Friday, May 04, 2012

Geoffrey James on "Extraordinary" Bosses

Ever since I signed up to LinkedIn, I've received regular emails with links to interesting articles on business, prompting me to re-evaluate a lot of the old views on business that I used to hold, and I've since come to see business as a very creative, impressive human endeavor, not merely a practical necessity that I hoped to personally avoid by getting into academia. Just a few days ago, I clicked a link to an article by Geoffrey James for a publication called Inc. The article was titled "8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses" (April 23, 2012), and I found these eight beliefs fascinating:
1. Business is an ecosystem, not a battlefield.
2. A company is a community, not a machine.
3. Management is service, not control.
4. My employees are my peers, not my children.
5. Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.
6. Change equals growth, not pain.
7. Technology offers empowerment, not automation.
8. Work should be fun, not mere toil.

Those eight as an abstract list perhaps don't look so impressive, but if you read the article, they get filled in, and so do you. Take number three:
Average bosses want employees to do exactly what they're told. They're hyper-aware of anything that smacks of insubordination and create environments where individual initiative is squelched by the "wait and see what the boss says" mentality.

Extraordinary bosses set a general direction and then commit themselves to obtaining the resources that their employees need to get the job done. They push decision making downward, allowing teams form their own rules and intervening only in emergencies.

I know, I know. My readers in business are thinking, "Where have you been?" Well . . . elsewhere. But I'm hanging around now, eavesdropping, and I'm finding the insights both fascinating and useful. In this instance -- number 3, I mean -- such average bosses, or more accurately, bad bosses, are found everywhere, even in the academic world. We've all had the professor, the chairperson, the dean, or the university president who fits the profile of the 'average' boss, but we've also had those who turned out to be extraordinary bosses.

Some of the characteristics of extraordinary bosses remind me of what Jim Whitehurst, "president and chief executive of Red Hat," said about leaders. Consider the fifth core belief of extraordinary bosses listed by James:
Extraordinary bosses inspire people to see a better future and how they'll be a part of it.  As a result, employees work harder because they believe in the organization's goals, truly enjoy what they're doing and (of course) know they'll share in the rewards.

Recall from an earlier blog entry a quote lifted out of Whitehurst's remarks on good leadership:
[F]or any business there are three levels of leadership. One is getting somebody to do what you want them to do. The second is getting people to think what you want them to think; then you don't have to tell them what to do because they will figure it out . . . . [The third and] best is getting people to believe what you want them to believe, and if people really fundamentally believe what you want them to believe, they will walk through walls. They will do anything.

All of us good employees -- including those of us employed in the academic world of teaching -- prefer the extraordinary boss who can inspire in the way that Whitehurst describes.

But how would an extraordinary boss deal with a bad employee?

Labels: , ,


At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoffrey makes good points in distinguishing between average and extraordinary bosses. As a “boss”, i.e. Sr. Manager in the IT division of a global company, I have “managed” well over 1,000 associates and contractors over the past 12 years or so. One of our company’s mantras has always been “Listen to your customers and associates. They will tell us what needs to change or improve.” Relating that to IT, we have to know what our business is, how it functions at the fundamental level, build relationships with our business partners, and collaborate across the board to develop systems which are user friendly, easy to understand/use, cost effective, and delivery a significant Return On Investment (ROI) for the company.

No one person can do all of this without leaning on the talents of those around him. In my world, those who try, usually fail. I have always entrusted and empowered my associates with the freedom to make decisions and work out solutions. This does not diminish my responsibility, but rather enhances it. I am not burdened with the “nuts and bolts” as I have confidence my team will take care of them. I concentrate more on how to better develop my team. Looking at what technologies are on the horizon we may be able to adapt to our business. Working with our business partners on where we want to improve.

One of the keys to developing this type of environment is getting your team to TRUST you. They have to know you will speak up on their behalf, give them the credit for accomplishments, defend them when needed, AND coach or discipline the “bad” ones quickly and fairly. This last point is typically the hardest one for many managers. Giving your team freedom to collaborate, make decisions, and create solutions, does NOT mean they can just do anything they want. There are still fundamental rules and policies of every business and government to abide by. It is my responsibility, as a manager, to ensure my team knows those fundamentals and rules and to keep them working within those guidelines. I do this with team meetings, 1-on-1 discussions, Open Door sessions, and always being available for them to talk about anything they want to discuss. If I need to discipline or coach an associate, I do so in a private setting so I can hear the associate’s side of the issue, and fully explain why the incident warrants a coaching or why their behavior was not acceptable. We managers have guidelines on how to conduct these types of meeting, but are also given the freedom to decide how to deal with them. While we can “fire on the spot” for egregious violations of company policies or violations of the law, most cases do not rise to that level. If an associate continues to disregard the policies and rules, they will certainly be allowed to seek employment elsewhere.

I apologize this is so long, however; it just scratches the surface of the intricacies of dealing with intelligent motivated people who truly want to make a difference in their workplace and for society. The old “Do as I say…Or else” attitude has little to no relevance in today’s business environment.


At 7:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Korean businesses have yet to learn these things.

No need to apologize for the length of your comment. It's welcome.

I think that I should include you among people to be interviewed . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home