How to Be a Boss People Love Working for
I remember once in the Marines I was speaking to a man named Joe Dowdy, a “full-bird” Colonel, who was about to lead over 7,000 men and women into battle. This is about as close to having God-like powers as any man can have but he was talking to me like a beloved teacher may speak to one of his favorite students.
I wasn’t his favorite Marine, of course — we all were. This extreme down-to-earth humility made him one of the most well-loved officers in the Marine Corps. A “Marine’s Marine.”
Think of the bosses, teachers, coaches, or leaders you’ve loved the most. What was it about them that made you feel this way?
In most cases, it was how they made you feel. Motivated. Challenged. Listened to. Trusted. A better version of you because of who they are.
I’ve practiced and studied leadership for 25 years in military, corporate, and volunteer settings.
Here some ways to be a boss people love working for — a leader people love to follow.
1. Practice Extreme Humility
Arrogance is the evil twin of confidence. It looks like confidence on the exterior, but on the inside it is filled with insecurity contained by condescension.
Arrogance can sometimes be spawned from competence, but it’s competence with a closed mind so it can’t accept new or better ideas from anywhere including from followers.
Humility is confidence plus vulnerability — it is the quality that allows for the openness needed for personal growth.
Humility also allows a leader to toot the horn of those they lead instead of only their own. It allows your people to shine. Putting that genuine praise on others is a sign of humility and competence. This quality is highly attractive in a leader.
Humility is always a sign of emotional maturity while arrogance is a sign of emotional immaturity. Even if you’re the best, or leading thousands, you can and should still be humble.
“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.” — Michelle Obama’s ‘New Hampshire’ speech
2. Listen Like Your Mission’s Success Depends On It
Listening is critical to effective leadership. You need the humility we discussed to get the most out of this practice though.
Listening without being threatened by ideas that differ from your own is how good leaders gather accurate information. If your people are afraid to tell you anything except for what they think you want to hear, that echo-chamber makes it impossible to make informed decisions.
Listening also shows your people you care about them as human beings and you respect them.
Listening doesn’t mean you agree or alter your course of action based on the will of the majority or new information, it means you accept all ideas and information with an open mind then make the wisest decision you can based on it.
“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”— Peter Nulty, Fortune Magazine
3. Extend Trust At Every Opportunity
In almost every leadership article I write, I touch on micromanagement because I feel so strongly about how damaging it is.
The damage from micromanagement includes completely destroyed initiative in your followers, damaged trust, bruised respect on all sides, and ultimately weakened chances at successfully reaching your goals.
Micromanagement is the professional assassin of inititative.
The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy applies here as well. If people know they’re believed in, they’ll usually rise to meet that belief.
People need to be trusted to perform well. People need to be believed in. If people mess up, extend trust again…and again…as long as they’re genuine in the efforts in improvement. Don’t punish their mistakes with micromagement. Overcome them with trust and belief instead.
One of the best pieces of advice from a long time manager in the company I work for is to “just get out of your people’s way, that’s your job as a manager.”
Of course you as the leader are responsible for things to be successful so you can supervise and verify, but there’s a fine balance between doing that and squashing someone’s will.
There’s nothing more likable than a leader, coach, parent, boss who believes in you. Trusting is a form of belief. People can be fueled for life on someone’s belief in them alone.
Whether it’s from a coach, teacher, parent or boss, it’s a truly powerful thing to be believed in.
“A boss who micromanages is like a coach who wants to get in the game. Leaders guide and support and then sit back to cheer from the sidelines.” — Simon Sinek
4. Lead Yourself
A leader who is leading themself is a leader people love to follow. By leading yourself I mean a leader who treats themself as a follower would want to be treated. Someone who respects themself. Someone who believes in themself. Someone who is always trying to get better. Someone who forgives themself. Someone who trusts themself.
There’s a lot to be said about leaders who are always doing their best and holding themself to higher standards.
By improving themselves first, they are setting the example. This example-setting is the cornerstone of all good leadership. These leaders are being what they want their people to be and what you are is infinitely more meaningful than what you say.
Always hold yourself to the same or higher standards to which you hold others because you can’t lead people up a mountain from base camp.
“As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person that I should try to change is me.” — John C. Maxwell
5. Own All Of It
The buck always stops with you. Always. Everything that takes place in your sphere of influence is your responsibility.
This doesn’t mean the wins are to your credit. Your people own those. But you own the losses. It no one or nothing's fault. Ever. This is a tough pill to swallow especially when there are reasons for failure, but a leader can’t seek excuses and lead at the same time.
Leadership and blame are polar opposites.
A leader should also have the courage to stick up for their people. A leader can say and even do all the right things in easy times, but if what really counts is what they do in the tougher times. Do they defend their people against ridiculous directives from above? Do they stand behind them when it counts?
A leader who displays the courage to do the right thing in the face of difficulty is an admirable one. A fair-weather leader eventually gets soaked when the rain of adversity comes.
“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.”― Courtney Lynch
We can’t encapsulate all things good leadership in a five-minute article, but these points can help you be a leader people want to follow for more than just a paycheck. So:
#1. Have an extreme and authentic sense of humility. (I see you over there all proud of how humble you’ve become!)
#2. Listen like your team’s success depends on it. It does.
#3. Extend trust and belief to your people. Don’t micromanage them.
#4. Lead yourself first. You can’t hold others to higher expectations if you don’t hold yourself to them.
#5. Do the hard things like leaders do. Take full responsibility.
This isn’t all it takes for great leadership of course, but adopt these traits and you’ll be well on your way to being a boss, rather a leader, who people love to follow.