B is for Boss


Carolyn Blunt looks back at her career and identifies how we can all become better leaders.

It was 1998.  A typical day for me in my role as team leader.  I leave the office every night, my head in a spin after a day of heavy fire-fighting but without any feeling of real accomplishment.  I try to think back to why I became a manager in the first place.

I thought managing people would be at least a little bit enjoyable and certainly a little bit strategic, but lately all I feel like I am is a glorified babysitter.

My last great boss

I try to think back to the last great boss I had.  He was down to earth, approachable but also business-like and professional.

He commanded respect.

People wouldn’t dream of taking the quibbles and gripes to him that they bring to me!

And then it dawned on me.  I was allowing that.

Somehow I had sent out a message that it was OK to bring issues and squabbles to me when really they should be capable of resolving them amongst themselves.  Somehow, in my eagerness to please as a new manager I had taken some of the mantras of leadership, such as being genuinely interested, listening and being approachable, too far and was allowing my team to steal my time and effectively walk all over me.

I thought again about my last great boss.  He was firm but fair with everyone. He did not have an ego problem, power or control issues – he put the organisation and the team before himself, but not at the expense of getting the job done.  He was open and honest; if the answer to a request or idea was no, he explained why.  He showed respect, both for himself and everyone else.  He treated everyone equally –regardless of ‘status’ or role.  He coached me through questioning, not telling.  He was sociable but always ultimately professional.

Since that light-bulb moment in 1998 I have done plenty of reading and research on the topic of leadership.  I have trained thousands of leaders.  They have all noted similar qualities when talking about their experiences of great bosses.

Employee engagement

It is interesting to note that the qualities shared about great bosses are similar to those identified by Avolio and Bass in their ‘Transformational Leadership’ model and by Alimo-Metcalfe in her model of what is needed for true ‘employee engagement’.

The concepts are both robust and have the same purpose – to develop leaders who will motivate and inspire employees to give their discretionary effort.  Towers Perrin Research (2004) found that organisations that achieved employee engagement showed a 17% improvement on operating profit.  We know that each of us have in us approximately 20% discretionary effort each day.  On a good day we may choose to give that effort.  On a bad day we hold it back – we just cruise the through the day on survival mode.

Are your staff giving that discretionary effort or is cruising allowed?

Positive feedback

As an effective manager you must give feedback – both positive and adjusting – so that your staff know the standards required.  Positive feedback should be specific, public and genuine.  Look for something to praise a member of your team every day and rotate the team member receiving the praise fairly.  You may have to go looking for things to praise, but it is a good habit to get into.  Ask their internal customers for feedback, earwig into conversations, and ask for ideas, opinions or volunteers.  All of these create opportunities to praise.

Everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job, so don’t hold back – it is the easiest and most cost-effective solution to an immediate feel-good factor for your staff.

It may seem a little strange to be discussing corrective feedback when we want to be motivating and inspiring our staff, but ask yourself this question: if you don’t give corrective feedback what happens?

Team members cruising below standard

You may have a team member who cruises below standard and yet for whatever reason,  you don’t address it.  Your star performers pick up the slack but slowly and surely they become (quite rightly) disgruntled at having to do so.

Other team members start to think ‘if they can get away with it so will I’ and a culture permeates where it is okay to have longer lunches, arrive a little later, leave a little earlier, spend hours on social networking websites and make long personal phone calls.  All of these erode productivity and ultimately the team, department and organisational performance.

If you dislike giving ‘criticism’ think of it as ‘adjusting feedback’.

Giving feedback

The team member has drifted slightly off course and you are going to adjust them back on track.  Giving this feedback now means they have not deviated too far from the norm.  Wait a while and you will have a bigger problem on your hands.

Follow this simple structure:

  1. Ask for permission to give some feedback. (They will be used to you doing this and don’t know if you are going to give praise or adjustment.  If it genuinely is not a good time, agree a suitable alternative – but it must be that day).
  2. Tell them what you saw/heard (this keeps it to specific behaviour not personality).
  3. Ask them what they are going to do about it (or to soften it, ask what can we do about that?).
  4. Agree together a way forward.  Ensure this is followed through, if not return to step 1. and this time add some consequences to steps 3 and 4.

Think about your team.  Do you set standards of performance or standards of excellence?

Every manager has elements of their role that they like and elements that they like less or even hate!  Think about the three words: people, task and process.  Which are you spending your time on?

If someone has a preference for ‘people’ they will be concerned with ‘helping’ others, would not wish to be seen as ‘cold’ or ‘unfeeling’.  They will empathise and be considerate but may become totally immersed in people issues, leaving the other parts of the triangle (task and process) neglected.

If someone has a preference for ‘task’  they will be focused on achieving results, have a strong sense of urgency and be assertive.  However, others may see them as competitive, controlling and blunt.  They might be so focused on getting things done that the people and process elements might be overlooked.

Those with a preference for ‘process’ need to get things right.  They are focused on correctness, order, logic and have a strong sense of fairness and personal integrity.  However, they would rather be right than be popular!  If they are too task focused they can be seen as unemotional, detailed and cautious.  They will go out of their way to minimise risk and conduct lengthy analysis if needed – even if the task and people elements are suffering.

Are you too focused on your natural preference?  What might you be neglecting?

Follow these steps and it could leave you with less fire-fighting to do and more time to focus on the strategic elements of your role that were the reason you became a manager in the first place.

Remember those?


Carolyn Blunt

Real Results Training is a contact centre consultancy providing people development solutions.

Other articles in this series:

A is for Assertiveness
C is for Customer

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 7th Sep 2011 - Last modified: 11th Dec 2017
Read more about - Call Centre Management, , ,

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1 Comment
  • I really like this article and its focus on the importance of management behaviours as well as technique. Every manager should take the time to sit back and take a 10,000 foot view of themselves regularly. We can all do our job better but the metrics of evaluation for a manager can be quite hard to establish – it has to come from within

    Paul Miller 8 Sep at 11:52