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December 8, 2015

Bosses, Managers and Leaders

Bruce Murray

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Climbing the career ladder will lead you to become a boss, manager and, hopefully, into a leadership position. These terms are somewhat interchangeable but conjure different emotional reactions that I’ll bet we share. We’ve known leaders who act like the bossy know-it-alls that make us cringe. We’ve also known folks far from the top whose leadership attracts and inspires us. As you climb that career ladder, each supervisory job has behavioral tendencies to avoid and attributes to acquire that will help prepare you for that ultimate job you seek.

Your first promotion will make you the boss of the detailed processes you have learned where the rubber meets the road – on the factory floor or assuring that customers' needs are being met in a timely, effective fashion. You will supervise entry-level workers who need training, direction, and constant monitoring.

Brian Stern describes two types of these bosses. As the expert surrounded by so many learners, you can appear as the grumpy-faced perfectionist who drives people nuts trying to achieve your goals. Until you gain confidence in your abilities, you may tend to come off as the control freak who disregards facts and others’ opinions as you demand that things be done your way. Make this promise: "We’re under a lot of time pressure here, people. Please follow my instructions clearly and without delay. I assure you a prompt follow-up to hear your concerns and answer any questions." If you keep this promise, you will earn their trust and respect. Being a good listener is critical to doing the best job you can, and the listening will help you identify the talented people who you can rely on.

When your crew gets the job done properly and you are able to handle the interpersonal problems without needing outside interventions, senior executives will notice your management potential. As a manager, you have some influence in the tent with senior executives, but your primary job is just to implement their strategies and goals under the measuring standards they give you. You direct the resources, both physical and human, to accomplish these goals.

Managers supervise employees whose work is often done out of their sight. It will be a challenge to see them do things their own way, even when it results in mistakes, but your micromanaging will only make things worse. As Daniel Pink so prudently observes, giving your employees autonomy is the primary factor in keeping them motivated.

Set expectations. Be clear that you have mutual understandings of what they need to accomplish and how you will judge their output. Learn what they need and get it for them. The obvious next step is to establish a schedule to review progress and share feedback. Easy to say but this is a challenge in the era of shrinking middle management. A study by Leadership IQ claims that "two-thirds of employees say they have too little interaction with their boss, up from just over half in 2008." From earlier discussions, your performance reviews should not come as a surprise to your people. You are only asking for trouble when you discipline an employee with whom you’ve not already made mid-course corrections.

Richard Branson notes that bossing and management "[are] about maintaining processes, disciplines and systems." That is, executing the strategies of others. Those who work for a true leader don’t do things because they are told to, but rather because they are attracted to a vision that inspires their creativity, energy and dedication. Branson then quickly identifies what makes leadership unique and the risk that comes with it: "Where managers keep the rules, leaders have to be willing to break them, or at least find creative ways around them." The key to effective leadership is identifying the people who can stretch their existing abilities and be the bosses and managers to make your vision and goals become reality.

As hard-working supervisors looking upward at career aspirations, we are often pressed to remember that it’s not "all about us." Publically share credit for accomplishments and acknowledge your part in shortcomings. Criticize in private and keep it focused on performance, not on personalities. Do not take advantage of those who let you know they are in full support of you.

Let’s close with a simple statement that serves as a chapter title in Victor Lipman’s new book, "People Leave Managers, Not Companies." Don’t be that bossy manager who drives people away. Become an inspiring leader who serves the best interests of all.

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3 comments on “Bosses, Managers and Leaders”

  1. That was me when I was young: "you can appear as the grumpy-faced perfectionist who drives people nuts trying to achieve your goals. Until you gain confidence in your abilities, you may tend to come off as the control freak" It took a steep learning curve to get me over it and out of that behavior because it proved to be counter-productive. Thank goodness we can learn & improve

  2. Well written. I think I have a different opinion.
    There is a shortage of talented people, and it is the underlying problem in every firm. Employees in project management sectors are not trained or experienced in this category. Few of them do not even hold the title of project manager, but they do these jobs because it is a part of their role. However, such accidental project managers must be credentialed with supportive training. To address the talent gap, people working for project management sectors must be accomplished with management skills and certified with necessary courses, so that they do their jobs to the best of their ability.

    1. We often see this Soumya where individuals are promoted into positions yet do not have all the skills necessary to function effectively in the job. Take for example a technical expert promoted to being the team leader where management and people skills are critical. I agree with you that they need the training to support them as they take on their new roles and responsibilities.

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