There is plenty of advice on how to be a boss. But no asks the team what they really want from the boss. So I have asked thousands of team members what they expect from a good boss.
The results were surprisingly consistent across industries, levels in the firm and nationality. Here are the top five things your team is likely to expect from you as a boss:
- Ability to motivate
- Good in a crisis
These are relatively low hurdles over which most bosses trip. You do not have to be great to be a good boss. Here is what each of the five priorities mean:
Vision. This is not Martin Luther King and “I have a dream”. If you dream in the office, keep it to yourself. A good vision is much simpler. It is a story in four parts:
- this is where we are
- This is where we are going
- This is how we are going to get there
- This is your (very important) role in helping us get there.
With this in mind, craft a vision (story) for your unit and see how you can make it personal for each team member by showing how they can help you get to the destination.
Ability to motivate. This is where managers fail the most: managers manage upwards much better than they manage downwards: their boss is more important to their career than their team. Read the section on “how to motivate”.
Decisiveness. Teams and people hate uncertainty, which leads to doubt and to fear. They also resent the rework and delay that goes with indecisiveness. Even when you feel uncertain, project confidence. Wear the mask of leadership: do not let your uncertainty and doubt spread to your team. If you have to change course, then change course: your team may grumble, but not as much as if you make no decision at all.
Good in a crisis. Crises make or break leaders’ reputations. Crises lead to fear, uncertainty and doubt. Your job is to not just to deal with the crisis, but to give others the confidence to follow you. That means:
- Be decisive and positive: give clear direction and move to action
- Project confidence, even if you have doubt in your heart. Wear the mask.
- Give support to those who need it. Avoid the blame game, leave the autopsy until later.
- Provide air cover: deal with the politics and noise which surround crises. Let your team get on with the work, rather than worry about the noise.
- Overcommunicate: recognise that there will be confusion and doubt. Don’t let the doubt and the rumours build. Communicate positively, consistently and frequently.
Honesty, which was the most divisive criteria we found. Managers who rated poorly on this rated poorly on everything else, in the eyes of their team. Managers who rated well on honesty had a chance of rating well overall. We found that honesty was not simply the absence of dishonesty. It was stronger than that. It was about trust. No one wants to work with a boss they do not trust. And for team members, trust came down to simple tests and moments of truth:
- Can I trust my boss to do what they say?
- Can I trust my boss with my promotion and bonus?
- Will my boss be honest, open and constructive with me about my performance?
- Can I rely on my boss to back me when I get into a corner?
If you can pass the test on those questions, you have a chance of meeting your team’s expectations of you.
Finally, note what is absent from your team’s expectations of you. They do not expect you to be charismatic and inspirational. This is just as well. Most of the bosses I have had or have interviewed would fail a charisma test, and as yet medical science has not invented a charisma transplant. You can not learn or acquire charisma. But you can acquire the other criteria expected of a good boss. If you meet your teams top five expectations you will set yourself apart from most other bosses, and you will earn the loyalty of your team.