Friday, October 18, 2013

Boss's Day Thoughts

For National Boss's Day,  the WSJ put together some comments from staffing and consulting companies that show how bad bosses can damage workplace.

The comments are useful, if obvious, but I've always thought that to get real examples of bad management and how it affects people's work, you should talk to employment lawyers.  Let's face it, most of us have seen things that would curl the hair of those that still have some. The reported employment law cases are bad enough-the stuff that doesn't get reported is truly remarkable. So here are some hard won lessons regarding bosses from an employment lawyer:

1. Character matters. Supervisors who are dishonest, sleep around, and take advantage of people in their personal lives will, in my experience, infect the workplace with their lousy moral outlook. And notwithstanding our views that people can compartmentalize bad behavior (think Bill Clinton, for example), my experience is that who you are inevitably comes out around people with whom you spend most of your non-sleeping day.

2. Accountability is the hardest attribute to develop in a modern manager.  For whatever reason, people are loath to hold their subordinates accountable until things get absolutely intolerable. Front line supervisors and mid-level managers must be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, and act appropriately in response to demonstrated instances of poor performance.

3. Supervisors should take care of their subordinates, both in terms of protecting them and ensuring they have physical necessities to perform their work, and to ensure that they develop professionally within the company. This aspect of leadership is often lost on American corporate managers. I saw the best example of its application when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. The officer in charge of my cadet squadron and I were getting ready to line up to get a meal at a field kitchen. He pulled me aside and we waited until all the cadets under my command were in the chow line and being served. Only after everyone had food on their plate did we get our meal. "As commander, you eat last," the officer said. The message was explicit-your job as a boss is to take care of the people underneath you first, and worry about your personal needs later.  In the same vein, the best bosses look to develop the professional strengths and mitigate the professional weaknesses of their subordinates so that they continue to grow as employees and develop skills that will make them more of an asset to the employer, and also better themselves.  By the way, the officer in question was easily the finest officer with whom I served in 27 years of active and reserve time.

May all of your bosses be good ones.

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