What Makes A Person A “Best Boss”?

For the past three years, I’ve been asking bankers “Who’s the best boss you ever had – and why?”  Recently I’ve been speaking to a number of banking organizations, and asking that question of bank CEO’s as well.  After tracking and analyzing the responses, we’ve come up with some initial, and admittedly unscientific, findings.

The five most common responses we’ve seen from all the participants is – to paraphrase – “The reason this person was the best boss I ever had was because…”

  1. Transparent, a great communicator
  2. Supported me
  3. Cared about me as a person
  4. Honest, had integrity
  5. Trustworthy

Those are pretty good qualities in a leader, don’t you think?

Communication is the single most important characteristic in leadership.  You can be the smartest person in the room, or the hardest worker, or the person with the most experience, but if you cannot communicate well verbally and in writing, you’ll never succeed.  Today, the word “transparency” is a buzzword to indicate that employees – especially engaged employees – look to leaders and organizations who are as transparent as possible, with few secrets from employees.  Communication and transparency are key to trust, in both a leader and a bank.

Support means lots of things to lots of employees.  But my experience is that “cared about me as a person” and “supported me” are intertwined.  People want a leader that will back them up and support them, and the first way to develop that relationship is to get to know that employee as a person.

I also believe that honesty, integrity and trustworthiness are interconnected as well.  More than ever, these are essential characteristics in great leaders.  Every mistake, every semi-ethical decision is now magnified because all of your employees are broadcasters, with the ability to post their thoughts (and your mistakes) on social media, glass door, and the like.  Doing the right thing is important because it’s always the right thing to do.

We’ve received over 700 responses in 50 different sessions, and are in the process of putting together a research report that shows what bankers look for in leaders.  But I can share two initial findings with you now:

There is surprisingly little difference between what younger and older bankers look for in great leaders.  With all the discussions about millennials in the workplace, and their needs, it surprised me that – with rare exceptions – the same basic responses were given by young and old.  One are that was different were that younger bankers look more for a mentor and more frequent feedback than more experienced bankers.  Older bankers indicated their best boss was a good teacher and coach, but there’s a distinct difference between a coach and a mentor.

Younger bankers also look for more frequent feedback than older bankers.

Bank CEO’s almost always looked for a boss that gave them freedom.  Inevitably at a leadership program, bank CEO’s will mention that their best boss “gave me enough rope to hang myself” (or some variation of that).  In other words, CEO’s remember their best boss was not a micromanager; trusted their good employees enough to let them make their own decisions; and gave them the freedom to work autonomously.  I don’t see that happening in banks (or any industry) much these days, and that’s too bad: the best way to develop leaders is to remove the leash and allow them the opportunity to fail or succeed on their own.

What are your thoughts on the components of a “Best Boss”?


Workplace Litigation Trends Report

This is the 7th year that Fulbright & Jaworski has surveyed senior corporate counsel regarding litigation.  I’m focusing on the responses that affect businesses – and selecting those answers.  The results are illuminating!

In which area is there the most litigation pending in the U.S.?

Contacts: 53%
Labor & Employment: 49%
Personal Injury: 27%
(participants could pick more than one type)

In which area has there been the greatest increase in multi-plaintiff cases whether they be class, collective action, or significant multiple plaintiff action?
Wage & Hour: 46%
Labor Union: 13%
Age: 11%
ERISA: 10%

[What types of cases] will see the greatest increase in 2011?
Discrimination: 39%
Wage & Hour:35%
Labor Union: 17%


Quarterly Newsletter and a Sage Cartoonist

I hope you’ll checkout our HR & Management Newsletter by clicking here.

Also, I note with interest David Horsey’s editorial cartoon from July 21.  Mr. Horsey is a talented cartoonist who’s published through the Hearst Newspaper chain.  (You can see all his stuff here).  After I’ve been writing and speaking so much on this topic – that businesses are finding ways of doing more with fewer employers – a client saw this in the San Francisco Chronicle and gave it to me:

David Horsey – Hearst Newspapers

Workplace Violence: Suicides on the Rise

Recently, I was personally affected by suicide when a neighbor shot himself.  (Fortunately, we were on vacation).  So perhaps that’s why this article at MSNBC.com was so impactful.

Workplace suicides are surging since December 2008 – not only in China (which was well publicized) but in the United States as well.  The US number could be as high as a 75% increase in 2009 from the previous year.

Richard Shadick, director of Pace University’s Counseling Center, an adjunct professor of psychology and a suicide expert, notes some warning signs to watch for:

  • Persistent depression or sadness that lasts for long periods of time and impairs ability to function at work or in relationships.
  • Verbal altercations at work or home.
  • Excessive drinking. 

Workplace violence doesn’t go away.  And it’s clearly a concern for employers.  An article I wrote for this blog 2 1/2 years ago remains the 3rd most visited page in our history.

Pay attention to this – and make sure your employees are aware of warning signs and feel comfortable reporting those signs to management.

    Firing an "At-Will" Employee

    Gina Madsen is one of the really bright small business attorneys in Nevada.  She recently asked me to write an article on a ‘real-life’ situation – and I chose the concept of firing an at-will employee.

    Even though most states abide by at-will concepts (you can fire an employee at any time for any reason – other than a few exceptions), there are many compliance and management principles that should be followed.

    Here’s the blog on her great website – http://www.madsenlawoffice.com/

    The Art of Persuasion

    It’s always a little strange to see your thoughts in writing – especially if they’re being written by someone else.

    I was recently interviewed by students at the USC Marshall School of Business – they are candidates for Master’s degrees in Leadership and Management.  The focus of the interview was how to persuade employees to see your point of view.

    Here’s the paper (and I didn’t edit at all!)

    Background:  Eric Swenson has over 20 years of experience in management, sales, training and marketing. He has managed hundreds of employees and interviewed over 2,000 people in his career. RSJ/Swenson LLC is a management and human resources consulting firm with offices in California and Nevada.

    Interview Summary: Eric shared his insightful thoughts about the leadership and persuasion. For Eric, persuasion is a natural process and he prefers soft tactics. He is always honest to his superiors and subordinates. Eric believes that effective leaders are very expressive when they come to everybody. They are very candid and direct and these personal traits play a key role for persuasion process. According to Eric, the three most important aspects for managing up and down are communication, openness, and setting a positive tone that focuses on the end result.

    Persuasion Strategies:

    • Self Persuasion: “If you were in my position, how would you handle my problem?”
      • You should let team members identify the solutions on their own. You also remind them why they live in the same organization. This especially helps you deal with some conflicts with your members.
    • Logical reasoning: 
      • You use facts, figures, and belief that your idea is correct. You also consider the goals, needs, and interests of your subordinates/superiors you’re trying to persuade. The more they see an idea can help them, the more likely they are to help you.
    • Persuasion Tactics: 
      • Collaboration: You need to work with your subordinates, not at them, in order to get them to enthusiastically support your requests. You collaborate with team members, rather than using authority. You don’t need to overuse that power. The relationship based on the trust is a key for the collaboration.
      • Communication/Honesty: You should facilitate communication and be very honest to your people.
      • Improving Persuasive Skills: Appeal to the subject’s self-interest: You make it sure that what you need align with their best interests.
      • Present strong evidence to support your views/positions: You do intensive research and show the team members an idea that will likely work.
      • Establish credibility: You’re more likely to persuade your subordinates when trust and respect you. You promise to take the blame if it does not go well. This leads you to build up the trust and respect you’re your subordinates.
      • Make your objectives clear: You should get your team understand what you are doing and why are why you are doing that.

    Other key factors:
    Decision making is a collective effort: As a leader, you have to be honest to your team members. If you found you made a wrong decision, you would change the decision. There is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.