Ban the word Boss

I remember sitting opposite a potential client, a leader of a large organisation. Before we started, he gave me a crushing handshake and took a large gulp of coffee, revealing his cufflinks. One cufflink was scribed with, ‘I am the boss’, and the other said ‘I’m never wrong.’

I pointed them out, thinking he’d tell me a funny and hopefully embarrassing story. Wrong! He was super proud of them and said, ‘I got these from some ex-colleagues who know how I tick.’ In our discussions, it emerged that the biggest problem (and I see it all the time with C-suite) was that he felt his reports needed to build trust, but he didn’t. He was confident he’d ticked that box many years previous. He was clearly too important and experienced to need such a program. I find this part of my job to be incredibly challenging sometimes. Over and over again, I experience the worst managers being at the top of the organisation.

Remember: leaders still manage people, but they regularly miss 121s because they have something more ‘important’ to do. They don’t turn up to trainings, set flimsy expectations by making all kinds of misguided assumptions about their team, and often over-reward themselves. However, unless they’re narcissists or sociopaths, deep down, they know they’re on thin ice. They’re simply deluding themselves, and they know it. Great leaders love to learn with their team, fess up when they mess up, and spend quality time with their direct reports.

We need to stop playing ‘boss’.

Seriously, ban that awful, outdated, control-freaky word. Recoil from it as if you’ve been insulted if anybody calls you their ‘boss’. It completely disempowers your team members and their responsibilities. Yes, your decisions will be more macro, but they need to lead too. I want them to step up and become truly accountable for their part in the organisation. Their decisions, though micro, must be encouraged. You want your team members to own their roles and responsibilities. I’m a fan of distributed or shared leadership. In this modality, everyone in the business takes responsibility for their role and is accountable, as opposed to than the normal ‘leader-subordinate’ roles, which encourage subservience and a parent-child relationship. I know leaders who are called ‘work mums’ or ‘work dads’. Stop it! I want to encourage a workplace full of lions, not sheep.

You're an accountability partner not their boss.

Top Tips:

• Agree expectations WITH your team not AT them. The more they own it, the more they'll care.

• If you treat your employees as children, don't be surprised if they action like children. Create a culture of autonomy WITH accountability

• If you get off on power and control. Consider seeing a therapist. Teams love emotionally intelligent leaders not control freak bosses.

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