Everyone knows a bad boss when they see one. Like this one:
In contrast, good bosses also have common traits and qualities. Two easily stand out: they Lead and they Feed. Certainly a good boss will lead and feed according to his or her personality, learning style, and a host of other unique qualities. But if you just stack up all the exit interviews and look for two of the unifying threads, you will find these two “good boss qualities” stand out.
Feeding includes teaching people both the “why” and the “how” for their roles. Feeding is giving both inspiration and practical tools. Feeding is nourishing an employee’s soul and equipping him or her for performance.
Alfred Whitney Griswold said, “There will be certain things in a man that have to be won, not forced; inspired, not compelled.” Study after study reveals that the most important thing to employees is not a paycheck but purpose (although a paycheck runs a consistent second). They want to know that what they do matters. They want to be developed, not just leveraged and deployed. And usually there is some feeding involved in people making their best contribution.
Here are four ideas to improve your “feeding”:
- Recruit hungry people from the start. Listen for hunger growls while you are recruiting. It is difficult for you as the boss to create an appetite for growth and development in an employee. I’m not exactly sure where and how anyone gets a hunger for self-development and growth, but you will be better off if they bring it with them into your team. Hunger shows itself in drive, energy, initiative, and curiosity.
- Create a menu that people enjoy and that actually works. This is going to require you to identify the learning styles of your employees, as well as where they want to grow and where you want them to grow. I ask every client to always have two specific areas of personal and/or professional growth in their forefront. It can be a knowledge area, a behavior, an attitude, or a skill. Tag something that you both agree is important to the person and to your enterprise, and then start serving the food.
- Expect and reward growth. Tell your team you expect them to be growing. Integrate their development into their review process. Make this part of their formula for success and retention. But here’s the deal—if all you do is bring it up once a year when you’re evaluating their annual performance, you will fail. Regularly monitor their progress and call out advancement. And tie some reward to their accomplishment of growth for best results.
- Don’t cry over every spill and mishap. Forgive well-meaning mistakes. If you are full of grace and understanding you can, at the same time, steer them to improvement. Even when a mistake costs you money and requires plenty of man-hours to correct, don’t go overboard. Teach the employee how to avoid that mistake in the future, and offer a second chance. Be clear, though. Any active feeding zone will have a few spills and get a little messy at times.
Leading is simply guiding and governing people in a way that is authentic, empathetic, and effective.
Guiding requires wisdom, trust, and relationship and is usually influence based. We all need a great coach. We all need someone to widen our perspective and teach us how to accomplish our dreams. Michael Jordan needed Dean Smith, Aristotle needed Plato, Luke Skywalker needed Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Guiding can be as informal as a conversation over a cup of coffee or as formal as an annual performance review or the back end of a 360 report. It can be about soft things or hard things. It can be small and tactical or large and strategic. It can be direct or indirect.
Marcus Buckingham has a great article stating that the best managers identify the strengths of their people and guide them into the best use of those strengths—for the good of the employee and the company.
Guiding is what I’ve done for three decades as an executive coach. I don’t have formal authority over my clients but their trust and relationship has allowed me to offer guidance in their life and work. I love it. All great bosses steer their team and help them win. But all good guides have some common traits: empathy, humility, great listening, experience, and asking helpful questions.
Governing, on the other hand, is leading with authority. As “the boss,” you have the right to set strategy, to require actions, and to judge results. People will do things simply because you say to do them.
Why does that matter? Because without governance, people cluster back and forth around ideas like kids around the ball at a pee-wee soccer game. And this cluster has a good chance of moving in the wrong direction or getting focused on the wrong thing. Performed well, however, governing authority can make for decisive action and strong results.
As Spiderman’s uncle told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” What are 3-5 things you can do simply because of your title? How can you steward that power well? Governing might sound a little heavy handed but I’m only using it to distinguish that some leadership flows along lines of authority, and that’s not just OK but actually expected and good.
You want to be a better boss. You want a better team. So step up your feeding and your leading. Do those well and you’ll be stunned at the outcome of your team, your culture, and your company results.
Originally Posted on February 16, 2015