How Can You Be a Better Boss or Leader?

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Sometimes even smart, capable leaders behave badly.

Are you a good boss? You’re getting good results, so you must be, right?

Or are you rationalizing any bad behavior as the means to get those good results?

Would your results be better if you were a stronger leader?

GettyImages-495079098 cropI once worked for a man who would periodically explode in frustration. I became the target of his wrath one day.

As I backed up to avoid his spittle (and the eyes of my co-workers) and struggled to maintain my composure as he lost his, the incident etched itself in my brain. I maintained eye contact. I asked questions to be sure I completely understood his requests. And I paraphrased his demands to signal that I understood what he wanted. I’ll never forget that moment.

Most of us think we work hard, me included. So, to say I was stunned is an understatement. But I saved my anger and my tears for my walk to the car some time later. And the moment I got home, I tidied my résumé … and hit Indeed and LinkedIn and Monster …. Within three weeks I had a new job and he had my resignation.

His next reaction was almost as startling. Surprise. Disappointment. And even a year later, a call to entice me back. He seemed to have no idea how his actions affected those around him. And I, not one to burn bridges, hadn’t told him.

Would your employees tell you if your behavior was bad? Don’t count on it.

Black and white business people workingIt’s up to you to invite feedback and notice telltale signs. No one is perfect. But taking the time to self-evaluate periodically might help you adjust behavior to certain situations or people.

Consider the causes of bad boss behavior:

  • Poor communication—Do workers have a clear understanding of priorities and tasks? If not, your expectations may not mesh with theirs. It’s up to you to clearly communicate and confirm that workers understand what’s expected. It’s also up to you to build strong relationships with each person on your team.
  • Lack of assertiveness—While it seems counterintuitive (especially in the scenario above), continually biting your tongue can be a cause of frustration and stress. Pressure can build until one day you explode over something seemingly trivial. Practice every day assertiveness. Give ongoing, small feedback in a calm, helpful way.
  • Serious adult businessman pointing to his watchRationalizing—It’s easy to explain away our bad behaviors as justified to reach the desired result. “The client was waiting on us to get this project finished, so I needed to crack the whip.” “She wanted this new system and now that she has it, she’ll just have to deal with the learning curve.” Winning is important … but no reason to lose your humanity. Don’t justify your inconsiderate or rude behavior.
  • Ego—Leaders get used to having things their way. Be confident. But keep your ego in check. There are often employees (much closer to projects than you are) whose suggestions and concerns should be carefully considered. Listen. And practice humility even when you’re right.
  • Not knowing—When you’re the boss, people come to you for answers. You’re expected to know. When you don’t, it’s easy to feel inadequate and get defensive. And face it, certain employees know your weaknesses and don’t mind pointing them out. Learn to admit when you don’t know and rely on the experts on your team. And, if you’re uncomfortable with this, build your knowledge in your weaker areas.
  • hourglass held by a concerned womanImpatience—Employees don’t always perform as expected. Some new hires don’t come up to speed as quickly as you hope and take more nurturing. Patience is critical in giving employees time to develop into competent workers, learn new systems, adapt to change, become more confident and start showing initiative.
  • Lack of adaptability—Your knowledge and experiences have put you where you are today. Don’t spend too much time hanging onto the past, either by continually referring to previous jobs or by clinging to outdated methods. Contemporary businesses are experiencing rapid change. Stay up to date on your industry, technology and competition. Encourage information sharing by employees so everyone keeps pace.

Incivility is on the rise in America’s workplaces, reports If you’re the boss, help set the tone in your office. Really good bosses and leaders are humble (and imperfect). They keep an eye on the bottom line but know they need the help of every employee to get there. They build teams and organizations where people feel respected and valued … and want to work.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.