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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  • JudithNkwe - 2011-12-15 13:47

    Thanks for the sensible pointers and things to set as real goals for 2012!

  • ruth.marais - 2011-12-15 14:16

    A very good, sensible piece of work. Well done!

  • Deon - 2011-12-15 14:19

    It perhaps helps a bit that your only employee is your wife. Only problem is that after 17h00 she is the boss.

  • Peter - 2011-12-15 15:23

    This is good pointers,thank you.Will try an apply accordingly.!!!

  • Phoenix - 2011-12-15 16:36

    So you missed the most important aspect of being a boss: listen.

  • Blade - 2011-12-15 16:51

    I just wish I could get some better wekkahs.

  • Jenny - 2011-12-15 16:51

    Some nice ideas...

  • Win - 2011-12-15 20:24

    Come on Georgina, this sounds like the 10 COMMANDMENTS. At best all this makes sense for middle managers in a company that makes lekker yearly profits from here to eternity. The big boss always has to have some "bite", some fear factor, otherwise nobody applies him/herself to the maximum. If you ever were a boss, you'd know this to be true. But just like with the 10 bible commandments being redundant if replaced by the one word and concept of "love", so your 10 precepts would be unnecessary if the company or the boss or your own intelligence would have implanted the true empowerment concept into you: THE LOVE FOR THE PRODUCT(s)of your company, from the doorman via the bookkeeper right up to the director level. You'd all be humming and singing.

  • derekneilmaclachlan - 2011-12-16 05:44

    As a boss I wait in anticipation for your next article on how to be a better employee!!

  • laurenelegrange - 2011-12-16 10:09

    Well said, thank you

  • Graham - 2011-12-17 13:44

    Time for bosses to be reasonable. My son in law works as a chef. He recently worked for guy, 7 days aweek, 12-14 hrs a day, no lunch, tea or pee break. All promises, but no contract in 2 months let alone registering him for PAYE. He took it off all for a measly R11000.00 per month. This is criminal. My son in law eventually walked out ready for a break down.

  • Sharon - 2011-12-17 15:35

    Ha the only way I could get my employees to remind me about their birthdays was by giving them the day off!! They were sure to remind me then! I told them that as long as they worked for me, they would never have to work on their birthday, because there is nothing worse than that. Of course, cake was required on the day before..

  • Vernon - 2011-12-19 08:19

    I am happy to say i live by most of your points ,but its always good to add to the list and have a look at yourself. the only problem is that if we send this list to our bosses ,they will most likely take offence,i will have to see how to get it to them,without them knowing where it came from.vernon

  • mbelebana - 2011-12-19 12:40

    Thanks, this was an eye opener for me especially when you have been there for so long, taking things for granted. I am glag that I read it.

  • Sharon - 2011-12-19 16:19

    I could add one point to your list - 11. Dont ask your staff to do anything you wouldn't be willing to do youself.

      Samantha - 2011-12-21 12:57

      Good one.

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