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Are You that Boss?
June 18, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen


This post started with a conversation Pete and I had about a client the other day. This person is a senior exec team member of a business we’re working with. High potential guy, perhaps CEO material, but with some patterns of behavior that undermine his performance and his credibility. As we brainstormed ways we could offer to help Pete declared, “What he really needs is a boss!” That prompted one of the best 10 minute discussions I’ve had in the past year.

 Have you ever had a boss who managed to get more out of you than you though you had? That man or woman who helped you to perform at your best more often than any other leader/manager you’ve worked for? And … are you that boss?
I have been asking clients these questions over the past few weeks, and this morning I had this conversation with a large group of leaders from a client company. Here are some things I’ve learned from my questions:
  • Almost half the people I’ve talked with have never had “that boss.” Think about that for a minute.
  • About a third of the people who spoke with me cited a high school or college coach as “that boss.”
  • The remainder, about 10 percent, have had neither. They have never experienced being challenged/supported to do more than they thought they could, and have never had a role model to show them how to do that for others.
  • When I asked people to describe “that boss” these are the common themes:

    • Accessible and helpful – I am important to him/her
    • Positive and encouraging vs. negative or threatening
    • Paints a picture of what I/we can be
    • Demands my/our best
    • Coaches and delivers constructive feedback
    • Walks the talk about both values and performance
    • Authentic and genuine
Are you that boss? You can be. Here are three simple strategies to help you get more out of your people more often. First, schedule regular one-on-ones with your direct reports. Give yourselves time to go deep on an issue or two, so block out at least 90 minutes and have a standing general agenda. That agenda might include their burning issues, your burning issues, a review of their annual and long term goals, their progress developing their people, and their own development. Don’t expect to cover every category every time. Second, ask your people what they need from you to perform at their best more often. Are you clear about your expectations? Are you setting the bar high enough? Are you giving them enough autonomy? Enough authority? Enough feedback? Enough pizza? Finally, pay attention to your own development needs as a leader. We all hit plateaus, so think hard about what challenges and support you need to continue your own growth.
Be that boss your people need, so they can be that boss for their people.


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