A caring boss matters most

The most important relationship in any business is that between the boss and employee.

In a major survey of 2 million workers by Gallup, people rated having a caring boss as more important than how much money they earned. Another study by the Harris Association reported that 40 percent of those who rated their supervisor as poor also said they were likely to leave their current position.

The data support an important reality: that people most often leave workplaces due to poor bosses (not the organization). How employees feel about their jobs and organizations has everything to do with how their manager treats them. People who feel cared for and appreciated are more motivated and are better performers. Those with employee-retention concerns need look no further than this critical relationship — and invest in its improvement.

There is little tolerance in today’s workplace for the boss who is a bully, insensitive or dictatorial. It is, in fact, a leading cause of career derailment. Successful organizations recognize the high cost of the emotional wake of the non-caring and out-of-touch manager. Unchecked, the command/control approach has the potential for creating a tidal wave of exiting talent that few organizations can afford.

Unfortunately, I run across a surprising number of managers with these traits in my executive coaching practice (most have been identified as “problems” and are seeking help). Sadly, most are unaware of their impact on their employees and peers. “360s” or peer reviews are often illuminating. They often lack self-awareness and seem oblivious to how they have contributed to the problem. When challenged, they are quick to blame others, rarely stopping to look in the mirror. Part of my job as a coach is helping them do just that.

In contrast, caring (or emotionally intelligent) managers are typically self-aware, optimistic and tuned in to their people in a way that conveys sensitivity and concern. These are the bosses that bring out the best in their people by:

  • Paying attention. They read their emotional cues for signs of anxiety, fear and defensiveness and then act accordingly.
  • Remaining connected even during difficult interpersonal interactions. Instead of pulling away, threatening, avoiding or “defending,” they are authentic and genuine about how they are feeling (even to the point of vulnerability).
  • Responding with empathy and sensitivity when their people are hurting.
  • Being more positive than negative (preferring the carrot to the stick). They are careful when offering critical feedback (focusing on the behavior versus making it “personal”).
  • Recognizing effort (not expecting perfection) and using mistakes/failures as learning opportunities versus a cause to punish, belittle and/or embarrass.
  • Providing support (even when challenging poor decisions) and communicating clear expectations for changed behaviors moving forward.

To work on improving being perceived as a more “caring” boss:

  • Become a better observer. Focus on how you affect others (watch for nonverbal cues). When you notice signs of trouble (body posture turned away, crossed arms, frowns, pursed lips or sudden silence), check in and ask what’s going on for them. Find out if some word or action of yours might have been misunderstood.
  • Be alert to your own nonverbals — the cues you may give off that convey, “I’m not interested” (sighs, looking at your watch, not looking up from your computer when the employee walks in).
  • Seek feedback on how your interpersonal leadership style is working (or not). Ask what they want more of (or less of) from you. Given most employees’ natural reluctance to give bosses critical feedback, you must ask in a way that conveys that you sincerely want to know. How you react when they tell you will determine whether or not they ever tell you again. If you shoot the messenger or get defensive, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.
  • Strive to offer more positive than negative comments. Most leaders are too stingy with praise. University of Washington relationship guru John Gottman recommends a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative comments to improve personal relationships.
  • Turn off that ego voice in your head that quickly wants to judge and weigh in with, “I disagree,” or “I know what’s best.” Consider that how you are perceived by your people may at times be more important than being “right.”
  • Listen well. Most bosses I see are impatient and interrupt others in their zeal for quick action. I have never heard a boss criticized for listening too much!

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Technology and Communication Challenges

In today’s workplace, we face a dizzying array of options to communicate. Which do you choose: e-mail, phone, voice mail tag, text messaging, instant messaging (“IMing”), paper notes, blogs, face to face, conference calls, Skype, Facetime or yelling over the cubicle wall?

There are many things to consider before deciding.

  • Is what I need to communicate critical, requiring immediate attention or an FYI?
  • Who is my audience and who else might potentially hear/read it?
  • Does this need to be documented or tracked?
  • How can I relay the message to lessen the odds of it being misunderstood?

There are also generational preferences to consider. In general, boomers (1946-64) still prefer the phones they grew up with, Gen X (1965-82) is big into e-mail, while the youngest members of today’s work force, the “net generation” or the Millennials (1982-now), strongly prefer real-time communication technologies such as IMing and texting.

Adding to the complexity are project managers preferring to use the latest software tracking devices and internal “techno jargon,” which may be Latin to the rest of us.

My favorite: “Joe — pls frwd kernal with IPSec immediately — system compromise imminent!” which left me wondering if something in the produce department needed a prescription. And we thought the “women are from Venus and men are from Mars” challenge was complex!

Breakdowns are inevitable — boomers leaving endless voice mails to Millennials, who respond by text (to some who still haven’t figured out how to read them), then wonder why they get no response.

The loops seem endless. E-mails, voice mails, texts — what do you respond with this time, and did I or didn’t I already?

Messages get lost, follow-up doesn’t happen and the communication gap widens, leading to missed expectations, confusion and frustration.

Granted, new technologies offer advantages. IMing and text offer immediacy and convenience, making them very popular with the on-the-go, ready, fire, aim (and get it done) worker.

On the con side, deciphering “tone” with an IM is almost impossible (no voice or nonverbal cues), there’s no paper trail or documentation (think follow-up) and the messages often interrupt co-workers trying to get work done.

Boomers complain that IMs interrupt their focus, yet for the youngest members of the work force, this poses no problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of recent college grads did homework while instant messaging (while their incredulous boomer parents wondered how they could focus).

E-mail has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it allows for documentation and a way to look back and check what was communicated (or agreed to).

On the con side, those long strings are irritating and time-consuming to decipher what action is required, and e-mails get lost in the hundreds that pile into people’s inboxes each day.

One of my pet peeves about e-mail is professionals who hide behind it, using it to avoid having an uncomfortable face-to-face conversation while claiming they are “communicating.”

What you can do:

  • Find out what medium your co-workers (and boss!) prefer. Let them know preferences (tell them if you typically turn off your instant messaging option so you can work in the morning or if you don’t check e-mail at night).
  • If the message is critical, relay it by several means. For example, start with a phone call (and/or text), back up critical points in an e-mail and follow it up with a face-to-face visit. If you find yourself in voice mail tag jail, suggest a best time to reach you or moving the communication over to e-mail.
  • Find out if your company has any user policies and/or guidelines.
  • What you say can be used against you. IMs can be copied and saved. Don’t say anything in any form that you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or that can damage your reputation, credibility or that of your company.
  • Learn how to use current technologies and the shortcut language (ask for help from your Millennial co-worker).
  • Avoid using text, IM or e-mail for sensitive or difficult conversations. With no nonverbal cues to help us decipher intent and meaning, there is simply too much left to interpretation.

Maybe I’m old school (I will out myself as a boomer), but I firmly believe that the best way to improve working relationships with co-workers is via human connection.

In my book, face to face is still the preferred method to communicate anything sensitive, of importance or that might be potentially misunderstood.  I like to hear the person’s tone of voice to decipher urgency and importance and look into their eyes to see how they are reacting to my request or challenge.  Most of today’s technology leaves out body language and tone clues.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com