The infographic above stirred some controversy when I posted it earlier this week on LinkedIn (ironically, most of the haters hail from the UK, not sure what that means). I created it because I was sick of seeing posts touting the greatness of leadership and contrasting it with the evil of management or “the boss.” Those posts and memes typically come from armchair consultants and fantasy business-owners.
In my mind, we don’t need more leaders. We need more good bosses.
Hear me out. First of all, I speak from academic (MA in Organizational Leadership) and practical (15 years of working in/with corporations around the USA and abroad, developing employees and managers) experience. I’ve written 12 books, taught on the college level, and consulted in most every industry there is.
We don’t need more leaders. We need more good bosses.
The manager or “boss” is the backbone of any organization. The boss makes sure the trains run on time. The boss makes sure the work is properly distributed and completed. The boss keeps an eye on the budget, supplies, and customers. The boss has the most important responsibility in the organization. In fact, I hope it’s not lost on you that the executives featured on the CBS show Undercover Boss are not called undercover leaders. “Boss” is not the newest four-letter word in the urban dictionary.
There are only two kinds of bosses, good and bad. When people think about the boss, it’s usually a negative connotation. Bad bosses are written about, parodied on TV and in movies, and of course are the topic of conversation around the dinner table at night.
There are no excuses for a bad boss. Bad bosses should be fired. Rapidly.
Leaders are seen as the little angels on your right shoulder. They are touted as visionary, mindful, emotionally intelligent. They are reflective, big-picture thinkers and assume every employee is intrinsically motivated. All that’s needed are programs and career tracks that take into account an employee’s personal vision and motivations and everyone will live happily ever after.
Except that it rarely happens that way. And since it takes a boss to assume control of this Pollyanna culture and turn it around, we immediately think the boss needs leadership training. As if leadership was a skill that could be taught.
Smart people know that training won’t work, coaching will. Except that if a person doesn’t WANT to be more mindful, reflective, or visionary, it’s a waste of time. The only winner is the ICF certified coach. Bad bosses that don’t want to change and cannot be made into leaders. Leaders are not the immediate answer to falling profits, declining customers, unproductive employees, or changing markets. A good boss is.
Like the infographic, a good boss takes control and makes stuff happen. Rather than reflect and be mindful, they put hands on and get stuff done. Rather than agonize over the unproductive employees, trying to emulate a Google culture, or creatively incentivizing, they realize the best solution is to get rid of them. The good boss delegates to competent people. The good boss takes and shares the credit. The good boss also takes the blame. All of the blame. The good boss makes reading and improving skills a habit. The good boss reproduces others. The good boss has their hands on the controls and yet doesn’t have to have full control.
Contrast that with the archetypical leader, up on the mountain creating a vision, taking non-skill based courses through large profit-hungry training vendors. While they try to be mindful, chaos runs rampant. While they take time for reflection, the products are no longer selling. While they create and align their personal vision with the organizational vision, competition has already pinned their organization into a corner they’ll never get out of.
I had a really bad boss when I was in the Navy back in 1996. It was during the time I was enrolled in my Masters program in Organizational Leadership. He was the topic of one of my research papers. I took each of his bad behaviors and contrasted them with the favorable, leadership equivalent. I got a good grade. Except that my bad boss was just that, a bad boss, not a non-leader. Him learning leadership skills, being more mindful and reflective would not have made my life easier. He could have just learned a few skills to become a good boss.
You don’t replace an old toothbrush with a power washer, you get another toothbrush.
You don’t replace a worn-out car with a jet pack, you buy a new car.
You don’t replace a bad boss with a leader. You replace them with a good boss.
It’s good to be a good boss. A good boss is not an enemy.
So how about working to develop good bosses? We have enough visionaries. We need some people to get stuff done!