him to train your supervisors and managers.

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