Based on the way I read the latest engagement surveys, the number of bosses missing the opportunities their leadership positions are providing is almost mind-numbing. It certainly appears to be numbing the minds of the people working for them.

The storyline doesn’t deviate much regardless of what industry or government service sector I talk to: 1) new boss comes in or is promoted from within; 2) boss gets stressed by pressure to deliver; 3) boss stresses team to deliver; 4) team members burn out and get demoralized; 5) team members disengage or leave. The time spans to get from 1 to 5 vary, but it’s the same old song.

If you haven’t heard the song, that doesn’t mean it’s not being sung in your organization.

Disclaimer: I did not do research for this article. Occasionally I get pushback for stating as fact information that is obvious to me but not to the recipient. Did I do research to reach my conclusion? Do I have data? What was my sample size? Yada? Yada? Yada?

My answer is usually something to the effect that 58% of all statistics are made up. Or is it 72%?  Maybe 37%? Anyway, the average American has one breast and one testicle… you get the idea.

I digress.

Leaders have an incredible opportunity to improve the lives of the people who work for them. Imagine if your employees get up looking forward to the workday and go home happy with their efforts. What effect might that have on their productivity? On the time they don’t spend at work? On their interactions with family and friends? On their sleep?

Bosses who don’t particularly care about the out-of-office time aren’t leaders. They’re just bosses, managers, micromanagers, supervisors, or taskmasters.

What we (the royal we) know about employees that like their jobs is that they’re more engaged and productive. And the converse is true. Why a boss wouldn’t want to learn how to effectively lead, encourage, and empower his or her organization to produce and deliver quality results is beyond me, and yet we in the leadership development space run into that exact scenario time after time.

Please help me understand what I’m missing. In fact, email me and educate me: Why is it like this? Which part of the Leadership Triangle is the boss missing – the They Don’t Know How, the They Don’t Want To, or the We Won’t Let Them?

Bosses tell me: “I’m under pressure to deliver.” Duh! Who’s not? Leaders don’t pass the buck, so those bosses must work for bosses who do (who probably work for bosses that do, who work for bosses that do, etc., etc.). I waive the BS flag at that. Just because the jerkishness starts higher up doesn’t mean it has to be passed down to a lower level. As Kevin Berchelmann likes to say, “Leadership can hurt; wear a helmet.

Plain and simple, I can only conclude that bosses who don’t make the effort to be good leaders are self-centered. They care about themselves more than they care about the people who work for them. Not a new phenomenon, but certainly curable. As an example, look no farther than Coach Tony Bennett of the 2019 NCAA Champion Virginia Cavaliers basketball team who turned down a sizeable salary increase to provide additional opportunities for his basketball program and players.

I like the way Coach Bennett explained it, and I’m going to plagiarize and adapt part of his speech so that it applies to your particular business sector:

If it’s just about winning – if it’s just about being the best – then you’re running the wrong race. That’s empty in the long term. But if it’s trying to be excellent and do things the right way, to honor and benefit the organization that hired you, the human being you work for and the men and women who work for you, then that’s the right thing.

It’s a mindset shift: a boss has to understand that he or she can’t be successful unless their team is successful. A leader like Coach Bennett has a desire to elevate others above himself – the sure sign of a leader who others want to follow.

Actions speak louder than words. Here’s a couple of signs I use to distinguish the difference between your run-of-the-mill, worried-about-themselves boss and someone who’s trying to be a leader:

  • A boss says – and may believe – they care about their employees, but it rings hollow to the people she’s ordering around. A leader doesn’t have to say she cares; people know she cares by the way she demonstrates it.
  • A boss passes tasks down to the next level. A leader describes the results he’s looking for, describes success clearly, then asks what support is needed – and provides it.
  • A boss assumes expectations are understood because no one asks questions. A leader ensures expectations are clear by asking questions.
  • A boss does what he asked someone else to do because he doesn’t trust them. A leader trusts his people to do what has been asked by the established deadline and verifies accomplishment without micromanaging.
  • A boss makes employees feel guilty when emergent, high priority needs require time away from work. A leader finds ways to make her team flexible enough to react to unplanned adversity and deliver success.
  • A boss accepts credit for his team’s success. A leader gives credit to those who actually accomplish the success.

As I look back through my mental book of good leaders and bad bosses, it’s easy to categorize them. Yet thinking back about the hundreds of people who’ve worked for me, I’m not as confident about which category I fell into for them. It’s a shame I didn’t use such an easy rubric on myself at the time.

How about you? Where do you stand on the scale?

It’s truly up to you, boss or leader.

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