Most all of us have or do have “that” boss. You know who I’m talking about; The boss who is always riding you, demands perfection but expects you to give grace when they fail. The boss who thinks you should work the extra hours to demonstrate your loyalty, but they are always the one who shows up late and leaves early. The boss who will throw a temper tantrum worse than a 10-year-old when things are going their way, but expect you always to epitomize professionalism. The one who won’t accept feedback or criticism without becoming defensive, but wants you to be open to correction. Much more can be said about that boss, but the point is, we all know who I’m talking about.
That boss is the reason people leave. Sure some people go after a better offer, a more prestigious position at another company, or because they need to change their job for reasons beyond their control, but the overwhelming majority of people leave their boss and not their job. Over one million people were interviewed for a Gallup poll that confirmed people leave because of how their boss treats them and the environment they create.
When I worked in corrections, the training manager told me once of a time when he was a captain and tested how his attitude affected those on his shift. For a week he came in with a positive attitude, a pleasant demeanor, and encouraging words. His shifts ran smoothly, his staff had high morale, and his shift excelled in their duties. A few weeks went by, and he came in appearing to be in a bad mood, angry at the world, and with nothing nice to say. One shift acting this way showed him the effect of his attitude. Staff were grumpy, which led to them treating the inmates in harsh tones, which led to more incidents. No one wanted to talk to him, morale was low, and performance was sub-par.
Managers the world over have tried this same test and found the same results. If you treat your people well, and intentionally create an atmosphere of encouragement and good feelings, your staff are more likely to stick through the tough times with you.
One of the departments that answer to me has a department head whose staff is fiercely loyal. Almost everyone who works for this person has said that this individual is such a good boss it inspires them to do their jobs well, so he looks good. They are already committed to the mission of the organization and the service of their department, but good personnel leadership makes people perform better and stay longer even if they are disengaged from the work.
Similarly, I know someone who works for a private company. They love the work they do. They enjoy their co-workers, but the boss makes it difficult to find the motivation to go to work. They often feel trapped having to work for a terrible boss because they need the insurance, but they are willing to take a job somewhere else if they feel confident they can make it through the 90 days without insurance. That’s right! Insurance is the only reason that person stays. Their commitment to co-workers and the mission of the company are trumped by the fact that the boss is overbearing, mean-spirited, condescending, and always points out what is wrong or places blame for their shortcomings rather than encourage those who answer to that person.
My current boss said to me that good leader manage policy, but great leaders can manage people. That doesn’t mean that great leaders won’t manage policy, but they will manage people as a priority and then manage policy.
People commit themselves to other people. If you want the most out of the people who work for you, then you need to commit yourself to them with the same tenacity you want them to have for you.
You are responsible for setting the atmosphere of the workplace. If your people are afraid to mess up, then you have created a culture of fear. If your people lack a sense of humor or positive energy at work, then you have stifled that.
The atmosphere you create is the one they will work in. I’m reminded of a meme I once saw that said, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” When I come in the door from work, my dogs greet me at the door, licks my hands and nudge me to pet them, lean into me with affection, and look for an opportunity to sit or lay with me through the evening. My dogs love me and treat me like I’m an amazing person. That’s the person I want to be at home and work. That’s the person you should be too.
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