Just after leaving Citibank in early 2011, I met an HR specialist in Singapore.
An investment banker friend introduced me to her over dinner. Upon learning about my recent decision to leave commercial banking after 25 years, she asked: “How were you as a boss?”
The question was simple and short, but it really got me thinking. And now, after six years, I can tell you with confidence that ensuring the best out of your colleagues warrants a lot of empathy and hand-holding from the boss.
Of course, I had my fair share of mistakes, possibly a few too many.
You might be a terrific revenue driver, but, given the choice, would your employees ever want to work for you again?
Most importantly, do you know how it feels like to work for you?
The happiness factor
If you ask someone what makes employees happy at work, many are likely to think in terms of tangible rewards: A good salary, a pleasant workspace, generous benefits, the like.
However, workplace specialists are increasingly discovering that, for many workers, the “happiness factor” depends on the intangibles, such as respect, care, trust, and fairness.
Added to these are engagement, enrichment, and, according to many management “gurus,” empowerment.
It is, in fact, the small things which make employees feel committed to an organisation.
Workplace happiness often depends on two components: The institution and its culture, and the boss.
A boss may often be considered an institution by himself, one who sets the corporate culture, creates a positive and a dynamic work environment, sets high standards, and ultimately gets people engaged in their work.
It may happen that you are happy in your work but not happy in a specific environment due to a variety of factors, such as a bad boss, a bad corporate culture, or a colleague who makes your life miserable.
People have different opinions on what brings them happiness and satisfaction on the job, but certain priorities remain constant in terms of what employees say makes them happy.
The boss vs the company
Bosses indeed play a key role in determining a worker’s happiness factor. More than half of the employees responding to an annual job-satisfaction survey admit that they do not leave companies, they leave bosses. This leads to a question: When workers accept employment, do they only join institutions or do they look at the leaders too?
It is surely not so easy to be a good boss, since you have to be fully present and responsive to the complexities of each new situation and manage a diverse group of people, including your employees. As an employee, we have all had the opportunity to work for individuals who have influenced our professional careers profoundly.
They have taught us and guided us through phases of our careers, which have assisted us to reach where we are today. From them we have learned professionalism, discretion, finesse, and impartiality. And as we became bosses ourselves, we have developed our own management styles, which in turn have shaped the careers of our own subordinates or employees.
Some of us use an autocratic style of management and others democratic. And each style may have its own merits and demerits.
But what makes a good boss?
A good boss is both a ‘real’ person and also trustworthy. Someone who ‘walks the talk’ and earns respect for their good personality and the examples they set
Charles Erwin Wilson, an American businessman and politician, once said: “A good boss makes his people realise they have more ability than they think they have so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could.”
The key to being a better boss lies in accepting that fact.
A good boss is both a “real” person and also trustworthy. Someone who “walks the talk” and earns respect for their good personality and the examples they set. Good bosses try to cooperate with superiors and do what is best for the organisation by digging into facts.
It is also about having the passion for the people who work with you as you do for your own family -- get to know them, their kids, spouses, friends, hobbies, interests, upcoming vacations -- remember that everyone loves it when others are interested in them, especially when it’s their boss. Your internal relationships are just as important as the ones you have with your customers.
A lot of people forget this too often.
A boss who listens attentively to his people are liked by employees, and a boss who is committed to employees’ personal growth can make a positive impact. Although not everyone’s ideas can be implemented, if they feel heard, it makes a big difference.
Everyone likes a boss who is open to change and personal growth, one who forgives employees when they fail, remembers the lessons learned, and teaches them to everyone.
Taking the lead
In times of uncertainty and unfamiliarity, our employees look to us for reassurance and security. We also need to embrace the fact that we encounter many obstacles, and these hurdles allow us to understand, listen, give clear instructions, invite negative feedback, and protect those we lead. It is also our responsibility to ensure that the same mistake does not happen in future.
As bosses, we need to be infectiously enthusiastic and proud of the work we do and be a constant source of new ideas and inspiration.
We must be able to inspire our subordinates to rise to a new level of proficiency to reach their goals, so we can reach ours. The bosses who are well respected will be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
When we look back, through their eyes, at how we have treated our followers, peers, and superiors, will we have earned the right to be proud of ourselves? The ability to answer that question honestly is what ultimately separates a good boss from a bad boss.
Mamun Rashid is a leading banker and economic analyst.