Don’t Be a Bad Boss

I will be presenting a workshop at a Professional Development day at work “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes! (A fun roundtable for new supervisors)”.  So I thought I’d share a little sliver of it with you here.

Having been a manager for most of my career, I think I can safely say that I’ve made quite a lot of mistakes, learned from them, and hopefully have been getting better.  I’m not doing this workshop because I THINK I’m a good boss, I’m doing this workshop because I KNOW I don’t want to be a bad one and I will make every effort to be the kind of boss I want to have (I’m so lucky right now, because I couldn’t ask for a better boss than my current one).  My goal is to help anyone who could use some shortcuts to make less mistakes than I did as a newbie manager.

After years of making silly mistakes like letting the negativity get to me, taking things personally, feeling threatened and being on the US side against the THEM side, I’ve come to look at my role as a manager quite differently.  Maybe it’s maturity?  Experience?  Or just an aversion to banging my head against the wall?  Maybe it’s kung fu zen!

Here are some of my mantras developed over the past few years.  They help me filter options, defuse tense situations and make better decisions (which can be difficult when there are many to make and conflicting priorities with limited resources).

We Start Where We Start

I like this one a lot.  It takes the drama out of everything.  It means that the problem isn’t the problem; the problem is how we respond to the problem.  If we stay calm and approach issues with balance and consistency, rather than with exaggerated exasperation, life can be a lot less stressful and better decisions can be made.  You reduce the risk of saying things that are unprofessional, unproductive and unfair.  It also re-frames each issue from being an excuse (why something doesn’t/shouldn’t work) into a challenge to overcome (how do we do this?).  We start where we start.  Decisions were made with the information and resources that were available at that time.  Then a path was taken and here we are.  The question is: how do we want to go forward?

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

This is a good one.  Whether you are considering your boss(es), your peers, or your team… I can’t emphasize how important it is to take the time to communicate.  Communicate the goals, the status, the rationale, the expectations, the praises, the challenges… Set the expectations and then hold everyone accountable, including yourself.  Tell people when they are doing well.  Let your boss know if things are going off the rails.  Say sorry when you’re wrong.  Help people understand the importance of their work.  Show them how it all connects together.  Celebrate the wins.  Don’t ever let your boss be surprised.  It’s not just the bad surprises (‘What?  This 3-month project is not going to meet tomorrow’s deadline?’) but also the good surprises (‘No dear client, I had no idea that my staff won this prestigious international customer services award.’). If you always communicate and ensure everyone is informed, then no one has to look bad and everyone can focus on doing their best to reach the goals.

Get On the Same Page

It’s not about how much work it is for this department or who gets the credit for what.  It’s about giving everyone the opportunity to do their best work in order to achieve a common goal.  The worst attitude that people like to have is the ‘us versus them’ mentality: They are always wrong, I have no idea what they are thinking, we have to fix everything they do.  We are the heroes, we do everything right, we are so much smarter.  That attitude has to go.  Always make an effort to understand where resistance comes from and then find the common ground.  Get on the same page.  Through communication, help everyone understand the common goals and the impact of their role.  Aim for win-win situations where everyone is on the same page about the desired outcomes and the values.

Be Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Great managers bring out the best in their teams.  These managers know how to inspire people to go above and beyond.  Team members feel proud of their work and feel empowered to do their best.  These managers remove barriers for their team members, resolve issues that cause frustration and bring people together on the same page.  These managers leverage everyone’s strengths and somehow compensate for weaknesses. This can only happen when team members are on the same page, trust each other and have each other’s backs.  Then suddenly you’ll find that your 3-person team can be as productive as a 10-person team!

Create a Positive Working Environment

A great boss is totally authentic and provides a safe place for people to be themselves.  Be fair and friendly, but not friends. No favourites, no double standards. Ensure that people know how to disagree passionately yet respectfully, help people become open-minded about different perspectives.  By allowing ideas to get poked at and challenged, you test the merit of an idea to get to the best solution.  Remember, you are probably at the office for more hours in a day than you spend with your family.  And… going into a workplace that is toxic will hurt your mental and physical health.  If you are the boss, make every effort to create a positive working environment.

Don’t be a bad boss… don’t be a boss you wouldn’t to work for… Be a great boss and make your corner of the world an attractive, fun and productive place to work.


How to Land that Promotion!

Oh my, what did I get myself into? The organizer of the workshop I’m on the panel for wants me to give career advice…

Oh and by the way, you will also be asked about your career path and how to land that promotion.

I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer any questions about getting to the top (I’m no Oprah Winfrey or Sheryl Sandberg, I’m no Marissa Mayer or Arianna Huffington), but for what it’s worth, I can share what I think is important for all of us to keep in mind as we navigate our careers paths.

Know the Goals

Understand the goals and objectives of your unit, department, division… organization.  Really know the impact you have on your stakeholders at all levels, think about even the city, province, country!  Ensure that what you are doing aligns with what your boss and your boss’s boss and your boss’s boss’s boss need to achieve.

Know Your Job, Do It Well

I can’t emphasize this enough!  Know your job.  Do it well.  That’s what we’re getting paid for.  Know the rules.  Play by them or change them. Know your clients.  Meet their needs. Do this. Do it well.

Create, Don’t Copy, Forge, Don’t Follow

By the way, did you notice that I didn’t say: “Know your job description”? HR is going to hate me for saying this, but a job description is outdated as soon as it’s been posted. Know your job from an outcomes perspective.  But then make the job your own with creativity.  Do the job in a way that no one else can. Bring your strength to the table. Make it yours.  You want people to say to your successor “you have big shoes to fill”. Be YOU!

Make It Win/Win

Understand that everyone wants to do their job well, so don’t make it harder for others to do theirs.  Getting what you need done at the expense of someone else is not a sustainable strategy. When you do your job well, you look good.  If you make others look good, you look even better.  Make sure that everyone wins in every interaction.

Guard Your Reputation

Guard your reputation with every word you say, every action you do and every decision you make.  You are only as good as your reputation and you never know who knows whom or who talks to whom! Decide on the adjectives that you would want others to describe you if your name came up in a conversation and make sure you live those adjectives. Would you want to hear: Responsible? Intelligent? Confident? Effective? Hardworking? OR… Unprofessional? Lazy? Arrogant? Naysayer? Uninspired?

Create Good Luck

Luck plays a role in everything. However…

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

Manage Your Career

The biggest favour anyone can do for themselves is to actively manage their own career. It’s nice to ask for advice, but the only person who knows you well enough is… you. Access mentors, but don’t ask them what to do.  Tell them what you think the situation is and what YOU think you should do.  Ask them if they see something you don’t, because they can provide a perspective you may not have considered. At the end of the day, it’s on you.  Take accountability for the decisions you make, the lessons you learn and the path you forge.

Lastly, don’t forget to give back!