A good boss matters

The bosses of today have had to be chameleons over the last few years of the pandemic. They’ve had to shape shift to work with ever changing dynamics to keep their workers engaged, motivated and productive. And now, in a climate characterised by staff shortages and The Great Resignation, good bosses are even more important.


The unseen power of a good boss
Anecdotally, you know that you’ve done your best work when you’ve felt supported and respected. You know this, but do you know how inherently important it is?

Staggeringly, according to McKinsey research, only mental health is more important than job satisfaction (and the two are often intertwined) in terms of employee happiness. And employee happiness matters because it makes employees committed, efficient, innovative and productive drivers of the business.

Yet another piece of research by McKinsey reveals that a whopping 75% of participants state that their boss is the most stressful part of their work. Poor relationships with the boss lead to lower job satisfaction which is bad news for the business at any time, but is even more notable when employees can so easily and confidently jump ship.

On 29 December 2021, Sarah O’Connor mused in the Financial Times about her time working in a bookshop and what made that job stand out as ‘the best’ and what it had in common with a diverse range of other jobs that others report as ‘the best’. Yet, those same job titles can also be listed as ‘the worst’. So what’s going on? O’Connor concluded, “One common thread linked many people’s stories about jobs they loved: a decent boss who gave them some autonomy and ‘had their back'”.

Study after study reveals that good management leads to happy and satisfied staff. These workers are more present, less absent, and definitely more committed.

Where it goes wrong
O’Connor’s article went on to reveal that many of us inadvertently, as well as systematically, fall down when it comes to being a good boss. For example, we are mandated to use performance appraisal systems which automatically create a ‘them and us’ dynamic, and are designed to categorise people as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It erodes trust. Meanwhile, we’re doing things like offering gym membership or lunchtime yoga and wondering why the heck it’s not working.

It’s because we’ve got to get the fundamentals right first and that, without a shadow of a doubt, is the relationship between employee and boss. It needs to be rooted in trust and only then can everything else make a difference.

Yet, often, bosses aren’t taught how to build these relationships and how to be a ‘good’ boss.

How to be a good boss
We tend to think of the primary thread of a boss being leadership. And of course, there’s truth in this. However, what we don’t pay enough attention to is servant leadership. Bosses who approach their subordinate relationships by continuously asking themselves ‘how can I make their lives easier’ are the ones who have happy, productive and committed teams. Servant leadership is not spoken about enough and is often overlooked.

However, if a boss focuses on how to make the lives of their employees better, they lead through doing and they create an atmosphere of trust and motivation. Given how much of an employee’s happiness at work (and in life) is down to their boss, this makes perfect sense. What’s great is that there are actually some very simple approaches to levelling up your boss abilities in this way:

  • Lead with empathy, vulnerability and compassion

People in workplaces are still people, with real concerns, hopes and dreams. The best bosses genuinely and authentically care about each individual employee. They know what makes them tick, and they share with them their own vulnerabilities. They problem solve alongside their employees with curiosity. Being authentically empathic with employees drives loyalty. Show you are human, and treat them as human too.

  • Show gratitude, often and willingly

Simple thanks and appreciation ensures people feel valued. Knowing that you’ve noticed and appreciated the small things will make your employees more willing to embrace harder and larger challenges with confidence.

With a culture of gratitude, you create a positive atmosphere where people naturally want to do their best and do better. It can’t wait until the annual appraisal, and be lost amongst the not-so-good points. Praise and appreciation needs to be overt, regular and genuine. Mean what you say, and say it often.

  • Be positive and encouraging

Remember the carrot and stick analogy. You are more likely to win over subordinates and encourage them to greater outcomes when you give positive feedback over negative. You effectively need to reinforce the behaviour you want and discourage the behaviour you don’t. If we’re levelling up on our sayings, another good one to think of here is that you’ll catch more flies with honey. Be nice, be positive, and use encouragement – it’ll get you much further than using discipline or criticism.

Additionally, taking a positive approach fosters autonomy, and that’s a real driver when it comes to bolstering happiness and satisfaction.

  • Lead by example

It’s very difficult for employees to look after themselves (which you want, if you want present productive ones) if they are being led by an individual who dismisses their own self-care with a wave of the hand. If you don’t respect your own work-life balance, it’s hard for them to. If you don’t recognise your own signs of burnout, how can your employees recognise theirs?

Far from creating a situation in which work is deprioritised or absences are high, teams led by leaders aware of their own needs tend to be the most productive and committed.

As 2022 gets underway, and employers operate in an environment where the recruitment and retention of the best staff is hard, they need to turn their attention to how their bosses boss.

We need working environments characterised by servant leadership, and in turn we will be rewarded with loyal, committed, innovative and productive workers.

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