Recently, I read the following post from an employee on an employer review site, which left me sad and frustrated:
“Leave the executive suite – learn what people in every city, every building, every office, every department and every shift do, who they are, etc. Periodic surveys and town halls are not enough to give senior execs an understanding and sincere appreciation…Nor does it allow them to know the problems and the pressures.”
Smart suggestion and wise advice on several fronts, but, honestly, it also riled me up. I know it’s hard to approach your boss and speak your truth. Many people sadly have the scars to tell from trying this. But what I found myself thinking is: how sad – and maddening – that we couldn’t sit down face-to-face and have this conversation. I bet we would both learn so much from the dialogue.
That got me thinking: what if employees and bosses more often left their comfort zones to try and better understand each other? I bet we would indeed better “know the problems and pressures” of both sides as we would better know one another as people and could learn from our different perspectives.
In this spirit, I thought I would share the top things I would like you to know, from my perspective as the boss. These are tidbits I often share as I meet with my direct reports and the people I have the honor to mentor.
Perhaps these will help you see your own boss in a new light, or think about how you behave as the boss.
1. “I don’t know what I don’t know, and sometimes, I need your grace.”
There is often the misnomer that being the boss means you are supposed to be the expert in everything you oversee. Fat chance. There is a TON I don’t know, and I know it. I assure you I have just as much to learn from you as you may learn from me. Please, help me learn. Speak up when something isn’t right, but please come with a solution to the problem. It may not be the right one, but try. I want to know what you think and how you would address the problem. I have a ton of respect for people who take accountability and help make it better.
At the core, my aim is to serve…the organization, the team and you, and to help set the vision for our future. In that effort, I’ll seek wisdom and work hard every day to be a better boss. I will read, listen, discuss, debate and learn. And, on more than one occasion, I will say, “I made a mistake.” I hope you’ll give me grace when I do.
2. “I want you to be happy and fulfilled by your work, even if that’s not here.”
The biggest key to my success? You. I believe the smartest thing I can do as a leader is to hire people who are smarter than me, and then turn them loose to do their job while making sure they have everything they need to do that job well. Nothing makes me happier than to watch you flourish and shine. To me, that is the greatest testimony to my abilities as a boss.
I want to know what you want from your career, and I want you to tell me what I can do to help you grow. So, I’ll work hard to spend time getting to know you, and then will push and challenge you to get there. So, spend time thinking about what YOU want and need and tell me when I ask.
I always think of one colleague who came to me when I first started in this role. She said she felt it was time for her to step aside as a manager and let her next in line to lead. She also wanted a different pace and role challenge as an individual contributor. I have so much respect for her and the way she owned this path. It takes guts to go in a different direction than society normally tells you to go. Together, we found a way for her to do exactly what she wanted as it was also best for the business.
Most importantly, know that I realize we won’t work together forever. But relationships are far more than time and titles. I want a relationship where I can help you grow, even if that means you leaving the organization to find your path in other places.
3. “What you do matters. I need you to do it well. And I do notice when you don’t.”
There is a reason you are on the team. You have a role to do, and it MATTERS. I didn’t arrive at my seat yesterday. I was an intern. I was the low lady on the totem pole, and I worked my way up. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is the importance of each role and every person. That crappy Excel spreadsheet you are making full of data? I use it to make critical business decisions, and I need it to be done well. I notice when it is done with excellence, and I appreciate it. That said, if you think you are doing something that is just wasteful busy work, make a proposal to me on a better way to achieve our objectives.
As for bad performance, I notice that too. Just like you notice when I am off my game. So, just as I am asking for honesty from you, I promise to be honest with you too. When it’s not going well, I’ll have a conversation about what’s going on, how to fix it and expectations going forward. Is the job just not working for you? Well, see point 2 above.
4. “I want you to get a life outside of work.”
It’s critical that you have more to your life than work. Seriously. You are a better employee when you have some color in your life. Enjoy your family and friends, invest in that hobby, take some time off to relax and recharge. And, remind me to do this too. It’s critical for both of us. We both work incredibly hard, and need to be reminded that life is short and is meant to be lived.
5. “I worry about you – a lot.”
I always tell new managers that being a boss often feels like being a parent. So much ceases to be about you. It becomes all about your team…their needs, their wants, their health and happiness. In other words: I worry about you. About your growth, about your performance, about whether you are having fun (Yes, I do want you to have fun at work. I certainly do). Mostly, I worry about fulfilling your expectations from me as a boss.
I also worry about the business, the mission, the goals ahead of us and the future. You name it, I probably worry about it. Sometimes it makes me short and hurried and intense and distracted. It’s not your fault. If it’s periodic, I hope you’ll forgive me. If it becomes prolonged, I hope you’ll come check on me and call attention to it so I can fix it.
6. “There are some things I just can’t tell you.”
To have a successful team, I believe you must have a culture of trust and openness. But, as an executive, there are just some things I cannot tell you, especially if it is about other people. Wouldn’t you want me to keep things confidential if you were the one involved? Something you want to know that I haven’t told you? Come ask me. If I can tell you, I will.
7. “I do care if you like me, but I am not here to be your best friend.”
I’m not here to be your best friend. The truth though? There are so many times I would like to be your friend. I have always been privileged to work with some awesome people. Cool people. Smart people. People I would love to have for dinner or a drink with outside of work. But I have also learned the hard way how important it is for there to be some boundaries between you and me as boss and employee.
And do I care if you like me? I do. I’m human, but I know you all will not. And that is okay. We don’t have to all like each other, but what we do have to have is mutual respect and trust. Without those, teams and relationships fail.
So what would you tell me if we could meet? Would you find this helpful? Is there a perspective I need and insights I am missing from your eyes? Either way, I hope that together, we would find a little grace in each other. Whether you’re an employee or a boss, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.