What kind of “boss” are you?

Personnel Matters

In 2017, a survey of more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees conducted by BambooHR, an HR software provider supporting more than 7,000 small and medium-sized businesses, found that 44 percent of respondents said a boss had been the primary reason they had left a job. These employees didn’t leave because of the kind of work they were doing or their pay level; it was because of their supervisor or manager. Aside from job satisfaction, working for a “bad boss” also affects one’s productivity and feelings of self-worth.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by that statistic when about half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce or a permanent separation. Both divorce and quitting a job because of a bad boss involve a similar factor—a poor relationship.

In today’s labor market, where finding qualified job candidates is difficult, losing employees because of a bad boss should be unacceptable to most organizations. What is it that employees want in a boss? What are the characteristics of a “good boss”? Let me begin with a recent sports story.

Last year, Brian Kelly’s football team at Notre Dame went 4–8 for the season. It was one of the worst records for Notre Dame football in recent history. During the off-season, Kelly replaced most of his coaching staff. But he also interviewed every player on the team and paid attention to the feedback he received. The players felt that he was too aloof from the team. The team knew that he was dedicated to winning, but they didn’t feel that he was dedicated to them. This year, Kelly participated with the team at 6 a.m. in strength and conditioning workouts; he eats more meals with the team at the training table and has implemented steps to be closer to the team. Kelly says he became more personal so that “it allows the guys to feel that they can come to me and I’m approachable, and they can play for Brian Kelly on Saturdays.” As this column goes to press, Notre Dame is 9-3.

Here’s the bottom line! While the list of desired characteristics in a boss is extensive (as is the list of inappropriate behaviors), it boils down to this: employees want a supervisor or manager who cares about them. They want to work for someone who sees and treats them as a person worthy of dignity and respect. In politics, it is said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, in management, “It’s all about the relationship.” People will give their best and put up with a lot if they believe that you really care about them.

What are some other characteristics of good supervisors and managers? They:

  • Listen to their people and value their opinion
  • Communicate with their employees frequently and honestly; transparency is key
  • Are supportive and encouraging; they help their employees to succeed
  • Are generous with praise; they show appreciation for what their people do
  • Lead with their head and their heart

For a number of supervisors, this may seem like a high bar to achieve. So much of what is expected in business relates to output and achieving goals. But one may find that those outcomes and goals are easier to attain if the process is correct. And a good part of the process is developing and managing effective relationships with those you depend on for achieving those goals.

Wouldn’t you like your employees to say “I want to get this done for (insert your own name); he/she really cares about me. I don’t want to let him/her down.”

Dr. W. J. Heisler
About Dr. W. J. Heisler 1 Article
Dr. W. J. Heisler is professor of human resource management and director of the MSHRM program at Troy University. He operates out of TROY’s site based in Chesapeake, Va. He holds Ph.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Syracuse University and worked for more than 20 years in management and executive positions in human resources at Newport News Shipbuilding. Contact: wheisler@troy.edu.

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