It’s Okay To Be The Boss

Too many leaders, managers and supervisors are failing to lead, manage and supervise. They simply do not take charge on a day-to-day basis. They fail to spell out expectations every step of the way, track performance constantly, correct failure and reward success. They are afraid to, or they don’t want to, or they just don’t know how to. All across the workplace, at all levels of organizations in every industry, there is a shocking and profound lack of daily guidance, direction, feedback and support for employees. This is what I call “undermanagement”—the opposite of micromanagement.

Undermanagement is costing organizations a fortune every day. It robs so many employees of the chance to have positive experiences in the workplace, reach greater success, and earn more of what they need and want. It causes managers to struggle and suffer and deliver suboptimal results. It sours dealings with vendors and customers. It costs us all in so many ways. Undermanagement is not a household word like micromanagement, but it should be because its impact makes micro-management look like a molehill.

Why are most bosses so hands off? When I ask managers that question, they almost always give me some variant of the same reasons—I call them the top seven management myths in today’s workplace.

Management Myth 1: Empowerment The way to empower people is to leave them alone and let them manage themselves. What is the reality? Almost everybody performs better with more guidance, direction and support from a more experienced person.

Management Myth 2: Fairness The way to be fair is to treat everybody the same. What is the reality? What’s truly fair is doing more for some people and less for others, based on what they deserve—based on their performance.

Management Myth 3: Jerk Boss The only way to be strong is to act like a jerk and/or if you are a strong, highly engaged boss, then you will seem like a jerk. What is the reality? Almost always when a manager seems like a jerk, it’s because the manager is too weak, not because the manager is too strong. Who wants a weak boss? Weak employees, that’s who! Nobody else wants to be led by a false “nice guy” who is unwilling to own his/her authority and use it to help everybody succeed.

Management Myth 4: Difficult Conversation Being hands-off is the way to avoid confrontations with employees. What is the reality? Being a weak manager makes these confrontations inevitable, whereas being a strong manager means these confrontations rarely occur, and when they do happen they are not so painful after all.

Management Myth 5: Red Tape Managers are prevented from being strong because there are so many factors beyond their control—red tape, corporate culture, senior management, limited resources.  What is the reality? Focusing on the many factors that are within your control is the way to make yourself stronger. Meanwhile, learn the rules and red tape so you learn how to work within and around them (another way to increase your strength).

Management Myth 6: Natural Leader I am not “good at” managing. What is the reality? The best managers are people—natural or not—who learn proven techniques, practice those techniques diligently until they become skills, and continue practicing them until they become habits.

Management Myth 7: Time There’s isn’t enough time to manage people. What is the reality? Since your time is so limited, you definitely don’t have time to deal with all the things that go wrong when you do not spend enough time up-front managing people.

Almost always when a manager seems like a jerk, it’s because the manager is too weak, not because the manager is too strong.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to manage people. It’s always been hard and it’s getting harder every day. Most managers are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something, but not usually for the reason that they are especially good at managing people. Once promoted, most new managers receive very little in the way of effective management training, and management books and training they do receive are dominated by the false empowerment approach.

Being Boss is a Sacred Responsibility
In our training seminars, I teach frustrated managers to copy what the most effective managers do every day:

  • Get in the habit of managing every day in regular (daily or weekly) one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports.
  • Learn to talk like a coach or like a teacher.
  • Take it one person at a time. Customize your approach to every person.
  • Make accountability a process. Get people in the habit of giving an account of their performance.
  • Spell out expectations every step of the way.
  • Track performance in writing every step of the way.
  • Solve small problems before they turn into big problems.
  • Do more for some people and less for others based on what they deserve.

If you are the boss, it is your responsibility to make sure everything goes well. You have to make sure all the work is getting done very well, very fast, all day long. If you are the boss, employees look to you first when they need something, or when they want something, or when something is going wrong. If there’s a problem, you are the solution. If you are the boss, you are the one everyone is counting on.

Be the boss who says, “Great news, I’m the boss! I consider that a sacred responsibility. I’m going to make sure that everything goes well around here. I’m going to help you get a bunch of work done very well, very fast, all day long. I’m going to set you up for success every step of the way. I’m going to spell out expectations for you every step of the way. I’m going to help you plan. I’m going to work with you to clarify goals, guidelines, and specifications. I’m going to help you break big deadlines into smaller time frames with concrete performance benchmarks.

I’m going to go over standard operating procedures. I’m going to offer reminders. I’m going to provide checklists and other tools. I’m going to help you keep track of what you are doing and how you are doing it every step of the way. I’m going to help you monitor and measure and document your success every step of the way. I’m going to help you solve problems as soon as they occur, so they don’t fester and grow into bigger problems. I’m going to help you find the shortcuts, avoid the pitfalls and follow the best practices. Count on me. When you need something, I’m going to help you find it. When you want something, I’m going to help you earn it.”

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Bruce Tulgan Meet the Author
Bruce Tulgan is founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a management training firm. He is the author of several books, most recently It’s Okay To Manage Your Boss. He is based in New Haven, Connecticut, and on the Web at