One of President Harry Truman’s favorite phrases was “The buck stops here,” affirming that he ultimately accepted all the credit or blame for any tough calls that needed to be made for the good of the country.
Truman was also someone that many still look up to as both a decent statesman and a great boss, especially when compared to later political and industry leaders who sometimes are better seen as examples of what not to do.
As we’ve all experienced, there are plenty of bad bosses out there – some are deliberately malicious, and some are bad because they’re just unsuited for the position.
One survey of bosses shows that although many managers perform paperwork adequately, most lack the ability to engage and inspire employees to work harder and do better.
The good news is that many leadership qualities can be learned and improved with practice. Even a so-so manager can evolve into someone people are proud to work for – and work harder for. Though individual employees must still decide how they feel every day, a better boss should have a vital role in setting the tone of the workplace or workgroup.
Being a good leader
The first thing many bosses need to do is get away from being “transactional.” This means avoiding the approach of “if you do what I ask, you’ll be rewarded; if not, you’ll be punished.”
Instead, try becoming an engagement coach, where you’ll find ways to put employees where their strengths are assets, or they’ll develop new skills, or preferably both. Being the boss means you don’t have to make sure your staff is always doing what it’s supposed to – this only breeds distrust. Be sure to still be available to help with questions or larger institutional challenges (talk to higher-ups or fellow managers, etc.)
There’s a fine line between being hands-off and being disconnected, especially when you want to keep motivating and trusting your team.
It’s important to make sure they’re aware that you’re here to help – and that the whole company is too. Not only does this make everyone feel appreciated, but it can also pay off in terms of increased productivity, higher retention company-wide, and better performance.
The opposite is true as well – a poor boss can lead to a poor working environment and, ultimately, a poorly performing organization.
Research has also shown that good engagement has other unexpected benefits, including fewer health claims and more of a focus on making sure that people are not only present but ready to work.
Employers can further increase appeal by emphasizing the role of wellness programs. Even more effective is to offer benefits such as supplementing gym memberships.
Overall, engagement can take the form of providing opportunities to find creative solutions rather than always following exact procedures. Allowing staff to take appropriate risks is one of the prime ways to promote camaraderie – and encourage others to take risks as well.
This is known as ‘engaged followership’ where employees gladly follow someone they respect and believe in, and someone who encourages the team to think for themselves. It’s an interesting concept, especially since it departs from the traditional “lead by yelling” approach of being the boss.
As a boss, there are plenty of ways to improve engagement, and the good thing is that it gets easier once you learn what motivates individual employees. So before you say “I don’t know how to begin,” check out this handy tool from Gallup that ‘translates’ what employees may say they want or need into what they really want. It also can guide you in what questions to ask to learn more about them.
Generally, employees want to feel like they’re being listened to, respected, and appreciated. Everyone likes attention, the more positive the better. Beyond this, try other solutions for engagement for each task, which can include:
- Challenge them with new projects
- Challenge them with new responsibilities
- Ask if or when they need help
- Ask if project expectations are clear or confusing
- Learn what challenges their project is facing
- Learn what challenges they are facing
- Ask for ideas on how to solve an upcoming challenge
- Ask what tools can help
- Listen to their questions
- Remind them that it’s OK to take risks
- Learn what you can do to help
- Offer regular surveys to keep learning about them
- Look for employees with the potential to be future leaders
- Encourage everyone to keep learning
- Communicate and remind everyone about shared goals
As you can gather, true engagement must go beyond a one-time event. Managers focused on growing engagement need to always be looking for ways to provide better support. They also need to provide a sometimes critical look at themselves and their own behaviors: what are they doing that helps, what can they learn to be better, and what should they change. This also includes figuring out whether you’re providing transactional management or are able to seek more engaging leadership.
More and more attention to this style of leadership is showing that everyone benefits and no one wants to leave.
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