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4 Secrets That Only Good Bosses Know and Use

Leader Boss

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Have you ever looked at some bosses and thought to yourself, “What were they thinking?” or “There they go again.” In other words, you could hardly believe they were acting in such non-productive ways.

By contrast, great bosses invariably employ 4 positive strategies that bring out the best in others. Unfortunately, those strategies remain “secrets” to all too many bosses.

According to a well-known Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers, a bad boss is the #1 reason people quit their jobs. It’s a huge retention issue. As Gallup said, “People leave managers, not companies … In the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

It’s also a bottom-line issue. A poorly-led workforce is 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than a well-led workforce. In other words, bad bosses are bad for business.

And finally, it’s an emotional issue. As Tim Pflieger, the founder of the Team Leadership Center (TLC) in Wisconsin, puts it, “We are the only species that elects, selects and appoints leaders who are incapable of leadership. And that wouldn’t be so bad, but then we let them hang around … Geese and wolves wouldn’t do that.”

Yes, we let bad bosses hang around and stink up the workplace and depress the workforce.

So that begs the question … “What do employees really want from their leaders, managers, supervisors … the boss?”

I have uncovered four things in my research. And the good news is you can apply these same four strategies to yourself, your work, and your family to be a much more effective person, boss, team member, parent, or friend.

► 1. Direction

Whether you call it vision, purpose, conviction, or direction, people want their leaders to have it. And they want their leaders to lead them somewhere better than where they are right now.

There are a couple of ways you can do that.

  • Set the right example.
    You can’t expect people to listen to your advice and ignore your example. As noted in a book called the Balancing Act by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, “The higher you climb up the flagpole, the more others can see your rear end.”

    One executive wanted to lead his workforce in the direction of greater work-life balance. So he frequently urged his employees to balance their personal and professional lives, rather than sacrifice their family relationships for their work. And to set the example, he decided to take a month off and travel to China with his 19-year old son, who was about to leave the nest.

    He followed up his trip by encouraging others to get more balance in their own lives. He supported people who needed to leave a meeting a little early to attend their kids’ soccer game or attend a family reunion. He talked the talk and walked his talk.

  • Explain the example you are setting and the direction you are taking.
    While setting an example is critically important, it’s not enough to simply behave in the right way. You often have to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, so others don’t misinterpret your actions.

    In the example above, when the word got out that the boss was taking a one-month vacation to China, several employees thought the executive was looking for other jobs. Others said he was distancing himself from problems that would hit while he was gone.

    When the executive caught wind of the rumors, he decided it was time to explain the example he was trying to set. At the next all-employee meeting, he talked about the fact he hadn’t taken a vacation in 10 years and the price he paid for that. He talked about how he sacrificed his family for his job. He spoke personally about his relationship with his son and their 10-year dream of going to China. He talked about the value of work-life balance. And then his people understood and bought into the direction he was trying to lead.

    Employees are always watching the boss. Indeed, they might even be called professional boss watchers. BUT, employees are NOT effective boss interpreters.

    One more example of a boss who tried to give her employees the Direction they needed. To reinforce the new Direction or company vision she was leading, she purchased an expensive coffee mug with a fancy depiction of the vision statement for each employee.

    It was a good first step. It made the company vision front and center for everyone every day.

    What she didn’t understand was that she had to do more than set a good example. She needed to explain the why behind the coffee mug. Otherwise, it’s all too easy for your coworkers to misinterpret the Direction you’re trying to set. They’ll read between the lines, inserting meanings you never intended.

    That’s what happened in the coffee-mug situation. Many of the employees assumed the coffee mugs were a thinly veiled cost-cutting device … because the new mugs were a full ounce smaller than the older ones. They thought it must be an underhanded attempt to get people to drink less coffee.

So what do employees really want from their leaders, managers, supervisors … or the boss? The first thing is Direction they can clearly and easily understand.

The second thing employees want is…

► 2. Trust

Employees want the boss to be trustworthy. They don’t want to devote their time, energy, career … their very lives to a boss they can’t trust. Indeed, they probably won’t give their all to a person that does not deserve their trust.

But what does that mean? Trust? At a bare minimum it means…

The boss has integrity. She says what she means and she means what she says. No double talk, little white lies, or putting a spin on the facts. If she says she’s going to do something, she does it.

A trustworthy boss also exhibits character. As stated in the “Army Leadership Values,” character is doing what is right legally AND morally. Just because something is legal does not mean it is right - and good bosses know the difference.

A trustworthy boss is also known by his courage. As the “Army Leadership Values” go on to say, a leader must have “Personal courage — to face fear, danger, or adversity.” Or as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani states in his Six Principles of Leadership, you must “Have courage. This is not the absence of fear. It is the management of fear, of having fear and making the right decision anyway.”

The third secret is …

► 3. Hope

It's easy to get discouraged when we see all the changes at work and in the world … and some those changes are questionable, at best. But the truth is ... we're always going to be going through lots of change. And we’re always going to have tough times.

That's why employees need their bosses to be consistently tapping into the 3rd secret of great leadership … hope. Giving your followers hope. Employ these hope-inducing strategies...

  • Share your optimism.
    Employees want a boss who believes a better future is possible. Employees want a boss that ignites their own optimism. And people are inspired when they hear their boss say something like Christopher Reeve did after he was paralyzed. He said, "This appears limiting, but let's see what can be done."

    That's exactly the way Mayor Rudy Giuliani handled the devastating attack of 9/11 on New York City. In his memoirs he wrote, "Be an optimist. People do not follow pessimists. They follow people who solve problems and have hope."

  • Lay out a step-by-step map to the better future.
    However, it takes more than a nice, rah-rah motivational talk to build hope. It's also fueled by clear step-by-step actions.

    Morten T. Hansen wrote about a Yale University study in Collaboration, where a group of students was given information on the tetanus disease, along with pictures of convulsing patients suffering from it. The students were then asked if they thought it was important to get a vaccination to prevent this disease.

    Most everyone in the group said "yes." Then a portion of those students were given a map to a medical clinic where the vaccine was being administered. They were asked to review their schedules and find a convenient time to get the vaccination.

    When the researchers tracked the number of students who actually got the vaccine, only 3% of those who saw the pictures and said "yes, it was important to get the vaccine" actually went to the clinic to do so. But 28% of the students who received the map to the clinic got the vaccination.

    The researchers concluded that giving people hope was not enough. They had to do more than indicate there was a vaccine out there that would prevent tetanus. They had to outline the step-by-step actions that had to be followed before there was much in the way of desired behavior change.

    So as a leader, you need to give your people hope, but you also need to show them what they have to do to make that hope become a reality.

And finally, the 4th secret that good bosses know and use …

► 4. Results

People want their boss to bring about results. After all, as executive coach Dan Coughlin puts it, "You're not paid to do activities; you're paid to improve results."

That's right. It’s the boss’ job to improve results by bringing out the best in their people. "Your job as a team leader," says leadership consultant Adele B. Lynn, "is to help people live up to their best intentions."

And that invariably leads to more training. You can't expect your people to do better if they're not trained and equipped to do any better.

Unfortunately, there are some bosses who think they don't have the time or can't spare the money to give their people any more training. They may even wonder if the training is necessary.

I can help you answer that question by asking you two more questions. Do the majority of your people have talents that are not being tapped in their present jobs? And are you under pressure to produce more results without hiring more workers?

If you answered "yes" to both questions, you automatically know two things. First your people have unused capacity ... which you desperately need to get the results you want. Second, it's time to start developing that talent.

In summary, employees want four things from their bosses: Direction, Trust, Hope, and Results. When you provide those four things, your people stick with you and perform exceedingly well. You're creating an environment where excellence is the norm and not the exception.

As one of my clients, John Friel, the president and CEO of Medrad, told me: "I don't do anything. I don't make anything. I don't design anything. I don't sell anything, so the real work of this company is all done by other people. My job is to create the environment for those people to be successful, and I believe if I'm out and get a feel for what the real workers are doing, then I think it enables me to do a better job of creating the environment for them. Employees will know whether you're living this stuff or not. They're very smart."

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.
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