6 Tips for Becoming a “Decent” Boss

Let’s face it, most in management fail to ever attain awesome boss status. For most employees, giving such a moniker to their manager would be akin to telling their dog what a great pooper they are when the animal drags them out in the middle of the night to do their business in the middle of a snowstorm!

For most first time managers or startup owners, being even a decent boss can prove to be the most challenging thing they’ve ever faced. As a boss, you have to get your own work done, while managing “X” number of employees and all the drama they may bring to the office with them – all the while trying to stay within budget to keep upper management and/or the bank happy.

CEO talks to one of her staff members

It’s not easy, but there are things you can do to make yourself a much better boss tomorrow than you currently are today:

1. Put trust number one on your agenda with employees

Gaining trust is all about honesty and keeping promises. Never lie. If you’re not able to give out specifics about something, tell employees that you can’t discuss the matter. If you have to deny a request, tell them why and be direct about it.

Make no mistake, you’re going to be put in situations where you have to keep secrets from them. You’re going to have to deny last minute requests for days off. You’ll inevitably have to reprimand someone for breaking the rules, up to and including firing someone. That’s business!

2. Don’t make employees your emotional sounding board

This will make you a decent boss on so many levels, if you can pull it off. You’re a leader. It’s your job to listen to the employee’s gripe about what in the company (and even outside the company in their personal life) that makes them unhappy. In fact, General Colin Powell once famously said: “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.”

While everyone needs a sounding board for their emotional baggage, a decent boss won’t put that responsibility on their employees. This goes double for company issues such as impending budget cuts, your issues with upper management, etc.

3. Lead by example

Anne Thackeray Ritchie wrote in her short story Mrs. Dymond: “…Give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” Though you may think this to be an ancient Chinese proverb due to all the misinformation out there, the quote itself did originate from her.

The quote has many interpretations, but in the case of being a decent manager, it’s all about leading/teaching/showing by example. Give your employees someone/something to emulate, even look up to, and they’ll strive to be the best they can be nine times out of ten.

Lead by example whenever you can. A good sales manager will always show her subordinates how to sell by actually selling someone something in front of them. A plumber shows their apprentice how to solder a pipe by actually soldering a pipe while the apprentice watches.

Having a business conversation

4. Strive to be the best listener (communicator) you can be

Steven Covey said it best when describing how most of us communicate with others: “Most people who listen do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” So true isn’t it? Most of us, bosses included, listen in the same way we’re taught to speed read; skimming, picking up a few keywords here and there, then waiting for that moment when the other person finally shuts up so we can shovel out our own reply.

As a decent boss, you need to get on the fast-track to being exemplary at listening (ie., the cornerstone of communication). Really listen, or it’ll bite you in the keester more times than not. You almost have to treat listening to your employees in the same way you would your wife or husband: Like your life and happiness depends on it!

5. Learn the art of distancing yourself

Truly, you can’t really be friends with your employees in most instances out there in the job market. Some remarkable bosses can pull it off, but we’re striving to be decent here; which as mentioned, will still put you up in the upper strata of bosses. Stick to socializing outside work only during Christmas holidays, or for an occasional celebratory dinner.

Definitely ask them about their family and talk about your own during these times, but don’t make get-togethers and interactions so regular that you start to regard each other as buddies and friends. This can lead to disaster when it comes time to lay down the law or even fire someone who isn’t holding their weight in the company.

6. Encourage feedback from employees without fear of reprisal from you

You’re presumably working with adults here. Obviously, they have to offer feedback in a respectable manner, but they do have to tell you how they think you’re doing. Some of their opinions will need to fall on deaf ears, such as if someone tells you they don’t like how your eye twitches whenever they start talking about deadlines. Some things are what they are and cannot be changed.

Sometimes feedback is nothing more than personal opinions that have no reflection on your ability to do your job. Sometimes though, they can be a red flag type of warning letting you know you need to smarten up and make some improvements. Encourage feedback, and make sure you listen while they’re talking!

Bonus: Listen to the greats

Leadership is leadership. Whether leading a country, an army, or a company. Soak up as much knowledge as you can from the greatest leaders of our time – and those from the past. You can only learn so much as you go along, without reflecting on yourself and listening to those who’ve proven themselves in the field!