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The Boss and Employee engagement

There are only two types of bosses – a good boss and a bad one. I have had the experience of both and so to protect the reputation of the living and the blessed memory of those who have travelled on to that great corporate nirvana in the sky, no names will be called.

There is no doubt that sitting in the boss’s leather high-back swivel chair is not as easy as it looks. There are deadlines to meet and quotas to fill and the company’s success or failure weighs heavily on his/her shoulders. Over the years what I have learnt is that good bosses succeed in part because of how effectively they use their communication skills in dealing with employees.

Is working with your boss like reporting directly to the devil, his minion or a micro-managing tyrant who dips in and out of sanity? Is s/he a power-hungry, ballistic critic with no (and I mean NO) people skills?

When you have a bad boss there is no end to the excuses that you will fashion so as not to go to work today. You will go to great lengths (even producing medical diagrams) to describe your imaginary illnesses and anticipate excruciating symptoms that will ‘earn’ you that week’s sick leave. If you are female and your boss male, you will baffle him with new ‘female complaints’ that will surely never ever be found in any of the latest science journals. Laws of the land will be modified to protect the careers of those medics who you try to inveigle to write up your long ‘sick’ leave.

A bad boss sadistically crams so much work down your throat and with such wild abandon that you find yourself the subject of discussion and pity from even galley slaves. A bad boss sends you regularly and frantically to the classifieds and to the doors of perhaps other bad bosses with your re-vamped resume. A bad boss is not upfront with you about the quality of your work, does not motivate you to work, will scream at you and slam on the desk or the door. In short they do not actively and positively engage you into the business of the business. You are a cog without a wheel and going to work each morning makes you imagine what it must feel like for a man to walk that last mile (or metre) to the hangman’s noose.

On the other hand the good boss makes your work pleasurable. Whether he/she hands you a broom to sweep because Miss G., the ancillary help did not turn up, or a file with eighteen months of really jacked up bad-debts to spear head immediate collection, you are on board. You might not like the idea of menial work what with your degree/diploma/Jimmy Choos’ and all-, but when she/he also reaches for another broom and rolls up her sleeves to help it doesn’t look so bad anymore. A good boss will get you out of bed, into your car or the bus and at your desk any morning even when there is no talk of a raise in sight. A good boss motivates you, encourages you and engages you totally into the organization.

How does one get to move from being a bad boss to a good one? Or perhaps the most important question for you is, ‘are there are good ones left?” I like to think that there are many good bosses around because I have found that those who do exhibit the following qualities:

They make time for employees. If all you see of your boss each day is the rush, rush, rush of avoidance or no-time-for-you. They are telling you that you are not that important and well, they really have no time for you, right now or ever. They big chief and you, you lowest item on totem pole. Good bosses try to have regular meetings with team members and show their employees that they have their full attention. Yes, I know there is always that renegade employee who will think nothing of taking up a whole hour to speak to you in the hallway. Don’t always try and dodge him. Such are the hazards of leading.

They put out a consistent message about their values. I find that our better bosses know who they are and what they stand for and do not send mixed messages about themselves. If they embrace honesty and integrity it comes out in the way they deal with their employees. They are usually respectful, straight-forward and upfront with you about your work and your worth and not in a Bible-thumping sort of way either. It comes out subtly in their actions more than what they say. (And by the way, I have whole column to write about Bible-thumping bosses, but another time).

They give you regular feedback and do not to lay-way you with surprises. This is not to say that an employee should stalk you to get a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of his performance. Nor does it mean that you have to feel obliged to give Thompson a weekly ‘how you doing’ report. But the workplace is the worse places for surprises, especially when it comes to employee evaluation. I think it is only human to apprise employees well in advance, if possible, about areas in which they need to improve. I do not want to hear after one-year of thinking that I was the best ever typist ever that I was only ‘so-so’. That’s just plain depressing.

They don’t hide behind e-mails. Do you have a boss who is an e-mail chameleon? They don’t shoot from the hips, nor do they choose to have a good ole face-to-face with you, instead they send long, cryptic and sometimes downright hurtful e-mails to you. And talk the truth, sometimes you have to take the plane straight to Oxford (dictionary) to understand what some of those insulting words mean. These bosses are non-confrontational in a confrontational way and it stings because they copied it to HR. Most delicate matters must be discussed in person. Most conflicts must be settled in person, or at least by phone. When emotions are involved, e-mail becomes a less-appropriate vehicle to communicate.

They are effective in speaking in groups. Well, this one is a touchy one so I will just say that some of the better bosses can speak well at employee meetings or in front of employee groups. If you cannot, you lose credibility as a manager. Are you a good boss?


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