This Forbes article: 31 Telltale Signs You Are A Horrible Boss got me thinking. Many of us may recognize our former or present bosses described in this article. AND, we may just recognize ourselves!
I began to wonder what happens to someone when they become a boss?
Which led to … do we need to have bosses?
What practical function do they provide and do the negatives outweigh the benefits?
And finally, how can you 'Boss like a leader?'
Perhaps the issue is embedded in the word and we need to banish “boss” from our business vocabulary? The language we use has a profound impact on how we see and experience reality.
When you become a mom, dad, grandparent, policeman or policewoman, politician, teacher and you step into that skin and/or uniform, you take on a role. That role is informed by your perception of what it means to be in that role. How you’ve experienced others in that role and even wearing the uniform, shifts your sense of self and effects how you play your role.
When someone takes on the moniker “boss” do they begin to embody their perception and definition of what it means to be a boss?
Think about how the word immediately sets up a power dynamic and a parent/child relationship.
Boss is synonymous with authority figure and the role presumes that people need to be told what to do, punishments and rewards should be meted out.
Remember the Stanford Prison experiment? It was a simulation where the prison guards became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress. When people took on the roles they began to do, say, and feel things that were congruent with the roles they were playing. It got so bad, they had to end the experiment after six days.
I continued to wonder, “What necessary functions does a boss serve and could those functions be served in another way?”
Boss as a leader!
I’ve witnessed exceptional bosses through my work with clients. What kinds of things made them exceptional?
- They shared information from above and across the organization
- Set the vision and direction; jointly set goals and objectives
- Articulated a clear vision for the work of their organization and people understood and could see their role in making that vision real
- Advocated for their team
- Effectively sponsored the implementation of ideas
- Acted as a sounding board
- Offered ongoing and constructive feedback and recognition
- Ensured salary increases and bonuses
- Were in service of their team’s growth, development and career aspirations
They also held their direct reports accountable to honor agreements and commitments, to adhere to the organization’s ethics and standards and to bring the best in their team.
Boss as leader creates the fertile soil for employees to contribute to the success of an organization and to grow and develop into leaders.
A comprehensive list of destructive boss behaviors can be found in the Forbes article. If the list weren’t so real and tragic, it would be funny.
Ideally, bosses are available to advise and give council, to sooth and encourage, to help build confidence, to motivate and inspire. Ideally a boss is wise and transmits that wisdom to help their direct reports develop, grow and thrive both personally and professionally.
If part of the issue is the title Boss I continued to wonder, what alternative is there?
How about MENTOR?
Think about it. Mentors provide a different kind of business relationship. The word suggests I am here for you. It says I am here to help you develop and grow. I trust that you are fully capable of doing your job. I know you’ll rise to my high expectations of you. I will model the way by my words and behaviors. I am here when you need advice, counseling or guidance.
A mentor sponsors, supports, nurtures and advises.
A mentor is a wise and trusted ‘counselor’ who passes on knowledge, experience and wisdom and who can open doors to opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach.
Just by the change in title, it sets up a whole other dynamic, set of expectations and associated behaviors.
What would you call someone other than boss?
Who do you know who can boss like a mentor?