Do You Manage Like a King?

Last Updated Sep 21, 2011 9:56 AM EDT

Are you a good boss?

Business owners and managers use different criteria to evaluate their leadership skills. You may focus on whether your team accomplishes major goals. Or on how many of your employees develop new skills or get promotions. Or maybe you focus largely on the bottom line.

Those approaches -- and others -- have their merits, but here's another take:

The more your employees think about you, the worse you are as a leader. If your employees always have you in mind, you're not charismatic or influential, at least not in a good way. You're not a leader -- you're like a king.

When that is the case, you or your company may set standards but to your employees those standards won't be priorities. You may set goals but those goals won't be important. You may establish guidelines and rules and processes, but whether employees follow them won't matter.

When you're a king, what matters the most to your employees? You -- and the very large shadow cast by your royal personage.

Here's an example. I worked in a book manufacturing plant, so theoretically we focused on productivity and quality. We had all the charts and reports to prove it. But when my boss called every night to check in, he didn't ask how we were running. Instead he wanted to know the scoop on other departments. He was incredibly, um, political, and wanted to be prepared for his morning meetings with the plant manager and other department heads. He loved to leverage issues in other departments to make himself look good -- and to make others look bad.

So what did we do?

We ran books but we were also constantly trying to dig up dirt for him. If we didn't come up with anything good he was disappointed and sometimes even angry. We thought about him constantly because we never knew when he would call, or how many times a night he would call... and we needed to be ready. Our duty was clear, despite the fact that duty didn't appear on our job descriptions or the company mission statement.

Take a look at how you operate:
  • What questions do you ask? What is truly most important to your business and therefore your team? Is that the focus of your questions? If you claim to value your employees, do you frequently check in with them to ask if they need any help or to see how they're doing? The questions you ask on a regular basis signal your real priorities.
  • What gets you "energized"? Think about what is most likely to upset or frustrate you. If you say you're concerned about quality but you really get worked up by schedule delays, your employees will soon realize "when in doubt, ship it out" is the guideline to follow.
  • What example do you set? If managing up is your priority, for example, your employees will catch on -- and will manage you the same way. When you hide bad news from your boss, your employees assume managing information is more important than managing operations.
Employees should think about productivity, quality, teamwork, achieving goals... in short, about doing a great job. When you're a great leader, your employees rarely think about you.

They don't need to, because the shadow you cast aligns perfectly with the goals and values of your business.

Related: Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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