Bosses Good and Not So

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This week on my Everyday Leadership radio show we’ll hear from Curt Coffman, who with Marcus Buckingham co-authored the highly popular Gallup-data based book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.  They weren’t the first to say it, but said it best: when it comes to employee satisfaction and engagement, “managers trump companies.”  They argue persuasively that you’re better off with a great manager in an average company, than with an average manager in a great company.  To help build knowledge and learn what people think makes a good (or a vexing) boss, please take the 3-question survey; it will immediately give you results.

Introducing some great real managers.  In the Habitat for Humanity First Family Build, forty five of my relatives came together over two weeks for a “family reunion with a purpose,” and we built a home from scratch.  I was uplifted by the managers on the project. Jackie Frencher ran our construction project. I’m of a gender-and-generation that I confess to doing a double-take when I watch a twenty-some year old, African American woman instructing everyone on a building site, and when I see her wielding tools like the working class men in my neighborhood whose hands were greasy, strong, and a little gnarly.  (They got some yucks out of my  dad whose idea of using his hands was tying a necktie or bow tie.)  On the work site, we all looked up to Jackie for her skills, but also for her calm and her wisdom. I watched her with admiration, not just for the amazing breadth of her knowledge but also for how she sought advice and listened to input.  I love a boss confident enough to ask for help.

My “direct supervisor” was Renee, a real estate agent who spends every Wednesday and Saturday volunteering for Habitat. (The beautiful thing about volunteer work is you can usually pick your boss). I picked Renee because she had great tools (I mean her skills, as well as her overflowing toolbelt), and because she had an outrageous laugh, kindly aimed half the time at others and half the time at herself.  Aren’t those further examples of self confidence in a leader?

Renee had two more skills I look for in a leader: tremendous competence at what she does, and the ability to continually empower others. She could do anything five times faster than most volunteers (and ten times faster than I), but she kept giving us instructions, and then slack to try. We could go back to her if we were confused or struggling. She’d give advice, but she never took the job back. I was a bit timid. After all, I hated the idea that Kenyota’s house would end up with mold or crooked siding on account of my botched workmanship.  But with Renee’s patience we workers learned our jobs, climbed the learning curve (sometimes by redoing things we did wrong), and performed in a satisfactory way. By being given opportunities we learned both our limits – what we weren’t quite ready to take on – as well as our limitlessness, as we tried power tools, caulk guns, and drills that were at first intimidating.

I look forward to Curt Coffman’s wisdom.  And I will look back to Renee’s: to wit: share my tools, believe in my team members, be ready to help, and keep laughing at myself!  Do take two minutes to complete the survey to let us know what you think makes a great or a lousy boss.

Lead with your best self!

Dan