6 Ways To Be A Better Boss

November 23, 2018


More than likely there are many ways to be a better boss, especially given the volume of books published on the topic (4 a day) and the daily aphorisms we see, however, the following are some evidence-based ways to be a better boss.

1. Watch Your Ego
Egotistical and big-headed bosses, those who do not listen to well-intentioned criticism and feedback, ignore their staff’s ideas and suggestions, or worse, scapegoat them for their own failings and mistakes, are especially corrosive to any business and can diminish productivity and increase staff turnover.

Conversely, modest leaders, those who are humble and credit their team for success and not themselves, have a much more positive impact on their staff. Jim Collins’ excellent book, “Good to Great” defined “Level 5” leaders as “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy”. A Level 5 leader was someone who took a good company and made it great, with that growth being sustained well after the leader left the company.

“Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into a larger goal of building a great company. It’s not the Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

However, how can you tell if your ego is having a negative impact on your leadership style? How do you even know if your ego is causing problems with your team? We are often blind to the effect we have on others and one reason is because we do not see our own facial expressions, gestures and body language. Given 60% of communication is non-verbal in nature, and as we cannot see our own non-verbal communication, we are missing much of how we communicate to the world.

A good starting point is to do the “gossip test” on yourself. Ask yourself what you think your team may say about you and what you would like them to say about you. Do they match? Ask yourself if you would be comfortable having your children or other loved ones seeing how you behaved at work.

You could ask a trusted friend or colleague to give you some frank and honest feedback about whether your ego had a negative impact on your leadership style. Perhaps consider an anonymous staff survey with enough respondents so the results have some statistical significance. Some objective data may help, such as rates of absenteeism or staff turnover. Confronting your own ego is challenging and confronting, but if you are motivated to be a better boss then it is something that at least needs to be reviewed.

2. Give Employees Some Control
The positive impact on motivation and staff engagement when employees have a sense of control over how they do their job is one of the most robust and reliable findings in psychological research. Researchers consistently find that one of the most effective ways to reduce stress among workers is to offer them some autonomy – a sense of control over how they do their job.

Roles vary with the degree to which an employee can set their own hours or decide what part of the job they do and when, however, the more someone is the master of their own destiny the less stressed they will be. If possible, give staff a say in how things are done in the work place. Great bosses give employees a sense that they have some choice in what they do and how they do it.

3. Have a Break
Employees who used their phones or computers for work-related tasks during their off-hours were less emotionally detached from their work and had elevated stress levels. Employees who thought about and engaged with work the most during off-hours were less effective than those that did it less. However, employees who never checked in or thought about their job when away from it tended to perform poorly as well. It seems that, as with most things in life, moderation is the key when it comes to answering work emails from home. As a boss, establish a culture that encourages people to unplug when they are off the clock and if they must check their email, then do it in moderation.

4. Positive Feedback:
There is debate about whether ‘tangible’ carrots such as bonuses and prizes have a lasting impact on motivation and performance. However, one carrot that nearly always works is positive feedback – people rarely do not appreciate a pat on the back and recognition for a job well done; positive feedback is something that feels good to anyone who is getting it. When employees do a good job, remember to tell them so; it is easy and free.

5. Limit Multi-Tasking
Try and limit your own and your employees’ multi-tasking. The human brain is a sequential processing machine, not a parallel processing machine like a computer. Trying to do tasks simultaneously rather than completing them sequentially can take longer overall and reduces our ability to perform each task. A stark example of this is the sometimes-fatal danger of using a mobile phone while driving, particularly texting.

We can perform automatic or well-learned tasks simultaneously, or ones that are not particularly cognitively demanding, such as cooking, talking to the kids and following a game of footy, or walking and having a conversation. However, once the tasks become cognitively demanding our ability to successfully attend to two or more tasks diminishes rapidly. Multitasking saves time only when it is a matter of relaxed, routine tasks.

It is almost impossible to carry out two or three different tasks simultaneously with the same degree of concentration. In fact, the seemingly simultaneous awareness and processing of information takes place in three second windows. What appears to be multitasking is more like channel surfing among different television stations. A person can concentrate on a conversation for three seconds, then the crying baby for three seconds, then the television for three seconds, but not all three at the same time.

In an experiment, researchers asked participants to write a report and check their email at the same time. Those individuals who constantly jumped back and forth between the tasks took about one and half times as long to finish as those who completed one job before returning to another.

To be a better boss, check your expectations about your own and others’ ability to multi-task and arrange work so it can be focused on one task at a time.

6. Do Not Disturb
Related to multi-tasking, is try and adopt the practice of not disturbing your staff when they are “in the zone” and focused on their job. When you get disturbed by a colleague, phone, text or email whilst you are focused on a task, it takes approximately 25 minutes to get back to that focused state.

Likewise, a 2015 study by Florida State University psychologists found that when your phone buzzes with a text or call, it significantly distracts you even if you “ignore” it and don’t pick up,
During the experiment, researchers purposely called or texted college students in the middle of a task and found that the students made about 25 percent more errors than when they were left alone.

One simple way to be a better boss is to not disturb your staff when they are focused on their job.

Six ways to be a better boss is a combination of humility, having the confidence to let your staff have some control over their job, making sure they have some mental down-time, whilst also giving them a pat on the back, limiting multi-tasking and stop disturbing them.