Bosses: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Here's some practical advice for helping managers hone a style that serves everyone's best interest and, as such, fosters positive perceptions among subordinates. Includes a short quiz.

By John McKee

In the workplace, managers get a bad rap. The butt of endless water cooler jokes, bosses are more often than not characterized as the office "villain" and are maligned for simply existing, in perpetuity. How then does a boss transcend this collective disdain and find that delicate balance between managing as a tyrant like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada or as a "pushover" that is taken complete advantage of?

  • Give credit where it's due. Among the biggest complaints about managers is that they are "glory hogs." One of the fastest ways for a manager to become disliked and disrespected is by taking the recognition for others’ work--or exclusive credit for a team effort. Staff members will be appreciative and pleasantly surprised when they notice you sharing the accolades that will ultimately further their career growth as well.
  • Have an open door policy. Let’s face it; most managers have to work hard to keep up with daily demands and expectations. Meetings, telecons, e-mails, number crunching, planning--all of these tasks can keep managers separate and apart both physically and emotionally from their team. It’s important to remember, however, that one of a manager’s primarily jobs is to know what your staff is doing at all times, and help them to do it better. The best way to accomplish this is by staying visible and accessible with staffers by not only welcoming them into your office, but also by walking around the department where you can "mix it up" with subordinates in a less formal way and in their territorial comfort zone.
  • Appreciate face value. Today’s professional is decidedly "wired," with e-mail, voice mail, teleconferencing and web-conferencing taking the place of good old human-to-human interaction. The most effective managers communicate with their staff in person whenever possible. Although remote communication is admittedly efficient, technology is not entirely effective when it comes to getting people energized or feeling like they are part of a team led by someone who cares about what’s on the collective plate. There is simply no direct substitute for having a face-to-face dialog--not a monologue--with staff members if you want to get things done while also cultivating a positive spirit within the organization.
  • Be firm but fair. Every office has its "suck-ups" and "brown-nosers," and everyone knows who they are--except the boss. If your team thinks you are allowing others to have special privileges or that you are too naïve to recognize when you’re being manipulated, you will lose their respect very quickly. Once lost, respect is a virtue that is very hard to regain. To avoid this, debrief your team as often as possible so they understand why you do things a certain way or have made a certain decision, and so they consider your decisions fair in a business context.
  • Find, and maintain, a "whole life" balance. Busy times and demanding jobs can cause managers to lose their humanity--those other things in life that make it all worth it. It’s okay to burn some midnight oil once in a while, but everyday demands at the expense of your personal or family life is a recipe for disaster and make for a stressed and less than lovable boss. This, of course, leads to low morale and decreased team productivity coupled with increased staff turnover--all of which plays into a vicious cycle of both professional and personal unhappiness. When you are frustrated and wound tight, your staff truly feels your pain.

Not sure what kind of boss you are? Take this quick quiz to help you find out: Simply agree or disagree with each question, below.

  1. All employees generally dislike work
  2. The best motivator for your team is money; it’s what brings them back every day
  3. Keeping emotions out of the management process has served the operation well
  4. Your staff prefers to work as a team so that individual accountability is lessened
  5. As much as I would like to, I just don’t have the time to spend talking in-person to my subordinates
  6. I encourage feedback from a suggestion box or other anonymous method
  7. I live for the weekends - this job is a paycheck to support my "real" life
  8. I don’t believe outsourcing can happen to my company
  9. Regular team meetings are not justifiable as they take too much time, which lessens productivity
  10. My current management position isn’t very influential, but when I move up the ladder a bit I can make a real contribution to the company

Score Card: Give yourself 1 point for every time you disagree with the statement.

  • 10--Excellent!! You’ll be running the show in no time!
  • 9--Brilliant. You obviously see your employees as an asset
  • 8--Solid. You have the right attitude, and the team will see that
  • 7--Well done. You know people and their needs
  • 6--Good. You recognize the power of your role/li>
  • 5--Fair. May be time to re-think your management strategy
  • 4--It’s definitely time for an attitude adjustment
  • 3--Change or die (metaphorically). Things aren’t good, but it's not too late to make changes that have an impact
  • 2--Do something significant that will be viewed in a positive light or your employees will leave
  • 1--It’s time to consider a new job where you do not manage people
  • 0--Ever consider a job as a bounty hunter?