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.
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"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." -Willa Cather
A logical fallacy called bifurcation (yes, it sounds like a disease) is used to make people believe that they can only choose between two extreme choices: love me or leave me, put up or shut up, etc. In relation to my career and my love life, I was once stricken by this crazy malady.
I spent over a decade in and out of love relationships that undermined my career and drained my creative energy along with my finances. The key problem was that I was convinced that I had two options: be a kickass, and powerful professional who scares off any prospective mate or surrender to that deep and profound love such that my ambitions blow away in the wind. For years, my psyche ping-ponged between these two choices like that was the only game in town. But why?
Turns out we women are often programmed into thinking that we can't have love (at least that good, juicy heated kind) and any sort of real career. This is not actually that surprising given the troubled history that America has with women in the workplace. Post WWII, women were supposed to quit their jobs and scurry back home and leave the careers for the returning men. And if you think we've come a long way from making women feel they don't belong in the workplace, consider Alisha Coleman. In 2016, she was fired because her period leaked onto a chair!
But try to keep a good woman down, and well, you can't (Alisha sued her former employer). Given enough information we will always find a way to overcome our situation. As we teach in my practice, Lotus Lantern Healing Arts, we are all our own gurus. The light in the lotus just offers a way to illuminate your path.
So what was I missing so many years ago when I kept struggling between two suboptimal choices? The answer is the understanding that if I wanted to have it all, I had to start living right now as if I could. For me to be with someone who supported me having a fantastic career, I had to believe that that was actually one of my choices and start living that way.
Of course that is easier said than done (like most life lessons). So once I made that realization, here are the three key changes I made (and no they didn't happen all at once):
First, I stopped apologizing. Why the hell do women always feel the need to apologize for everything! (Sorry for swearing! Jk.) In particular, why do we have to feel bad about time away from the homefront? Remember Don Draper stopping off at the bar before heading home? I took a Madman lesson from him and stopped apologizing for my free time and let go of my usual rush to get back. Instead I focused on enjoying the transition, which was often needed to release the stress of work. Whether I was slow-driving listening to my jams and singing at the top of my lungs or stopping off for a pedicure, a little ritual went a long way to making me feel like a real human when I walked through the door.
Second, I let go of perfection in order to be present. I stopped stressing over a work deadline and instead rescheduled it to tend to my love life or postponed a romantic dinner because a juicy work opportunity appeared. In this way, I did not force an unnatural choice or one I did not want but really paid attention to what felt right. Instead of feeling subpar in each realm, I end up getting the most out of my time in both places.
Third (and perhaps most significantly) I began to welcome and expect encouragement from the most significant person in my life. I made it clear to my partner that I wanted insight and not criticism. And since I knew I needed understanding and not saving, I said, "Please help me look at my career woes from a different angle instead of offering me advice." Ultimately, I only accepted partners that truly supported my dreams and didn't let me play small.
Today, some of the most exquisite pleasure I feel comes simply from my partner witnessing me. Having a cohort who really appreciates my struggles, helps me integrate work and life, and enjoys the wins together can be mind-blowing. Likewise, when the shit hits the fan (again, not sorry!), it's really important to have a partner that can hold space for you and help you remember those wins.
It's a constant battle. Our culture still perpetuates the myth by pitting love and career against each other (ever see Fatal Attraction?). Men don't always get this message, but then we don't need to wait for them to get it. All we have to do it start living right now in the way we truly deserve and bring others along with us. When my friends see me and my partner together separately killing it in the career department and fiercely loving each other they say, "Your relationship gives me hope."