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Guest opinion: You are living your leadership legacy

“Bosses shape how people spend their days and whether they experience joy or despair, perform well or badly, or are healthy or sick.”  Robert Sutton

How you are leading during this pandemic is likely how you will be remembered.

These are tough times for all bosses. But it can be really challenging to be a good boss in a bad economy. Having to furlough or lay off workers is not fun. Nor is worrying if you can keep the doors open for business.

Why is this a timely topic? Because people have been trying to work in the most difficult environment of our lifetime.

Leaders should clear obstacles and not be obstacles.
Leadership is not about a position or title. It is about a relationship. Good bosses need to be good at creating relationships and an environment where people want to work, especially now when many of us are working remotely.

What makes a bad boss? No empathy. Thinking only about the bottom line. No positive feedback — only negative. Bosses who don’t know their employees well enough to utilize their strengths. Those who criticize without offering constructive feedback and are terrible at building relationships.

And bad bosses do major damage. Research from Gallup has told us for years that employees don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad bosses. This is from an article in the Harvard Business Review“What’s the one factor that most affects how satisfied, engaged, and committed you are at work? All of our research over the years points to one answer — and that’s the answer to the question: ‘Who is your immediate supervisor?’”

This is the message from the State of the American Manager report: “Having a bad manager is often a one-two punch: Employees feel miserable while at work, and that misery follows them home, compounding their stress and putting their well-being in peril.”

The good news is that most bosses are not bad.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Jim Kouzes, co-author of numerous leadership books including “The Leadership Challenge.” Based on his extensive research, Kouzes said that most leaders are not bad. Bad bosses are not the norm, but most bosses could and should be better.

How do you know you’re not a bad boss?
In another Harvard Business Review article, the authors compiled a list of bad boss characteristics. As you review the list below, note that “eight out of ten of these flaws stem from things leaders don’t do, and even some of the most obvious bad behavior is often perceived by colleagues, bosses, and subordinates as failures to act more than as obvious mistakes.”

Here’s their list in order, from the most to the least destructive:
·       Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. (Again and again, failed leaders were described by their colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was in fact the most noticeable of all their failings.)
·       Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. 
·       A lack of clear vision and direction. 
·       An inability to collaborate and be a team player.
·       Failure to walk the talk. 
·       Failure to improve and learn from mistakes. 
·       An inability to lead change or innovate owing to resistance to new ideas. 
·       A failure to develop others.
·       Inept interpersonal skills. 
·       Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions

So it is not always what we do as leaders, but what we don’t do.

What to do to be a good boss
First: To be a good boss, start by paying attention to the list above.

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Create a system for employees to give honest feedback. Explain that you will be collecting feedback on a regular basis and sharing with them what you learned and how you will respond.

When people realize there are no repercussions or reprimands for being honest, they will start giving you unsolicited feedback that strengthens your department and team in ways you can’t even imagine.

From my personal experience of teaching at the college level for 30 years, students gave me feedback that made the courses better — during the course — not just at the end when it was too late to improve the course for them. When they knew it did not affect their grades in any way, honest and unsolicited feedback came more often.

What is your leadership legacy?
These times are defining moments. How you are leading during this pandemic is likely how you will be remembered. What we say, how we say it, and the decisions we make do matter.

How do you want to be remembered as a leader? What will people say about you when you are gone?

Lead now in ways you want to be remembered.

“If you are a boss, ask yourself: When you look back at how you’ve treated followers, peers, and superiors, in their eyes, will you have earned the right to be proud of yourself? Or will they believe that you ought to be ashamed of yourself and embarrassed by how you have trampled on others’ dignity day after day?”
? Robert I. Sutton, “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst”

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D., is a leadership author, speaker, professor, and coach. She can be reached at www.JannFreed.com

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