Building a Better BossHow can companies produce managers better equipped to inspire and engageemployees in an ever-more-competitive economy?By Maura C. CiccarelliCall it a rookie mistake at best or, at worst, the sign of a bad manager. Eitherway, its not good for business.Jack (not his real name), a manager for Luxembourg-based Intelsat, the global-satellite-communications company, met with his two direct reports, Sarah andJosé, saying he wanted to hear their ideas about a new project.Carrolyn Bostick, Intelsats vice president of talent management and humanresources, says Jack then made a common managerial mistake. "He asks,What do you think we should do? and then he proceeds to tell them whattheyre going to do and oh, by the way, that hed already cleared it with topmanagement."Talk about taking the wind out of a teams sails!Its no wonder Jack made such a blunder. About 58 percent of managers in arecent CareerBuilder survey reported that they received no training on how tobe a manager. For companies such as Intelsat, thats changing throughmanager-focused training, as well as new resources managers can call on toimprove their own skills, including recent books published on the art andscience of being a boss.To paraphrase the opening lines of the Six Million Dollar Man television show:"We can rebuild bosses. We have the knowledge. We have the capability."For Intelsat, that capability resides in its leadership excellence course formanagers and supervisors. Nearly 30 percent of the companys 1,200employees worldwide have supervisory or managerial responsibilities and allmanagers -- whether newly hired or promoted from within -- are required to takethe course.Jack, Sarah and José are really actors who bring to life common manager/teamdilemmas for Intelsats management students -- and they are so well-versed intheir roles that they can answer questions from the audience while staying incharacter. "We use interactive theater to hold a mirror up to what works andwhat doesnt," Bostick says. "It creates conversations about managing ourresources."Addressing how to build a better boss has become a hot topic in recent years.The challenge for companies lies in creating better bosses who drive
continuous improvement, inspire loyalty, and spark employee engagement -- allwith a leaner workforce and a more competitive economic environment.While some companies, such as Intelsat and Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo,have focused on improved managerial training, books on being a boss havealso proliferated. Four recent books -- Good Boss, Bad Boss; Being the Boss;From Bud to Boss and You Cant Fire Everyone -- take different tacks on howto become a better boss.All examine the challenges of being an effective, competent supervisor intodays more collaborative era. Most people yearn to work for good bosses,these authors contend, yet too many bosses are terrible managers who dontlisten to their employees, fail to grasp important concepts such as sharing creditand putting the needs of their direct reports first, and are ineffectivecommunicators.And yet, the authors maintain, a lot of it can be fixed if bosses are given theopportunity to actually learn the art and science of being a manager."On the Same Page"To address issues such as these, and ensure that its corporate values areunderstood and reflected by managers, Intelsat has been cascading theleadership program from top management down to first-line supervisorsthroughout its global locations. The effort began about 18 months ago, and wascreated internally with the assistance of outside consulting firms such as thePhiladelphia-based Hay Group.The program includes leadership-skill development, presentation training,executive coaching and classes on building business acumen. The goal, saysBostick, was to create a program to ensure "were all on the same page abouthow we lead in our company."To help managers better drive results, Intelsat stresses project management aspart of the program. "People need to treat their work as a project; that it has abeginning, middle and an end, so were teaching them project-managementskills," she says. "That means understanding who the key stakeholders are,what youre trying to deliver and establishing clear milestones."Many bosses, both new ones and veterans alike, dont know how to managepeople, according to Linda Hill and Kent Linebeck, authors of Being the Boss:The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. They vacillate between "Imthe boss!" and "Im your friend!" rather than understanding that the bestapproach is to establish trust among your direct reports and give them cleardirections and regular feedback.Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at HarvardBusiness School, and Linebeck, a writer and 30-year manager/executive,teamed up to distill their years of research and experience about howmanagers can learn to be more effective."If youre in a leadership role, youre expected to worry not just about today, but
also to worry about tomorrow," says Hill, so managers have to learn the threeimperatives covered in the book: how to manage themselves, their networksand their teams. Success comes from continually assessing progress on allthree fronts."The way you set priorities for the future comes not just from whether or not youare a strategic thinker but whether you have the right set of relationships," Hillsays. "If you havent built the right strategic network, you are not going to haveaccess to the insights and information of whats going on inside your company,or in the broader world."People who are good at defining the future are people who actually know howto build networks with people who are diverse, who expose them to differentperspectives and who bridge them to worlds theyre not normally connectedwith," she says. "Because only with that information can you begin to read theweak signals and the trends that you need to be responding to."In their book, Hill and Linebeck suggest that HR should help managers byguiding them through the political culture and its players. They also counselmanagers to recognize that there are two kinds of conflict: one based on egoand the other based on differing points of view. Managing the second kind well,they write, is what ultimately drives constructive change.The Power of Self-AwarenessBeyond strategic effectiveness, many people skills are required to be asuccessful boss. Thats a topic well-researched by Robert I. Sutton, best knownfor his book The No-Asshole Rule, in his latest book, Good Boss, Bad Boss:How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst.Inspiration came directly from the overwhelming response to The No-AssholeRule, says Sutton, professor of management science and engineering atStanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Time and again, the "asshole" peoplewrote him about was usually a boss. Others inquired how they could become abetter boss and learn to treat people with respect and become a better humanbeing in general.Suttons goal in writing the new book was to show how great bosses differ fromthe mediocre, the inept or, at worst, the destructive. "Its very hard, in general,for we human beings to recognize our weaknesses," says Sutton. "In general,the more incompetent we are, the less aware we are."The good news, he says, is that bosses can become better bosses whentheyre aware of their shortcomings and train themselves to adopt what he calls"the mind-set of a great boss." In his book, its a list of characteristics that startwith a balancing act he calls "[Tommy] Lasordas law," which maintains thatmanaging a team (athletic or otherwise) is like holding a dove in your hand.Hold it too tightly and you kill it. Hold it too loosely and you lose it."People who arent pushy enough are incredibly aware of their weaknesses andare always worrying," he says. "In fact, when I teach power and politics classes,they always sign up for them first. Those who are overbearing never sign up forthem."
Suttons observation is echoed by John Lilly, former CEO of Mozilla, makers ofthe Firefox web browser, and currently a venture capitalist with GreylockPartners. During the five years he spent helming Mozilla, its workforce jumpedfrom 15 to 600 employees."A part of being a good manager is not ever trusting that youre a goodmanager," says Lilly.Indeed, humility is a hallmark of a good boss, write Hill and Linebeck. Bosseswho take personal responsibility when something goes wrong with their projects-- in essence, who take the blame -- and, conversely, who give other peoplecredit for successes, are the most-respected bosses with the happiest teams,they write.Says Lilly, "When I thought of myself [as a manager], as an individualcontributor, I got frustrated. When you think of yourself as a main unit of work,you think of people who work with you as work resources to help with that goal.But when I began thinking of myself in terms of [being] a teacher and a guidewho could help them answer questions and teach them how to do things theymay not know, I [was] happier."Boss First, Friend SecondIts never easy being the boss, and it can be especially hard when your directreports are former co-workers. Learning consultant Kevin Eikenberry andtrainer/management coach Guy Harris looked at the struggles managers havewhen they are promoted to supervising their former co-workers and, frequently,friends, in From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to RemarkableLeadership.Moving into the bosss chair has three key transition areas, as outlined in thebook, Eikenberry says: "You go from dinner with your friend one week to havingto do their performance review the next, so its a transition of relationships. Itsalso a transition of skills, from when you used to be the best salesman and nowyou have to be the manager. The third transition is of perspective. You have tothink about the world differently now that youre the boss."Jen Wilson, vice president of human resources and loss prevention at GreatLakes Energy, a nonprofit rural electric cooperative based in Boyne, Mich.,says many of her companys managers rose through the ranks and begansupervising former co-workers and friends. Wilson herself experienced thetransition when, at age 24, she moved from dispatcher to manager and had tosupervise people who had been her peers, many of whom were older than her.She cites flexibility and humility as the keys to her success in that role. "I didntcome in thinking I knew everything and making all sorts of changes," saysWilson. She also got some help from a colleague in the companys operationsgroup who was willing to give her feedback that was blunt, yet constructive.To help ensure its managers are better equipped to guide employees in amanner consistent with the firms values, Great Lakes got help from Eikenberryto create a cultural vision for itself that has, in turn, formed the basis of itstraining program for new managers.
As part of the effort, 25 volunteers from all areas of the company were asked todevelop a vision of the kind of culture they wanted to have at Great Lakes. Theresult was a mission statement that said the companys success "is driven byopen communication, flexibility, teamwork and camaraderie, equity and respect,and achievement."Since then, the companys HR department has developed annual surveys andtraining to ensure that managers understand theyre expected to abide by thatcultural vision. For example, Great Lakes does not do annual performancereviews because managers and their direct reports are expected to have"continual communication;" if employees havent heard from their managers,theyre encouraged to initiate a conversation, and vice versa.Strong values that work for a small company like Great Lakes Energy also workwell for larger organizations such as PepsiCo, which has more than 285,000employees worldwide. More than 2,700 managers at the food-and-beveragemaker have been through its first-time manager program to date.The program is focused on helping attendees attain the "mind-set of amanager" through instruction in effective time management, making toughdecisions and leveraging resources at the peer level and above, says LeslieTeichgraeber, vice president of PepsiCo University, which administers thetraining.Classes are supplemented with a manager "survival kit" that includes mini-lessons on interviewing skills, coaching and setting strategic direction. Thelearning doesnt stop after the lessons are completed -- managers continuereceiving emails with links to articles and other online resources so they cancontinue honing their managerial skills."I dont think anyone becomes a good manager by osmosis," saysTeichgraeber. "I think everybody needs support in that. I think the skill of beinga manager has been undervalued for far too long."Balancing "Love" and "Money"Becoming a good manager, says Harvard Business Schools Hill, is gettingharder because expectations for business are so much higher. Theres alsomuch more diversity, with different generations and emerging markets makingmanagement training that much more important.The wild card in training better managers is the latest generation."[This younger generation has] different preferences and different ways ofresponding to managers," says Jean Martin, executive director of theWashington-based Corporate Executive Boards Corporate Leadership Council."They require a different style of manager."What they need, says Martin, is a manager with the flexibility to respond to andaddress their particular goals and job interests. Thats because this generationanticipates moving from job to job, thinks openly about radical career moves
and is much more intent on actively focusing on their career plans."Two critical factors in our benchmark survey [entitled Becoming a TalentChampion] are that [the younger generations] No. 1 priority is the alignmentbetween their job and their personal interests," she says. "Most othergenerations considered compensation and career planning [first]. This has ledinnovative companies to schedule more-frequent career conversations withtheir employees."Whether their direct reports are members of Gen Y or another generation, goodbosses distinguish themselves through empathy and generosity. In Good Boss,Bad Boss, Sutton chronicles good bosses whose management styles areinspiring instead of stifling. He points to Bonny Simi of JetBlue, David Kelley ofIDEO, A.G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble and Lenny Mendonca of McKinsey &Co. as examples.A good boss, says Sutton, inspires people to balance "love" (aka, dignity andjoy in the work) and "money" (aka performance). This is illustrated in the bookby a hand-drawn illustration of a heart and a dollar sign on a see-saw made byDavid Kelley, CEO of IDEO, one of the most renowned design and innovationconsulting firms in the world.Kelley, says Sutton, would reward a designer who worked on a dull, frustratingyet lucrative project by letting him or her choose an inspiring, if less profitable,project the next time. Sutton says Kelley builds up "love points" so he can burnthem later, if he has to.Indeed, unselfishness is one of the cardinal rules for being an effectivemanager, says Fortune magazine Deputy Managing Editor Hank Gilman, whoreflects on his education as a manager in his new book, You Cant FireEveryone, and Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager, which focuses onthe publishing industry but could easily apply to other creative-centricindustries.In the book, Gilman lists the "Cardinal Sins of Hiring," which include hiringsomeone because someone else suggests you should and not giving feedback.But the bonus sin he lists is being selfish -- of putting yourself first andemployees second.Gilman cites former Boston Globe sports editor Don Skwar as a good exampleof an unselfish boss. Skwar, he wrote, made certain that his top sportscolumnists were the stars, not him.Much of the work managers do is behind the scenes, says Gilman: Theystrategize with their teams to meet the organizations priorities and supportthem through the process, but they dont get called off the bench too often toreally show their stuff. "But when you have an important project or crisis, thatswhen it all really tests you and you discover if youre good or not." he says.And thats when being a better boss can be a real lifesaver.