Comedian Jerry Clower once pointed how important it is to know who the boss is in any given situation. For him it was easy: he figured that once he signed a contract, whoever hired him became his boss, at least for that engagement. But sometimes it’s not that cut-and-dried.
There are people who carry titles of leadership who really don’t lead; despite what it may say on his or her business card, someone else is really running the show. Sometimes that is due to The Peter Principle, but sometimes it happens because the boss’s boss isn’t a good leader, either, and refuses to let your boss do his/her job.
It’s that last one that doesn’t seem to get addressed often enough. Scour the website and you’ll find plenty of posts on the qualities of a good leader, which is great. Sometimes, though, you can tell good leadership based on a single thing: Expectations. Good leaders seem to want the same things of their employees. For example:
- They want ongoing information, not alarms. Too many companies operate under a constant series of fire alarms. Good leaders want to know about potential issues before the project has gone off the rails.
- They want answers, not just questions. Good leaders have multiple plates spinning all the time; anyone who discovers a problem is probably closer to the project than you are, and should have ideas on how to fix things. The best bosses train their people to bring potential solutions to the table–not just problems.
- They want brevity. If you’ve got people you trust under you, you don’t need to know every detail, every time. Good leaders insist on only the most pertinent facts, not long-winded explanations that force them to micro-manage.
- They hate meetings. If you’re finding your people are in meetings more than they’re at their desks, you might want to examine your leadership methods: effective leaders acknowledge that meetings need to happen, but they prefer them short, focused, and goal-driven. They also expect people to know why the meeting is happening before they get to the conference room … and know what is expected of them by the time they leave.
- They want appropriate communication. Meetings are essential … but not if the issue can easily be handled in a phone call. Phone calls are efficient … but only if the message is too complex for an email. Great leadership pushes for the most appropriate forms of communication.
- They want clear communication, too. A sort of addendum to #5, efficient bosses desire clarity in their messaging: descriptive subject lines, bullet lists, clear use of pronouns, concise information.
- They want people who disagree with them. No truly effective leader is surrounded by “yes” people; in fact, the best leaders look to hire talent that is smarter than they are. There is no shortage of opinions, from news outlets to social media to the so-called Voice of the Customer. Good managers are on the lookout for people with enough knowledge to have an informed opinion … and enough passion to give that opinion voice. On the other hand …
- They want a clear chain of command. It’s one thing to want opinions and information from your team; arguments and resentment, however, just slow things down. It’s your job, at the end of the day, to make sure your team knows YOU are the leader. That’s not an ego thing: your job is to look at the big picture and make the hard decisions. Any fallout is going to land on your shoulders.
- They want accomplishment, not just activity. No good boss wants to hear “I’m too busy.” For one thing, if you’re the boss, you should know how busy your people are. And more importantly, your job is to focus on the results that come from a busy team. If your employees are always staying late, working weekends, and still falling behind … you may need to make changes.
- They want trust. If you don’t have faith in your superiors, it undercuts everything you do for them. As a great leader, you want your team to totally believe that you have their backs, that you’ll shelter them instead of blaming them, that you won’t let them be mistreated. Employees need to know that they are free to screw up; that’s not saying there won’t be consequences, but it does mean they feel confident you’re not going to throw them under the bus.
If you’re a great leader, people will want to work for you. They’ll want to go above and beyond for you, because they understand they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.