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What Kind of Boss Are You?

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Take an honest, good look at yourself, and answer this question: “What kind of boss am I?” Also, ask yourself: “How can I be a better boss?”

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Your success will depend certainly on whether or not you are tough or kind, managing or responsive, and all the other things that go into being a good or bad boss.

We’ve searched the business press and the library and talked with experts to help you grade what you see in that boss mirror.

One quick note before we begin, however: For the purposes of simplicity, we use male pronouns in this article to refer to ‘typical’ types of bosses. Of course, we realize that many women, too, are bosses. We also realize that many women run tire dealerships. Women, rest assured, we are not excluding you; our pronoun use is only for the purposes of brevity. If a gender-neutral singular pronoun existed in the English language, we would use it. Unfortunately, none exists.

But, I digress. Back to our original focus. Here goes!

The Control Freak

The first type of boss that comes to mind is the Control Freak or the Bossy Boss. This is the type that needs to have everything in the palm of his hand. Subordinates must not make any decisions, no matter how small, without first getting the boss’ opinion. Control Freaks also tend to hoard information, assigning workers a task but not telling them everything they need to know to complete that task.

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The Control Freak will not:

• Run into an employee in the hall and not ask about the status of a project.

• Allow staff to make a decision without him being involved.

• Coach staff on handling a problem independently.

• Delegate responsibility. Ever.

Autocrat Boss

Then there’s the Autocrat Boss, who has one objective – his own. Nothing anyone ever does is good enough to satisfy him. He is convinced that he is the only competent person working in the company.

Autocrats and Control Freaks have a lot in common, but the difference is that Autocrats are usually pretty clear about what they want. Control Freaks are less definitive, so they try to control everything to keep their options open if they need to change direction.

An Autocrat would never:

• Ask an employee how they think a problem should be solved.

• Admit to making a mistake.

• Tell a staffer what a great job they did.

• Tell them how much he appreciates their efforts.

• Empower them to make appropriate decisions.

The Blame Fixer

This type of boss, the Blame Fixer, makes everyone else responsible for fixing his problems. He takes no responsibility for employees, the company or results. He, however, is the first to take credit when something goes well.

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A Blame Fixer would never:

• Stand up at a meeting and accept responsibility for a problem.

• Actually get something accomplished.

• Create an environment of creativity and openness.

• Share credit with his staff on a successful project.

The Soft Heart

The Soft Heart boss makes one think he is the sweetest, most wonderful boss in the world, giving you warm fuzzy feelings that your job is going to be great. Under the surface, though, this person is actually spineless, telling employees just what they want to hear, but leaving them hanging out to dry.

A Soft Heart boss would never:

• Give an employee honest and direct feedback.

• Be up front and open with them.

• Be sincere.

• Consistently align his words and actions.

• Make a tough decision.

The Team Builder

Here’s the kind of manager – the Team Builder – for whom we should all want to work. He is competent and knows how to be open and solicit ideas. He is a pleasure to work with and knows how to make tough decisions.

The Team Builder would never:

• Block anyone’s promotion or transfer.

• Ignore what an employee has to say.

• Fail on a promise.

• Tell a lie.

• Take credit for something one of his team members did.

The Politician Boss

Here comes Mr. Charismatic – the Politician Boss – always the life of the party. This type is fun to be around because he always has something positive to say. The problem, though, is that there is rarely any truth or substance behind it. This one has no real competence and got to where he is by schmoozing the right people.

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A Politician Boss would never:

• Be competent.

• Tell the whole truth.

• Work his way up the corporate ladder.

Actually, all bosses are some combination of the six types we’ve just mentioned. So, the real question is not “What kind of boss are you?” but instead “How many kinds of bosses are you?”

Being a boss is tough. It’s one of the most demanding challenges of running a company. You have to inspire, lead, motivate, discipline and reward.

So, what is the best combination of types? In other words, what makes a good boss?

One of the best articles we found while researching this story was “Tough Guys Finish First” (Business Week, Apr. 24). Authors Jack and Suzy Welch observe that a good boss is neither an outright bully nor an everybody-must-be-happy type.

Somewhere between those extremes – probably closer to the hard end than the soft – are bosses who define the notion of “tough” the right way.

These “tough” bosses manage to get strong, long-term performance from their people. They create a healthy, fair work environment in which both the people and the company prosper. They set clear, challenging goals and connect those dots with specific expectations by conducting frequent, rigorous performance reviews. And, of course, they reward results accordingly.

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One of the most important leadership skills is communicating goals. Let people know why they’re doing something, not just how to do it. Employees are far more motivated when they understand the purpose of a task.

Be a Good Boss: Dos

Set standards. You’re responsible for establishing and demonstrating the standards you expect others to maintain. And, be fair. Make sure your standards are reasonable and fair and your stated goals actually reachable.

Listen. Learn to talk with – not just to – your employees. Enlist their suggestions and set goals together.

Make decisions. The buck has to stop somewhere, and it must be with you. Employees look to their leaders to make choices and stick with them. Do you show the skills to lead your company rather than micromanage your employees? Can you create an environment that encourages employees to do their best?

Set very clear store hours. Definitely do not set this policy: “As long as you get the work done, you can set your own hours.”

Offer small company benefits, not big ones, when you’re not one of the big guys. Don’t pretend you are. Along with the basics, such as health insurance, life insurance and vacation, go beyond the big guys’ benefits by offering rapid decision making and immediate access to the boss.

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Be a mentor, not an intimidator. Remember, the authority of the intimidator boss reaches only as far as his arm. But, the authority of the mentor reaches and lasts forever.

Be a Good Boss: Don’ts

Don’t fear decision making. Even quick decisions are better than deferred ones. Too many new bosses fear important business decisions and start deferring because they are afraid of the results. You became the boss to make decisions. Well, now’s the time.

Two decisions worth mentioning here are hiring and firing. As a boss, you have a responsibility to interview applicants, size people up, and predict their future performance. Also, becoming a boss sometimes means you have to fire someone, which is a very stressful task. Can you fire someone you like? The boss who can’t bear to fire anyone will end up with employees who are a burden to the rest of the team.

Don’t ignore communications. Solid communication skills are very important. As the boss, you have to give orders that get results without being arrogant. You must express your ideas in writing; spoken words are soon forgotten, while written words become part of the permanent record. And, you must master public speaking skills so you can communicate to groups.

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Good supervisors keep their antennas out to be aware of how people around them feel about things. They prefer listening and observing to talking, and they remain lifelong learners.

Also, think on your feet, and do the training that makes you an effective leader. Having a full understanding of your goals and staff will help you think on your feet when talking to employees. Poor communications usually lead to high turnover, low employee morale and lack of trust.

Do not look over your employees’ shoulders (a definite no-no). But, that doesn’t mean you should leave them without leadership. Define your goals, and provide the resources necessary to achieve results.

Don’t be too much of Mr. Nice Guy. Your staff wants to see some sensitive rules that offer them guidance.

And, finally, never, ever be a Seagull Boss. You know the kind. He flies in squawking, craps all over everybody and then flies off again, often still squawking about something.

On the other hand, think about it. Do you believe no news is good news? Do you notice only the bad things your employees do? Do you wonder why they never take any initiative?

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Employees need to be corrected without being squawked at – privately, immediately and humanely. They also need praise when they’ve done a good job – publicly, immediately and with passion. What you focus on inevitably grows!

Fear is a huge demotivator. When employees know that the boss cares about them and will treat them fairly, they’re much more likely to perform well and take innovative risks.

What are the boss skills that count the most? One survey shows that the ability to nurture interpersonal relationship counts the most. A good boss creates an atmosphere of reciprocal loyalty that benefits the firm and its employees.

Also high in importance is understanding employees’ needs and helping them develop their skills. Knowing your staff and its strengths and weaknesses is essential to planning work.

What Kind of Boss Do You Have?

No article on being a boss would be complete without some tips for employees on dealing with their own bosses. What sort of boss do you have? Study him, along with his habits, sense of humor (or lack thereof), pet peeves, mood swings, clothing, facial expressions and general managerial style. Study his reactions to your work. Observe your boss – or even ask him questions – to find out these things.

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One of the main reasons people leave jobs is because of bad bosses. So, if you have a bad boss, consider several steps before jumping ship. Sometimes, simply bringing a problem to the boss’ attention is the first step to resolving it. Try writing a memo outlining your understanding of a project and the actions you plan. That memo may prompt your boss to back off a bit.

Maybe your problem with the boss is really about you. To find out, ask your co-workers if they are having problems with him, too. If they are, they may be able to offer tips on how to work around the problem.

Some bosses many not know how to manage other people, and they know that they don’t. These people may actually appreciate feedback from their employees. Offer to meet and share some of your ideas with the boss. Let him know you’re a team player.

Take a Test, Boss – How Do You Rate?

If you really want to know what kind of boss you are, go ahead and take this test. Here’s a handful of self-test questions that reveal how well you lead.

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Answer the questions honestly, and then mend your ways, if necessary. Your operation will be all the better.

1. Do you express confidence in your staff’s ability to meet or exceed your expectations?

People respond to the level of confidence you show in them. When the boss believes in a staffer, success is usually ensured.

2. How well do you know your people?

This is the Law of Intimacy. In other words, do you have an intimate sense of the circumstances under which you’ll get the best out of your staff? You don’t have to be their shrink or best friend, but at least know their hot buttons, hopes, fears and aspirations. Do they like a little feedback or a lot?

Most bosses fail to know their people. When asked, most staffers say, “No. They don’t want to know me.” Isn’t that sad? How can you get the best out of someone if you don’t know him or her?

3. Are you committed to the success of your people?

It’s fine if bosses are committed to their own success. That’s why you’re taking this test, after all. In fact, your staff wants you to succeed to make them look good. Plus, they’ll be part of the winning team.

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Many bosses are selfish and self-absorbed, promoting only their persona. But, when people know you are committed to their success and not just your own, they’ll kill for you.

4. Do you give constructive feedback?

By “feedback,” we mean: Do you tell them what they need to do more of, what they need to do less of and what they need to do differently? Don’t just say “Attaboy!” or “Attagirl!” Instead, focus on them with a statement, such as: “That was a great job, and here’s why.”

Feedback needs to be ‘camera-lensed.’ That means being able to tell people about your observations and replay what they did that resulted in a good performance. People take pride in the quality of their work – if you appreciate it.

5. Do you actively coach your subordinates to a higher level?

Leadership is part teaching. But, if your time is mainly spent with customers, subordinates often end up at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to face time.

High-performing bosses understand the Law of Competency-based Coaching – the idea that the lower a staffer’s skill or seasoning, the more coaching is needed. Successful bosses make that a priority.

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6. Do your people understand the importance of the company’s mission?

Whatever the task, people need to think that they are doing something important, that they are part of a large mission. So tell them so! It’s the Law of Building a Cathedral. No one likes to think they are just chopping stone. Instead, they are building a Cathedral.

You can create your own self tests. Just look back through the accompanying article, and questions should come to you. One final tip about this test: After you’ve finished, have one of your employees take it – evaluating you – and see how the answers compare.

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