Horrible Bosses – the rise of the understanding leader

What makes a good leader?

In my 20 something years as a barmaid, shop manager, reservation supervisor and trainee accountant, I have come across a “Heinz Variety” of managers.
Some were good, some were bad and some were down right ugly!

I am certainly not going to sit and here and name and shame them, but what it taught me was how the way you interact and manage people has a profound effect on your business and the people around you.

I still have a distinct memory of an appraisal at Deloittes in Guernsey where my boss told me I was a “social barometer” in the office. At the tender age of 24 I could raise the entire office with my enthusiasm and energy but on a bad day I could easily bring everyone down. Those frank words have stayed with me to this day. And I thank John for his honesty.

It is very easy in this day and age to criticise your boss, calling them out for everything – for not giving you a day off for you hamsters funeral, or for not allowing you to come in late four days on the trot, when the old “stuck behind traffic” scenario is wearing thin.

The fact is that more that 99% of all businesses in the UK are classed as SMEs, meaning they have less than 250 employees. These small businesses are the back bone of our economy with 16.1 million employed in the private sector. So guaranteed that 99% of you reading this are either the boss of one of these or an employee.

But here’s the thing. How many of these bosses of these SMEs have had training in how to be “The Boss”? Probably a handful. At most. So where is the manual – how do you become the illusive, enigmatic leader like Branson, Musk or Jobs?

And with the failure rate of businesses today, it’s a minefield. And these bosses are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Once again, Google has topped Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. This marks Google’s second year in a row at the top of the list, and their sixth victory overall.
Most people assume that Google tops the list because of their great benefits and all of the fun and perks that they pack into the Googleplex. But that’s just part of the equation.
Google knows that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses. But unlike most companies, who waits around hoping for the right bosses to come along, Google builds each Googler the boss of their dreams.

When I ask friends and colleagues to describe the best and worst boss they have ever worked for, people inevitably ignore innate characteristics (intelligence, extraversion, attractiveness, and so on) and instead focus on qualities that are completely under the boss’s control, such as passion, insight, and honesty. Shout out here to my old Deloitte’s boss John C here! Best boss ever!

Google’s program isn’t the only way to become a boss people want to work for. Any of us can study the unique qualities of unforgettable bosses to learn valuable skills.
So here is the top 7 according to Google and to me.

1. Great bosses are passionate.

Few things are more demotivating than a boss who is bored with his or her life and job. If the boss doesn’t care, why should anybody else? Unforgettable bosses are passionate about what they do. They believe in what they’re trying to accomplish, and they have fun doing it. This makes everyone else want to join the ride.

2. They stand in front of the bus.

Some bosses will throw their people under the bus without a second thought; great bosses pull their people from the bus’s path before they’re in danger. They coach, and they move obstacles out of the way, even if their people put those obstacles there in the first place. Sometimes, they clean up messes their people never even knew they made. And, if they can’t stop the bus, they’ll jump out in front of it and take the hit themselves.

3. They play chess not draughts.

Think about the difference. In draughts, all the pieces are basically the same. That’s a poor model for leadership because nobody wants to feel like a faceless cog in the proverbial wheel. In chess, on the other hand, each piece has a unique role, unique abilities, and unique limitations. Unforgettable bosses are like great chess masters. They recognize what’s unique about each member of their team. They know their strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and they use these insights to draw the very best from each individual.

4. They are who they are, all the time.

They don’t lie to cover up their mistakes, and they don’t make false promises. Their people don’t have to exert energy trying to figure out their motives or predicting what they’re going to do next. Equally as important, they don’t hide things they have the freedom to disclose. Instead of hoarding information and being secretive to boost their own power, they share information and knowledge generously.

5. They are a port in a storm.

They don’t get rattled, even when everything is going haywire. Under immense pressure, they act like Eugene Kranz, flight director for the Apollo 13 mission. In the moments after the explosion, when death looked certain and panic seemed like the only option, Kranz kept his cool, saying, “Okay, now, let’s everybody keep cool. Let’s solve the problem, but let’s not make it any worse by guessing.” In those initial moments, he had no idea how they were going to get the astronauts home, but, as he later explained, “you do not pass uncertainty down to your team members.” People who’ve worked for an unforgettable boss often look back later and marvel at their coolness under pressure. That’s why, 45 years after Apollo 13, people are still talking about Eugene Kranz and his leadership during that crisis.

6. They are human.

And they aren’t afraid to show it. They’re personable and easy to relate to. They’re warm. They realize that people have emotions, and they aren’t afraid to express their own. They relate to their people as a person first and a boss second. On the other hand, they know how to keep their emotions in check when the situation calls for it.

7. They are humble.

Since these bosses don’t believe they are above anyone or anything, they openly address their mistakes so that everyone can learn from them. Their modesty sets a tone of humility and strength that everyone else follows.

For many unforgettable bosses at Google and elsewhere, things clicked once they stopped thinking about what their people could do for them and started thinking about what they could do to help their people succeed.

Inspire. Teach. Protect. Remove obstacles. Be human. If you cultivate these characteristics, you’ll become the unforgettable boss that your people will remember for the rest of their careers.

I have made huge mistakes along the way as a leader, since setting up FSA 12 years ago. I am human, I am passionate, I am humble, and Ill stand in front of that 26 bus for any of my team, every day of the week.

I was reminded of this yesterday by another great leader:

You lead people, you manage stuff. Dwight Eisenhower said “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” but Truman added “and get them to like it”