What Makes A Great Boss? - BusinessBlog : McGraw-Hill
Leadership Small Business

What Makes A Great Boss?

Excerpt from Skills for New Managers, Second Edition by Morey Stettner.

Think of the best boss you ever had. If no one pops to mind, consider a strong leader you know such as a sports coach or a volunteer coordinator at your community center.

Complete these sentences:

  1. When faced with adversity, this manager will ____________.
  2. To improve teamwork, this manager will _____________.
  3. When explaining a concept, this manager will ___________.
  4. To keep control of an unruly group, this manager will ___________.
  5. Employees respect this manager because ____________.

Most new managers assume they know exactly what it takes to thrive in their new position. But jumping to such conclusions can lead them astray. From my experience advising new managers, here are the three most common assumptions they make:

  1. The same skills that got me here will help me succeed.
  2. Employees expect me to have all the answers.
  3. My employees aren’t all that different from me.

Let’s hold each of these assumptions up to the light and see what we discover.

Assumption 1: Just Do the Same Thing, But Better

Why were you promoted into management? Don’t think for a moment your professional expertise instantly qualifies you to lead others. Sure, you may be a math whiz, a social media maven, or a gifted software engineer. But whatever accolades you’ve earned based on your specialized knowledge will in no way guarantee that you’ll make a great manager.

In fact, your ability to manage people has almost nothing to do with the technical savvy you’ve gained that has led you to this point in your career. While you may need to train employees and share your wisdom, the more pressing task ahead is to earn their trust and motivate them to perform exceptionally.

It’s scary but true: as a new manager, you’re starting from scratch. You cannot fall back on whatever got you this far.

Assumption 2: I Must Have All the Answers

One of the hardest lessons for cub managers to learn is to say “I don’t know.”

If you think your employees will expect you to know everything, you’re wrong. They realize you’re just doing your job—and your job is to keep an eye on them. When they ask you questions, they may certainly hope for a satisfying answer. But if you don’t supply it, they’re not going to mock you behind your back or suspect you’re an impostor. They’ll probably either forget about it or—if they really want an answer—they’ll ask someone else.

No manager knows it all. Ironically, some of the best leaders actually know less than their employees about the innards of the business. This supposed ignorance allows them to bring a much-valued, fresh perspective to the workplace.

The true test of your managing isn’t what you know or don’t know. It’s how you relate to your employees and how you go about helping them find answers.

Assumption 3: I’ll Manage Employees Like I Manage Myself

Here’s a news flash you’d better process now, not later: your staffers are not reflections of you. They were not made in your image, and they do not embody all the same beliefs, biases, and hopes that you possess.

This may sound obvious. But many managers, flying high on the they’re-just-like-me assumption, wind up systematically alienating every one of their employees.

Say you like to play devil’s advocate when analyzing an issue. This helps you see both sides before you draw a conclusion. Fair enough.

Yet your employee may not appreciate your thought process. In fact, she may view your critical response to her idea as a thinly veiled rejection. She may think you really believe that—that you don’t want to give her proposal serious consideration. She won’t see it as harmless devil’s advocacy; she’ll walk away convinced that you just love to knock employees’ good ideas, and she may spread the word among her coworkers.

Perhaps you’ve established a solid track record as a technician. Great. But most of those skills won’t necessarily help you handle others. That’s an eye-opener for many hotshots who are promoted into management. They figure that they’re unstoppable, only to find that all their specialized training doesn’t matter much when they go face-to-face with their staff.

If you must make an assumption, here’s a safe one: your employees are all different. They can listen to the same speech and hear different messages. What frightens you might excite them, and what motivates you might bore them.

Acknowledge the diversity among your team. Don’t project onto others as you see yourself. The more you can treat each individual separately, the more you’ll grow to marvel at the wide range of attitudes and behaviors that your employees bring to work every day