During his tenure as Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage often met with newly appointed American ambassadors just prior to their departure to their countries of assignment. In one such meeting in 2002, he gave the following admonition to an ambassador, “You can negotiate treaties, write great political dispatches, and make the officials of the host country like you. But, if at the end of your tour of duty, the staff of your embassy can’t say they were better off for your having been there, you’re a (expletive deleted) failure.”
Never one to mince words or dance around an issue, Armitage outlined in these few words the key to being a great boss – focus on your people.
The U.S. military has a motto, “Mission first, People always.” What this means, and how it relates to the Armitage directive is simply this; if you as a leader take care of your subordinates, they will take care of you, and get the job done.
As a boss, you are responsible for the job getting done, not doing the job yourself. That’s what the other people in the organization are there for. Your task is to create conditions that enable your team to, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “Get ‘er done.”
Easier said than done, you might say. When you’re the person in charge, you’re expected to get results, and you have no time to experiment with leadership fads. The flat organization with empowered people sounds good on paper, but how do you make it a reality? First, let us acknowledge that leadership is not easy. But, the philosophy of empowering people is no fad. From infantry platoons to factory floors, history has shown that leaders who care for and motivate their people are more successful in the long term.
So, how do you go about becoming a ‘great boss?’ Here are a few hints on how to become the boss you’d like to have, and the kind of boss you need to be if you want to be successful.
- Let your people know that you value them as individuals. Every individual, given the right training and resources, can make a positive contribution to the organization. It’s your responsibility as the boss to ensure they have what they need to succeed. Their success is your success, and if they know that you value their success, they will work to achieve yours.
- Encourage work-life balance. People who are encouraged to develop themselves as well-rounded individuals bring more value to the workplace. Family and friends provide a support structure that enables the individual to be more effective at work.
- Use positive reinforcement. People do what they are rewarded for. Singling out good performance and publicly acknowledging it, fosters further good performance, not just in the individual honored, but all others who observe it.
- Learn to listen. No one has all the answers. Learn to listen to your subordinates and use their knowledge to build your own.
- Lead from the front. The U.S. Army infantry motto is “follow me.” If you are out front and demonstrating the direction in which the organization should go, others will follow.
- Take the blame, give the credit. As the boss, you will be credited by your superiors for the good things your organization does. Never forget, though, without followers committed to your goals, you achieve nothing. Give them the credit for the organization’s achievements. In the same vein, if the organization fails, you are the person responsible. Never blame your subordinates for failure; instead, look at what you could have done to make it possible for them to succeed.
- Make the hard decisions, and then move on. Your job as the boss is to make the decisions, good or bad. This sometimes means you will have to do things that will make someone feel bad. As long as you communicate clearly the reason for the decision, and then don’t dwell on it, the people in the organization will understand and respect you for it.
- Walk the talk. Set the standards of achievement and behavior for your organization, and then model those standards in everything you do or say. Whether you like it or not, your subordinates will look not at what you say, but what you do, and their actions will be shaped by that. The key to effective leadership is to gain the trust and respect of your followers.