Georgina Guedes

Be a better boss

2011-12-15 12:46

Very few people in South Africa will deny that 2011 has been one long bitch of a year. Everyone’s feeling a little exhausted and grumpy, and if you’re at the office today, the hours are probably crawling by until you can reasonably leave.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked full-time in someone else’s office, but I can still remember the gut-tightening frustrations of having my time owned by someone else. I’ve worked for some great people, so what follows isn’t a diatribe against all bosses, but in my experience, these are some things that all employers could improve on to make their workplaces happy places. If you’re a boss, think about these in the year to come.

1. Accept that your employees have lives
Remember that many people don’t define themselves by what it is that they do for you. By this, I don’t mean that you need to remember birthdays (although it helps), but acknowledge that some choices that your employees make are for their benefit and not yours. Accept that, and let the working mom take a morning off to watch her daughter swim in that gala.

2. Communicate
This appears in just about every self-help manual and motivational poster for a reason: most people are rubbish at it. If there are rumours or uncertainty bringing people down, you would do far better to tell the truth, even if it’s a little hard to bear, than to leave all your staff hanging. Likewise, confront difficult issues, even if it’s tough.

3. Interact
I’m the first person to avoid the company day out at Sun City, but there are loads of ways to interact with your staff to remind them that you are also human. Adopt an open-door policy, spend some time chatting as you walk past their desks. Take time to praise, comment or ask instead of only getting involved when there’s a problem.

4. Treat everyone equally
Of course you have favourites – it’s natural – but remember that showing it will lose you favour in everyone else’s books. In fact, if there’s someone who you prefer to everyone else, make a specific point of treating others with similar levels of interest and concern. If you employ friends of family, be very careful to be even-handed in your management of them.

5. Examine your own prejudices
As an employer, you must be beyond reproach. Think about the kind of language you use and whether it indicates any subtle racism, ageism or sexism. Although you may think that people should have a sense of humour, not everyone does, and as the big (wo)man at the top, you’re the one responsible for creating a harmonious environment for all. Be quick to act against anyone else who transgresses this.

6. Follow through on promises
If you say you’re going to do something, make sure you do it. If for some reason you can’t, explain why and apologise. Don’t hope that it will go away or that people will forget. And never, ever make an empty promise to motivate staff. The ones who worked hardest will be less inclined to make even the minimum effort in future.

7. Acknowledge your own faults
As the person in charge, you might be inclined to try and create the sense that you are infallible. Not only is this dishonest, but it doesn’t win you any admiration. People who acknowledge their weak areas and ask for support in those go a long way to building a team in which everyone does their bit and respects the part that everyone else has to play.

8. Accept that your impressions may be wrong
On so many occasions I’ve seen uninvolved bosses jumping to conclusions based on scant evidence. “She’s rude to her co-workers” or “She has a lot of personal problems” are often dished out based on one or two instances that they have encountered. Remember that what you see only comprises a small part of what goes on in your employees’ working days, and if you truly suspect a problem, do a bit of research before forming any lasting opinions.

9. Remember to say thank you
Again, this is one for the boss’s manual, but so often overlooked. Appreciation should be shown often, not just at year-end or in the financials speech. Try to express thanks at the conclusion of every job, every deadline, every extra hour worked or even every day. If this sounds like too often for you, it isn’t for the people who work every day to make your company a success.

10. Give a little
In these tight times, many companies are stretched to provide financial rewards for staff. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t be generous in other ways. If there’s nothing much going on at the office, let your staff go home early. Buy pizza for everyone on a Friday afternoon. Don’t cut every corner that benefits your staff to protect your bottom line. Asking them not to make power shakes with the office milk is fine, but cancelling the office milk altogether will create bitterness.

Next week, I’ll tackle how to be a better employee, because, as you can see, I treat everyone equally.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer and corporate communicator. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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