Commentary

Are You a Great Boss . . ?

This is a question that we all hesitate to ask – in case it tempts us to lie to our self. In our heart of hearts we know the answer and it’s not overly consoling. For many of us the gentle ‘weasel’ response is enough to get us off the hook – "I’m OK, but I could always be better!”

The trouble is that we tend to leave the issue right there. Having acknowledged the potential for improvement, we take insufficient or no related action. In this we are tacitly encouraged by circumstances, for there’s always an urgent demand to donate our time to others, to serve the needs of the moment and to defer personal matters until we’re too tired to even see straight.

What nonsense this is! If we owned the organization we’d be demanding that our people develop themselves to meet the emerging needs of our business. There’s no way we’d tolerate a wasting resource! Except that we do.

When I had approximately twenty staff members, and the same Vision and Mission as I do today, I would find ready excuses why individual staff members should defer their self-improvement programs until a more convenient time – except that this meant ‘never’. If I would do it, how can I blame you? Eventually I was forced to find a new way to fulfill my mandate because it became impossible to retain staff members who were not growing into emerging roles.

I’d shot myself in the foot!

Since that time, I’ve learned another truth. Many, if not most people don’t actively develop themselves because they don’t know where to begin, and working this out takes more time and effort than it’s worth. Seven years ago I decided to tackle this issue and Polaris was launched. For a select few it’s been an acknowledged blessing.

But what about everyone else? Until recently I would have told you that there’s no simple formula; every person needs tailor-made assistance to initiate the self-development process. It’s still true that many do, but it’s also true that many, if not most, are quite capable of helping them selves, especially if they have a route map to follow.

In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, required reading for any serious leader or manager, is an excellent article "Are You a Good Boss – or a Great One?” written by Professor, Linda A. Hill, and a seasoned business / public service executive, Kent Lineback. It presents a straight-forward model for addressing this complex issue, simple enough to understand and simple enough to act upon.

The first step is to understand why we avoid taking action; the second is to take inventory using a twelve-point questionnaire which is provided. Then, acting on the information that’s revealed, map out developmental priorities in three areas:

  • Manage Yourself to establish your influence connections with others and your personal relationships through self awareness and self regulation so that trust is enhanced
  • Manage your Network by becoming ‘other-centered’, sensitive to the organization’s culture and politics so that you can command resources and focus the influence of significant others, and finally
  • Manage your Team by assisting them to work together, share goals and standards, to collaborate in the creation of value and communicate constructively while receiving individual attention.

Keeping a clear scoreboard with the practice of consulting it daily using a practical ‘prep, do. review’ formula for action is strongly encouraged.

All this is spelled out in their book "Being the Boss: the Three Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader” HBR Press, for those who’d like to really master this elegant piece of common sense.

Yet, as my sainted Scottish aunt frequently reminded me, "The only trouble wi’ common sense, laddie, is it’s no verra common!