Apr 19, 2012

Boss or Leader

A lot of people currently are in jobs they hate. They may hate the activity they have to work with, may hate the schedules they must keep, the payment they receive, the things they have to put up with, and often they hate the people they have to work with. Problems with the people at work are so common and often run so deep, you can find lost of sites where people rant about it. Sites like coworkers suck on livejournal open a door that sheds light on a world you knew it was out there but wasn't sure, or perhaps didn't want to realize it was really there. Stories and letters written (but never sent to!) about the abuse of assistants with too much power, or too much ambition to be in power, about bully coworkers that just want to make you quit because you make them look bad, or want you do to their job, or those who can't care about their own job and as result jeopardize the job of others, people from other areas of the company who can't get past their morning coffee if they haven't done something to make your life miserable, HHRR coworkers who can't live without plotting a way to spoil your day and put you in danger, destroy your chances to get the promised trip or promotion. Yes, all of them are creatures from hell that you'd like to see purified in the heavenly fire extremist Christians talk about. Oh man, they can make you dress like a Puritan, fall on your knees, hold into a Bible and pray in the middle of the street from the top of your lungs if that gets them purified sizzling!

However, no matter the types and the stories and the most twisted and fantastic ways and ideas, in which a coworkser can get under your skin, no stories are more abundant, nor more cases more prosper in discomfort that those centered about a boss. Now, I've a question: Have you had a good boss? You know, the kind of boss that made you want to go to the office, that made you want to work hard, but not for a promotion or to avoid a reprimand, but simply because you felt such a flaming commitment you shared your boss' vision and you wanted it to come true. My guess is that most people would say "no". That kind of boss is most likely seen as a fairy tale of the kind that's included on Business Administration books. Probably you'd think that you have more chances to run into a pink dragon and a rainbow unicorn than finding a good, inspiring boss.

Well, I know for a fact that good bosses exist. In fact I have been so blessed through my life that I have had three of them. :-) I have had 24 bosses (I'm counting also the bosses of my bosses as often bosses have a direct effect over workers two to three, even four levels down). This means that only the 4% of my bosses were good. 13 of them were particularly bad bosses, which means that the 54% were a scarring, bad experience. The remaining 42% were pretty much either absent or uninterested on the team. Now, this 42% aren't "middle ground" bosses, for bosses are supposed to be leaders of their teams and responsible for what they do, and though it was nice that they weren't abusing us and mistreating us, not being there and letting others pick on us. Absent bosses, those who seek to be as far as possible from their teams, give space to create other ills and evils in the group, such as mobbing, turning co-worker against co-worker. This can happen also with bad bosses, particularly when they are caught in the ill habit to picking favorites and patronizing their mistreating of the rest of the team.

It's not a secret that many people get to become a boss based on the favors they've done to others rather than their actual aptitude to be a boss. Some people actually see becoming a boss as a necesary step to move forward in your career. (Well, that depends on your concept of career. If you think a "career" is making money, then yes, it is a step forward. But if you think that a "career" is becoming better in your field, gaining experience and learning, then becoming a boss - as it takes you from the field - could actually mean a set back.) Thus anyone with the right connections can become a boss, anyone in the right place at the right time, but that doesn't make them right for the job. 

Becoming a boss means that you are responsible for everything the whole team does. In this sense it is the job of the boss to lead the team and inspire it to be productive, to get the job done, and make sure everybody is making their part in such a way that every member contributes to the result of the team. The boss should also be the first to see the job of the team for what it is: a group effort, not their personal effort. This is important because if the boss is capable of concentrating on the team, focusing on the group result and detach his or her personal success from the job of the team, then the members of the team will be able also to see their efforts as part of a bigger scheme and work together. If this fails and the boss considers the job of the team as their own personal job - for instance, once the team has finished a report or a proposal, the boss puts his or her own name on it as if they would have done the whole thing - then the members of the team alienate from the group and start working as separate elements and often working against the rest of the team.

If you have had worked with terrible bosses - and you probably have - then you know what's like to feel like working for your worse enemy, back upping everything, not taking a single step unless you can cover your back from every angle, taking each order or request with suspition, and first running it through every possible filter you have, asking around and thus wasting precious time, just to make sure you are not being set up for some shenanigan that will secure your boss or your boss' patron some illegal benefits while you'll be the one taking a long vacation in the shadow for alleged fraud. You may know about plotting for hours and scouting for a recorder small and inconspicuous enough for you to take on meetings, specially when you must be alone with your boss, so you can record the verbal bashing or the orders to do something that's specifically against the law. If you have googled for recorders or browsed on Amazon.com for these, then you know what I'm talking about. Filed complaints against bosses pile up high in different places, and those are only the filed cases!

Seeking desperately for better results - or just to spend more company money - seminars and workshops on "leadership" have become a must for many bosses and companies. The topic has also been added to the curriculum of BA's and MBA's, but it doesn't seem to do the trick. What do you get with memorizing the characteristics of a leader, or any of those lenghty lists BA books and leadership seminars are so full of (with a list of the Features of a Leader, Goals of a Leader, Personality Traits of a Leader...) when none of them go beyond the surface? Many bosses sent to a Leadership Workshop or Seminar at a five star hotel, come back after two days of eating free catering food, sitting at tables covered with long white tablecloths with a smaller cloth of a darker color (blue, red, orange) on to, freezing under overly working air conditioners, and sipping water from pitchers, with the sense that they are now leaders. Oh yes they are. They speak in plural, they start each conversation looking into people's eyes (because that makes them feel important, involved), start with pleasantries like asking about their families or any other personal matter, and then turn to the "matter". They make sure to "compliment" before laying on the blame or pointing on mistakes, because that's what leaders to, according to the $50.000 per day seminar the company paid for them.

Posters and pictures on the net can say that "bosses say 'I', leaders say 'we'", or "bosses say 'Go', leaders say 'let's go'", the difference is much deeper. Bosses can say "we" and can say "let's go", and can look at you in the eye and can walk everyday by your cubicle to greet you, and they still will be crappy bosses and far from being seen as leaders. Leaders don't need to learn tricks - they are the real deal. They don't need to keep the protocol and choose the right order and the right words. Leaders Inspire, leaders see you as people, as someone who is valuable, with whom they WANT to cooperate, to cowork with. Leaders don't act as if their team were the group of people assigned to them, subordinated to them, but for a leader THEY themselves are part of the team. Leaders breathe it, are "it", the very essence that makes you want to be better for a bigger goal.

Those bosses keeping the external signs only come out worse. Their rehearsed tricks make people uncomfortable. Their words and the way the choose so stiffly to follow an order of what they are going to say,  come out as fake, phony, and even down right hypocritical. It comes to the point where when people hear them ask about their families or praising them for something (usually some generic thing such as "you are a very good worker/ you are very valuable for this company/ you are very smart/ I admire very much the way you work"), the compliment turns sour in their ears and they prepare with an ill predisposition for soemthing bad, and thus often seen as an unfair distortion of facts. The boss won't stand well if they neglect to show up and meet with the team, as people will perceive it as distant and detached from work. However if it starts everyday by greeting everybody personally, it will come out as controlling and taking notes on who's there on time and who isn't. Are people being unfair? Are the subordinates being mean and don't giving a chance to the boss to show interest? Most of the times that's not the case.

A poor boss can't expect people to trust them over night. Also, people have a sixth sense to perceive honest intentions and feelings. You can say if someone is greeting you honestly or because they are on a mission to be perceived as a leader and thus have the power they want to move the masses to do their will.

There have been a very long discussion about whether leaders are born or made.  Some are born, buut it order to be made, you have to start with the right material, and if you don't have what it takes to be a leader, the best thing you can do is be honest and don't take any position that demands you to be a leader. Just as you won't become a surgeon if you don't have the skills required to be precise, nor you'll become an accountant if you don't have the inclination and skill to pay attention to very small details, and remain foccused amid a terribly rutinary job, then you shouldn't either become a boss if you don't have it in you to be a good leader, if you can't inspire people, if you can't see outside of yourself and assume the role of a hero.

Yes, a leader is like a hero: they are not motivated for their personal glory, they are the first in battle and the last ones to leave the ship. They are empathic with every single person in their team and see themselves more as the one serving them all, helping them all, often seeing their own job as complimentary to that of the others, than thinking of themselves and their success, and considering their team as a flock of aids that compliment their job. A Leader, just like a hero, puts the goal and the team ahead of themselves. They see themselves as the tool, the spear that opens the road, the wall that protects and contains, the messager that takes the important cargo so diligently produced by the team they have been entrusted with.

Not everybody is a leader, but all of us can be heroes in our own courts.


Dragonfly said...

Muy bien, me gustó que hablaras de ello, sobre todo cuando uno siente que el "jefe" era como un "Screen saver" porque te pone una fachada "linda" y realmente por dendro o en realidad no sirven para nada.

Un abrazo!

Storm Bunny said...

Sí, esos salvapantallas son bien molestos. Y lo más incómodo es que jzustamente por ser así es que es difícil enfrentarlos con la realidad de lo que hacen. :-(

Diana Guess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Storm Bunny said...

I wouldn't consider that right. you can't learn to be something you are not. You can pretend, but that's not becoming it. A seminar can show you tricks, but if you have a personality problem, you'll remain a crappy boss and a failed "leader".

Camps and seminars of the type you mention and the reason why there are a lot of people who torture their subalterns, and with a few "tactics" believe that they are the next Martin Luther King. A couple of thousand dollars - or whatever these camps or seminars are cost - don't make you a leader, they make you a fool with that amount of money less, and the illusion of being "initiated into the Top of The Basket", while continuing the crappy treatment towards other.

I've been to this kind of seminars, and have seen one too many people who "drink the cool-aid" and spend loads of money to be shown cheap dog tricks.