Required Reading: Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For

AR 18 - F
  • March 28, 2018

If you’ve ever had a bad boss, you don’t need us to tell you what kinds of consequences they can have for business. Bad bosses have a “trickle-down effect” on organizations, reducing the level of engagement of all employees they encounter. Bad bosses are also among the top reasons employees cite for quitting their jobs.

Businesses across the United States spend about $14 billion each year on leadership development, McKinsey & Company reports. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Survey on the Global Agenda, 86 percent of people agree that the world faces a leadership crisis. (Can you imagine what that percentage looks like now, three years later?) Despite their best efforts, many businesses are missing the opportunity to train and equip new leaders for success—with disastrous consequences.

If you’re a new leader or are bringing new leaders onto your team, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For is required reading. Written by William Gentry, senior research scientist and director at the Center For Creative Leadership, the book explains why great individual contributors often fail to transition into great leaders—and how to avoid that fate if you have recently been promoted yourself.

Flip Your Mindset from “Me” to “We”

What’s the most common challenge for people becoming managers for the first time? A Robert Half Management Resources survey found that the greatest challenge is balancing individual responsibilities with time spent overseeing others. In other words, new bosses struggle to figure out “me vs. we.” In Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, Gentry explains that individual contributors can overcome this by flipping their script—and their mindset. Gentry writes, “The script you had as an individual contributor clearly worked for you because it got you your first leadership position. If you keep living that script over and over again as a new leader and still expect success, you are likely on the track to derailment.”

So, what does it take to change your mindset? First, you have to understand it. Gentry explains that there are two predominant mindsets: fixed and growth. Individuals with fixed mindsets rely on “their innate abilities, intelligence, talents, and hard work” and are motivated by external rewards or approval from others. People with growth mindsets “believe they can be developed through learning, training, and persistence” and strive to achieve this growth because they find it fun, engaging, and pleasing. Shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset is the individual contributor’s first step in transitioning into an effective boss. “With enough time and support from others, you can flip your mindset. Support from people at work, and away from work, is an important factor in your own personal development,” Gentry writes.

Flip Your Skillset from Technical to Communication

What are the most common qualities of effective leaders? Research indicates that integrity, fairness, collaboration, decisiveness, strategic mindset, and transparency all rank high. Meanwhile, “technical knowledge”—a key attribute of individual contributors—doesn’t appear anywhere on the list. This helps explain why organizations’ best individual contributors so often end up struggling in leadership roles. And, when we look at the common attributes of effective leaders, there’s a common theme: communication is critical to all of them.

Gentry explains that, “As an individual contributor, people look at your work. As a new leader, people look at you—your face, body language, behaviors, and actions. Your ability to communicate with others is valued and relevant in accomplishing your work and connecting with your direct reports and other coworkers. Communication is a big portion of your job.” Communication goes beyond how leaders talk. It includes nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions. It includes what is left unsaid. And it includes how leaders listen and respond to others.

What leaders talk to team members about is also an important factor in inspiring trust and camaraderie. Always “talking shop,” for example, ignores the fact that team members are layered individuals with families, hobbies, and personal interests. Communication expert Carol A. Fleming corroborates this in The Serious Business of Small Talk. She writes that engaging team members in small talk brings people together, facilitates understanding and trust, fosters friendships, helps avoid conflict, and exposes us to differing points of view. According to Fleming, “Human beings have a tendency to form Us/Them dichotomies and to favor the former. These conversations are comfortable for you because you perceive these people as being your tribe, your Us. We chat easily with ‘our folks.’ We stiffen up with the “elsewhereians” whom we’re not so sure about.”

Flip Your Attitude from “Do-it-All” to Delegation

Leaders often fail because they believe they’re solely responsible for their organization’s success, and because they value themselves above others in their organization, the Society for Human Resources Management writes. A “do-it-all” mindset can convey a discouraging message to team members—even when leaders don’t necessarily intend to. In Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, Gentry warns that not flipping to a delegating mindset signals that team members can’t be trusted or aren’t good at their jobs, or that the leader is a “my way or the highway” kind of person.

“Technical skill and knowledge are valuable for individual contributors,” Gentry writes. “But this strength as an individual contributor becomes a weakness in your new leadership role. Your ability to do all the work, no matter how good you are at it, will not compensate for the inability to lead others doing the work.” Gentry advises the following steps to flip to a delegation mindset:

  • Develop Others: The growth mindset doesn’t just apply to leaders. Team members need opportunities to learn and be challenged—or they’ll look for them elsewhere.
  • Offer Support: Offering both career support and emotional support are keys to helping team members develop new skills and tackle new responsibilities.
  • Set Goals: Goals should be specific, difficult, and attainable.
  • Provide Feedback: Gentry advises giving positive feedback at a 5:1 ratio to negative feedback, and to phrase negative feedback in a constructive way—for example, “I’m telling you this because I have high expectations.”

Delegation is a key attribute of successful leaders. Effective delegation helps ease the strain as new leaders struggle to balance “me vs. we” in their new role. It also helps build trust while challenging team members to develop new skills and to grow their roles as individual contributors.

Don’t Wait for Great Bosses to Lead Your Organization; Develop Them Now

Leadership isn’t a personality trait that people are born with; it’s a skill that needs to be nurtured and developed. If your organization isn’t investing in leadership development, or if your investments aren’t resulting in great bosses, it’s time for a new approach. Whether you’re empowering new leaders or helping seasoned managers develop new leadership skills, resources like Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For help set the groundwork for success. Don’t wait for the leadership your organization needs to show up—invest in developing your next great boss today.

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