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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Help! My Husband Won't Stop Yelling At Me
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I'm a newlywed, and I love my husband very much. But whenever I'm on the phone, the way my husband speaks to me makes people think he is abusive even though he really isn't. He just has a hard time managing his voice and his energy levels when he is stressed. The next second he's back to being chill and flexible (once I'm off the phone, of course). I don't want people to misinterpret my relationship, and I do want him to change. What do I do?
- On The Edge
Dear On The Edge,
I'm sorry that you're feeling humiliated by your husband's actions. What you describe definitely sounds like a classic symptom of abuse and it is understandable that your friends are worried. The difference between abuse and a simple disagreement is that it happens every day with significant consistency. Your instinct to want your husband to change is likely rooted in the fact that you understand this behavior may not be sustainable to a healthy marriage in the long run.
You sound brave and strong, and you seem capable of distinguishing that these are his issues on display, not yours. As Dr. Seltzer, a Clinical Psychologist points out in this article, "In all likelihood, the rage says a good deal more about that person and the gravity of their unresolved issues than it does about you" Regardless, it is important to take care of yourself. Have you assessed how the yelling makes you feel personally without taking into account your friends' reactions? Does it make you anxious or affect your overall well being?
It concerns me that you are chalking up his behavior to stress. It's okay for couples to have conflict, and many psychologists agree that this can be done in a constructive way by communicating and expressing one's anger in order to work on them together. Contrary, it is not okay to be on the receiving end of your spouse yelling, and repeatedly so. Have you tried speaking to him about this issue? If so, how did he react and does he understand how his actions are affecting you? Has he made any effort to change his behavior? This could be an important first opportunity to work on a serious issue as a married couple, but if speaking to him directly isn't an option you should seek counseling. I recommended you see a professional therapist separately or a marriage counselor together. Meanwhile, if your mobile phone rings, take that call miles away from hubby!
- The Armchair Psychologist
HELP! Is Democracy The Right Path?
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I wanted to ask you about a dilemma I struggle with. I come from a country that is under an autocracy. I'm curious to learn about the path to democracy and why some countries struggle more than others. And, an even bigger question of this model, does it "fit all?" Obviously, there are three basic models that are/were widely spread around the globe, including some deviations with different blends and mixtures: monarchy, democracy, communism. Throughout history, it seems that the democratic model has been well-adapted and successful in Western countries, where cultural, social and political conditions are well suited for it. Whereas in Asia, we can observe some deviations of this same model achieving success with a blend of authoritarian rule and sometimes communism such as in China, Singapore, and South Korea (all to varying degrees). What is your perspective on this? Living in the western world, one always hears about the democratic model being the right way, but if you look at the most successful examples (growth-wise): Singapore, South Korea were blended democratic models that have achieved great results. So, should the western world deviate from its preferred model given that checks and balances are in place?
I'm sorry to hear that you're dismayed by your country's autocracy. Living in the US under Trump's rule is feeling more and more like an autocracy for myself and many others these days.
Let's take a look at the growth rate of the countries you mentioned. The USA grew by 2.3%, South Korea grew by 3.1%, and Singapore grew by 3.6%, in terms of GDP. While it's true that the US may seem to lag behind a bit in growth, it's important to put into perspective how that growth is measured. The old saying "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics" comes to mind. But the perspective of how we measure things is crucial.
As an example, let's say you are coming out of college and you're worth $1,000 because that's all you have in your bank account. Your neighbor has $10 million. Next year, you have $2,000 and your neighbor has $12 million. Your growth rate was 100% and your neighbor's was only 20%, but does that mean you did much better than your neighbor that year? Of course not, because it's also the total amount of money you make each year that counts.
Courtesy of Y-chart
Basically, the US made around $240 billion in growth in 2018, whereas Singapore and South Korea made about $25 billion each. Smaller, emerging countries always grow faster initially but as they get larger they have to keep making increasingly large amounts of money to keep that same growth rate up, so it's no surprise that growth slows over time.
However, discussing economics alone can't answer your question, because, as many people often do, you're conflating Capitalism with Democracy. They are very, very different things. One is how you structure your economy. The other is how you structure your society. Judging Democracy by how the economy is doing is like judging an apple by an orange. The point of Democracy is not making sure you can buy that new television, it's to ensure human equality and personal rights.
You asked about Democracy and if the Armchair Psychologist believes that governments should be accountable to the people they govern. Should the population be able to remove its leadership? Are checks and balances good for a nation to keep megalomaniacs from taking complete control? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Absolutely not.
Your question may also be "is capitalism the best way for emerging societies to grow?" Most scholars would argue that America wasn't truly capitalistic in its infancy. Rather, it was about communal living, small local towns becoming self-sufficient, growing their own food, and taking care of each other. How economies grow in their earliest phases is a function of the local culture and the resources available to that country and also what infrastructure needs to be developed (schools, transportation, highways, refineries). There are many ways of improving the wealth of a country, but removing the population's control over leadership isn't a necessary ingredient to success. I hope this eases your mind; this is a difficult dilemma to work out. But, as Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
- The Armchair Psychologist