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Three Ways to Become the Great Boss You Never Had

4min read
Business

If you don't have a history of being paired with wonderfully knowledgeable and encouraging supervisors, you're not alone. According to the latest research from Gallup, only 18 percent of U.S. managers were scored as having "high talent" in leadership skills.


The research also shows that approximately 51 percent of U.S. managers are not engaged in their work. This figure is depressing, but it pales in comparison to the overall figure for employee disengagement in this country – a whopping 87 percent of employees are not engaged in their work (Gallup).

Engagement, as we all know, is the standard catch-all term for the level of care and effort one invests in his or her job. Low engagement translates to a slew of business challenges – including high rates of turnover, poor productivity and a suffering bottom line. In my experience interacting with lackluster managers, there's a high personal toll as well. When you care intensely about your job but are forced into daily conflict with a disengaged, overbearing or inadequate supervisor – your quality of life is deeply affected. To save future generations from these harrowing experiences, I recommend righting the wrong by striving to be the boss you always wished you could have had. Here's how to begin.

1. Earn Trust, Don't Assume It

Good bosses don't put up sky-high walls or throw you under the bus.

All good relationships – personal and professional – are grounded in trust. Before any positive or productive outcomes can be built, one must believe that a person is who they claim to be, and believe that they will do what they say they'll do. This is a widely accepted fundamental truth. And yet, a recent survey from Harvard Business Review found that roughly 58 percent of U.S. employees would trust a total stranger more quickly than they'd trust their own boss. What does this say about the American workplace? What kind of culture are we creating for our employees if we don't even have their trust?

To begin to improve your own trust ratio, I recommend looking for an opportunity to proactively open up to each of your direct-reports about some of your own professional or even personal challenges. Set a closed door session with an employee, then push yourself to be as candid as possible in sharing your story. Wrap up by asking genuine questions – and vowing to keep the conversation entirely to yourself. This interaction won't magically create the perfect tight-knit relationship, but will be only the first of many steps needed for establishing improved trust. I experienced this firsthand when I opened up with my employees and the public about my family's challenges going through IVF. We've been eager to have more children and the process has been unbelievably difficult. I felt that sharing some of what we're dealing with would encourage others to open up, and show that we're all human after all. The response has been tremendous, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to unveil my story.

2. Get Personal About Appreciation

A great boss makes you feel seen, heard, understood and valued.

We're hearing more and more these days about the importance of employee recognition and appreciation. Many of us are aware of the circulating statistics on the high numbers of employees who leave their jobs partially because of a "lack of appreciation." This global study from O.C. Tanner Learning Group cites the number as high as 79 percent. In response, many organizations are putting processes into place to improve recognition in a formal, standardized way. Managers are handing out monthly employee awards or dutifully listing team accomplishments as part of meeting agendas. To be an exceptional boss, this type of appreciation won't come close to cutting it.

When employees say they want to feel appreciated at work, most aren't looking for an influx of award certificates or celebratory gift cards. They're looking to feel personally valued – like their contributions are both understood and important. This kind of recognition begins and ends with a thriving manager-employee relationship. Make time to get to know your direct-reports, listen intently to the details of their achievements, and then repeat back the nuances of their hard work to their teams and your senior leadership. In other words, don't be like a former supervisor of a friend of mine (one who shall not be named). She not only took credit for my friend's achievements in meetings with senior leaders, she rarely even allowed her the opportunity to speak in important meetings. This is not the path to making your employees feel appreciated.

3. Cultivate Future Bosses

The best boss is one who prepares you to someday be a great boss yourself.

As a savvy manager, your responsibilities extend beyond preparing and supporting your direct-reports to fulfill the requirements of their positions. As a leader and a mentor, you're also responsible for guiding and empowering your employees to ascend into supervising positions themselves. This is unfortunately rare in today's business community – a recent study from CareerBuilder.com found that a staggering 58 percent of managers stated they never received any kind of management training. To defy this trend, you must make room in your busy schedule to go above and beyond. This means making time for coaching employees through senior-level assignments, checking in on professional development progress, occasionally delegating major responsibilities, looking for opportunities to shape and mold burgeoning management style, and carving out time for one-on-one mentorship conversations. A colleague once told me a horror story about a job that required her to execute complex assignments without even having a designated supervisor. The person who should have been managing her had left the company and had not been replaced, leaving her with little to no direction on her job responsibilities. She was able to coach herself by reading the archived emails of her missing supervisor, and it became a valuable learning experience – but this won't be the outcome for most employees left to their own devices.

While all of these actions will require time and investment, the payoff will come via increased loyalty, better retention rates, improved productivity and performance, and perhaps even a mutually beneficial lifelong professional relationship for both of you.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read
Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019