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a blog by Chris Barrow

Are you a dictator or a doormat? How to be a Great Boss instead.

A guest post from Mark Topley

You want to be liked by your team. I’ve never met anyone who felt that being liked by the team wasn’t important, and something they wanted. I don’t think there are many Bosses who actually want to be an A***hole.

I meet a lot of Bosses who have swayed too far in the direction of needing to be liked. They’re afraid to upset people or disrupt a culture which is basically ‘OK’. And so they become the Doormat Boss - bending over backwards to keep things ‘pleasant’.

Of course, you know you can't always be popular, because being the Boss means that you will have to make decisions which not everyone will like. It goes with the territory.

But you also don’t want to be a dictator, distant and aloof, the kind of boss that remains unapproachable, who people talk about in whispers for fear of upsetting them.

How can you reconcile these positions? What is the way to hold both in tension? Or do you have to be either a dictator or a doormat?

Legendary leadership expert John Maxwell talks about two important principles which help us to reconcile this problem.

He says that leaders need to be:

Close enough to relate, but far enough ahead to inspire.

Close enough to relate

For me, being close to your team means that you must spend time with them. And not just time when you are physically working together on a task. There’s great value in being ‘present’ with people outside of a task. For example, break times don't need to always be separate. As the boss, you will want to give people space, but you should also feel at ease just hanging out sometimes. Whether that’s eating lunch in the break room, chatting over a coffee, or at the start or end of the day when there are a few minutes of down time available. There’s great value in just being human with your team.

Listening is a key skill and it goes along with being fully present with your team members. We can listen for information and understanding, but going beyond this means we can also get a sense of how someone is doing. Spend time getting to know people and what’s important to them. How is their family life, what are their interests? Look for ways to help if you can. When we become more senior it’s easy to forget the positive impact we can have on our team by giving them our time and attention. Some of the best leaders I have worked with and for have had the innate ability to make their team feel valued and important, despite the pressures and demands on their own time.

Finally - join in. Relating to others needs a fun element as well. Whether you love it or hate it, being prepared to join in when the team does fun things together either at or outside work is an important way to show that you are human. I know clients who hate the office night out, but they go along for a chunk of time, make sure they participate and speak to everyone, and then bow out gracefully at 10pm, leaving a generous tab behind the bar!

Far enough ahead to inspire

You stay ahead of your team by having something meaningful, encouraging or insightful to contribute on a regular basis. That requires self management and learning.

Self management - to inspire, you need to make sure that the best version of you shows up to work. That means rest, nutrition and hydration so that you aren't tired, fuzzy or grouchy. Everyone has their off days for sure, but you cannot deliver as a Boss if you don't look after yourself.

Staying far enough ahead also means you need to be reflecting on how the business is going and where it needs to grow. It’s your job as the leader to show up every morning and point the team towards the horizon. So spending time reflecting on what the horizon is for you and the team becomes a prerequisite to inspire and keep the team focussed on working together towards your goals.

As Harry Truman said - Leaders are Readers. Studying and finding inspiration in the writings of others is an important way to discover wisdom that you can use to bring encouragement to your team. In addition, we must remember that mastery of anything requires a commitment to continuous development. We need to be learning about new ways of relating to, training, mentoring and developing our teams. Doing so gives us greater confidence and that confidence in who we are and what we’ve achieved helps us to not just inspire, but to be an inspiration. These things add weight to the likelihood that you will continually be someone who inspires their team and spurs them on to greater things both individually and collectively.

Being the Boss doesn't mean that you need to either be a dictator or a doormat. There is a happy tension to be held between these two extremes, if you are prepared to be close enough to relate, and far enough ahead to inspire.

For more Great Boss tips and advice, be sure to subscribe to my weekly ‘Great Boss One Minute Monday” Club.

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