According to a research study by Michelle McQuaid, a world leader in positive psychology interventions in the workplace, 65% of Americans say a better boss would make them happy while 35% would choose a pay raise.
Although that is an astounding statistic, I get it.
We often ask participants in our leadership development workshops to reflect on the best boss they’ve ever had. It’s interesting to hear people share the good and bad characteristics of their managers. I usually end up hearing the same things over and over again.
Here’s my story:
Over 10 years ago, I worked for a man named “Bob” (I’ve changed names to protect the innocent). Bob was a municipal leader with more than 30 years of experience. His technical abilities were superior, whether it be his prowess in balancing a budget, interpreting laws and rules, or managing a diverse and highly qualified leadership staff. But it was the soft skills I learned from Bob, and what I learned about him, that have stayed with me to this day. He gave me lasting lessons on leadership with a heart and a soul.
Here’s how Bob was different than any other manager I’ve had…
He trusted me. I will always remember what he said to me after assigning a very difficult project: “I’d rather reel you back in than have to push you out.” That made me feel confident and trusted. Better yet, when I stumbled by sharing some information with the community too early, he had my back. A leader for a very long time, he knew that trust is at the core of leadership.
He got to know me personally. Beyond knowing what I wanted to accomplish professionally, Bob asked about my family. He cared enough to ask questions about my husband and my children, and I had the pleasure of learning about his. He didn’t practice what my father always preached, “don’t spend any time outside of work with your direct reports”. He liked to go to family backyard barbecues. This created a deeper personal connection that was like money in the bank when things got rocky. As Barry Posner, co-author of The Leadership Challenge says, “People are just more willing to follow someone they like and trust.”
He talked about our vision often. I had worked for two previous city managers who had accomplished great thing during their tenures. This manager distinguished himself by starting to share a vision for our organization in addition to honoring the elected officials’ vision for our community. Right away I understood how much he valued transparency, forthrightness and respect in how we operated as public servants. He walked the talk and made his vision and values live in the organization. That is one of the jobs of a great leader!
Although he had strong technical skills, it was these “other” skills that set him apart as a leader for me. Common sense? Maybe, but not always common practices. I made it my personal goal to become a better leader and take what I’ve learned from Bob to work with my own staff. By being intentional about it, I found that I could authentically practice those behaviors in my own way.
I never told this man that he was my best boss. He gave me such confidence that I left to start managing my own city and now we are out of touch. If you have a great boss, make today the day you shout it from the rooftops!
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