How To Be A Boss

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

[Penguin leadership picture]A LOT of people say they want to be a boss without realising what it means for them.  You always have to give up something to get something else, and the trade off here is something that comes as a shock to many.

Ask any good boss — they will tell you that they found out early on that this means no friends in the workplace, and you have to accept that as the deal, but this causes problems for a lot of folk starting out.  In any workplace, it is easy to spot the serious, ambitious ones.  They shun small talk and fun in favour of climbing the corporate ladder. They do not need friends — that is the message.

It’s interesting that when bosses socialise — they have to do this with other bosses — the vibe is totally different from when employees get together.

Normally, the person asking the questions, or giving orders (whatever) is dominant, and the other is sub-dominant.  You even see this on TV in celebrity interviews or in news interviews.  No matter how important the guest is, the authority figure is the interviewer — the person running the show.

Bosses talking in a social setting with other bosses do not run with the dominant- subdominant method; they are all equal, and used to being listened to, so discussions are different — lots of interrupting, lots of warnings and boundary settings coated in humour.  Boasting too is coated in self-deprecating humour.

It is a very difficult and lonely lifestyle when you choose to be a boss or a parent — you cannot really get a day off.  Imagine The Godfather having a day-off from being a gangland crime boss, playing silly jokes and being carefree. Not gonna happen is it?

[graphic of boardroom leadre and minions]Being a boss is all about telling people what to do, being in control, and having things done to your personal satisfaction.  Teams need leaders, and people are happier when they have strong leadership.  To keep control, you have to establish who’s boss — and then keep it up.

Maintaining the boss situation is the hard part; it requires you to be borderline difficult or unreasonable at times.  For example, you could arrive at the office and make yourself a cup of coffee, then get your mail and start checking stuff on the computer.  This is wrong; you have to give people things to do ALL THE TIME.  You have to get someone to make that coffee, to get the mail, to be used to being told what you want, to be in the habit of doing what you ask.

When someone asks you if they can make an appointment to see you on Friday morning, you change it to the afternoon to get them into the right habit.  If you ask what someone is doing, and they say “I’m going to phone Bob, then I’m working on this file”, you say, “Good, but could you deal with the file first, then phone Bob, please”.

The small, silly things is where the control is maintained, and so when something important actually turns up, you have the confidence that comes with being in constant control.

You cannot foster the relationships where your employees get too much control of their jobs, they cannot be allowed to get in the habit of making their own decisions, for then they will think they know better than you — and will question you when you ask them to do something.

Such employees fail to see that while they may have a better way of doing things, that is beside the point.  The point is about reminding everyone who is in control.  There is little point in trying to pre-empt a boss; no matter what order you present it, the boss’s job is to own it, so the boss will always (should always) tweak and tinker — not to annoy you, but to remind you who is boss.

This is the social contract.  There is a buy-in required. The boss has to buy-in to being a boss, having no friends and being disliked.  The employee has to buy-in to the fact that they have to do exactly what the boss wants, even if it is stupid.

This is why a boss cannot be friends with staff.  This is also why parents cannot be friends with their children.

Reluctant parents are like reluctant bosses — they try to be relaxed, informal, lazy, go-with-the-flow types.  And that is why we have TV shows like Super Nanny and Nanny 911.

With children, you have to teach them important things — such as how to cross the road safely, and deal with fires and electrical outlets.  If you have control, and they are in the habit of doing what you ask them all the time, then everything runs smoothly.  Children are less likely to stop at the kerbside and wait for you, if they are in the habit of ignoring your orders and doing whatever they want to do instead.

If you want to save yourself heartache, grief and even just embarrassment, you have to assert authority over your children — not be their pal!

[Graphic: Boss's Day]If you want to impress clients, meet deadlines, do good work and make money, you have to be able to rely on your employees to do exactly what they are told when they are told.  There can be no muddy waters, no smoke and mirrors, no-where to hide.  A good boss asserts control, keeps everyone on their toes, but is not feared.  We’re not talking about Darth Vader or a third world dictator here — not being friends simply means putting up a restraint, making boundaries clear, rewarding good results to encourage as much as disciplining when things go wrong.

It is difficult to discipline staff when you are pals with them — and sacking people you know too well is a really horrible task — for BOTH parties.

This idea is simple, yet there are a couple of complexities. One is that businesses develop an organisational hierarchy, so there are degrees of bossiness.  One person’s boss will answer to a boss further up. This is why the military rank hierarchy cannot work elsewhere where things are more fluid.

The other complexity is when you have a parent (a domestic boss if you will) in a work situation — how they reconcile being a boss at home and not a boss at work, is fascinating.

When you think about it to its logical conclusion, then, it becomes clear that there are lots of different areas where each of us has to be the boss, and that there are hierarchies.  What this means is being a boss is about responsibility, and being an adult.

The only people who are not bosses are children; they have no responsibilities and no cares.  And one of the first things we teach them is how to be a boss — for example, we give them a pet or a younger sibling, and soon they are practising being a boss (and if it goes wrong, being a bully).

The best way to bring up children to be good bosses/ adults is to be a good boss yourself.

5 Responses to “How To Be A Boss”

  1. Brian Says:

    Could not agree less. Your job as a boss is to get the job done. Nowhere in getting the job done is there a requirement to be a total asshat about it. You can have an air of quiet authority about you without micro-managing every single task.

    • Keith Says:

      Nope you are 100% wrong; getting the job done is NOT the role of a boss, rather that would be the role of the worker. Your reason to disagree is wrong, and so is the flawed ideas that stemmed from it. Mind you, it gave me a laugh.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Gee Keith, you couldn’t be more wrong. The role of the worker is to do his/her job, not the entire job. The role of the boss is to get the entire mission done.
        But hey, glad your ignorance resulted in a chuckle for you… I’d imagine you chuckle quite a bit.

    • Phoebe Winters Says:

      @Brian… that is true, you don’t have to be a total asshat to be a boss. But I did not read this article as suggesting that you had to be a total asshat.
      I did not even read this artilcle as being about being a boss, I read it as being about being a grown up, and how we are all a boss in a given context. In any societal hierarchy, you are a boss to some and under a boss to others. Understanding that, and taking responsibility for it (and NEVER to confuse the two) is useful and sage.

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