Good bosses improve good employees

With so much focus on finding or keeping jobs in this economy, one significant employment factor seems to get moved down the pros-and-cons chart: What kind of boss will my next supervisor be?

Interviewing with a human-relations specialist; meeting folks up and down the line; putting your best foot forward while they are all doing the same -- the process may not present a completely accurate picture of the day-to-day environment.

Bosses know the importance of a good hire. Assuming the best candidate has accepted the offer, and has shown up on time for a few weeks, does the boss realize how critical retaining that new employee is? Does the boss know how to be a good boss?

In short, will the boss be a buddy or a bully?

The late, great basketball coach John Wooden shared his coaching philosophy that works just as well in business when it comes to mentoring employees: "A coach's primary function should not be to make better players but to make better people. Lift others even with your critical analysis. This is still the best method to get the best out of someone because pride is a better motivator than fear. I never wanted to teach through fear, punishment, or intimidation."

Bosses have tremendous power over those they supervise. Employees understand that the person they report to -- whether it's the owner of the company or a middle manager -- can be their biggest cheerleader or their worst nightmare.

I prefer to think that the people I have hired put me in the first category. Having made a significant investment of time in hiring them in the first place, I must have recognized the sort of talent, personality and energy that would improve our company.

I want the folks I hire to love their jobs enough to come back raring to go after a lousy day, because everyone has a lousy day once in a while. I want them to look to me for inspiration. I want them to respect my work ethic. I want them to want to get better at what they do. I want them to know that I will help them get better. I want them to learn from my example, even when I am not directly mentoring them.

Of course, none of that happens unless I know how to come back revved up after a miserable day, demonstrate a stellar work ethic, and keep improving myself. What goes around comes around.

Study after study has concluded that the most important factor in job satisfaction is a positive work environment. Praise is vital, and salary is important, but nothing ranks as high as loving what you do. Location matters, but people are willing to go great distances for a job that makes them happy. Titles aren't even near the top of the list.

The determining factor is often closely related to the boss. A truly great boss will engender loyalty before any of those other factors will. A committed boss works hardest at positive leadership and a professional environment. A perceptive boss remembers her own early challenges and draws on those experiences. A responsible boss understands that mentoring his staff and helping them develop skills reflects positively on him.

Some months back, I wrote a column about the TV program "Undercover Boss." I admire the bosses who concealed their identities and went to work on the front lines for some "real world" lessons about their companies. They were quite courageous to expose their own weaknesses on national television. But the exercise resulted in enhanced awareness of the importance of every single employee.

If you dare, try that experiment in your organization. You likely cannot be anonymous, but working side-by-side with staff, reinforcing that you won't ask them to do anything that you wouldn't ask of yourself, demonstrates your understanding of their challenges.

If all this sounds too overwhelming, step back and examine your motives. Are you ready to let someone else have a share in the glory? Are you willing to listen to options? Are you threatened by others' successes? Can you take responsibility for failure?

Many bosses get promoted without any formal leadership training. A good boss learns quickly from employees that Wooden's advice will serve them better than a superior attitude.

Now here's the most important piece of boss advice I will ever give you: Your employees don't really work for you. They work for your customers. Customers are their real bosses. And yours, too.

Mackay's Moral: Be a mentor, not a tormentor.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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