There was much to like about the management style of John Shields, former CEO of Trader Joe’s, but I especially admired his approach to hiring. As reported in The Atlantic, Shields would fly out to interview prospective managers and would reject anyone who didn’t smile within 30 seconds of shaking his hand. That speaks volumes about how he wanted his employees to be treated—and how he wanted them to feel while on the job.
Most of us have experienced our fair share of bad bosses -- the blame casters and belittlers, credit hogs and demoralizers -- but I think the very worst, and certainly the least productive, are those who rule by fear. These are the toxic bosses who delight in loudly calling attention to errors but are mute when praise is due. They command rather than coach, drive rather than develop. They are a reason many organizations find themselves leaking talent they would prefer to keep.
Whether you’re leading a company or an internal team, take some time to consider whether those who work under you respect you or fear you. Are your employees working just hard enough to keep from being reprimanded and hiding mistakes in anticipation of punishment? Or are they working hard for the greater good of the company and taking ownership of both current challenges and your organization’s future success?
For those who wish to root out fear and seed respect, I recommend incorporating these behaviors into your management style:
1. Explain your business plan and vision and how your talent fit into them.
I ran across a great quote the other day, purportedly from a British Army officer’s annual fitness review: "His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity."
I love that quote, but I think it’s worth making the point that even the most dedicated “followers” aren’t always what we need. Yes, it’s essential for a leader to have the backing of his or her troops, but the complexity of business today makes it just as essential that leaders be willing to follow a better path envisioned by other smart people within the company. And that’s only going to happen if you make sure everyone understands not just what you’re doing that day or week, but what the end game is.
What are the longer-term goals you’re working toward, and why? In the absence of that information, even the savviest, most creative employee won’t be capable of helping you plot a better course.
2. Share your perspective but listen to theirs as well.
I was trying to come up with the worst line bad bosses say and settled on this: “You don’t get paid to think.” If you want people to respect you, you need to respect them back, and that includes listening to points of view that aren’t in accord with your own.
We talk a lot at my company about cross-pollination and diversity of experiences and thought. Neither of those will bear fruit if you insist on rigid adherence to your perspective and plan. Larry King had the right idea when he said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
3. Lift your employees up but speak candidly with them when there’s room for improvement.
If you spend all your time worrying about your own career to the exclusion of everyone else’s, you’ll soon find yourself out of one. It can be tempting to focus only on your superstars while sidelining anyone who’s failing to hit the mark. If you do that, though, you’re operating at partial capacity.
Just as it’s essential to publicly praise people for their successes, it’s important to privately mentor employees about areas in which they’re falling short. You’d be surprised how many people don’t recognize their weaknesses because no one takes the time to address them. That’s not civility, it’s laziness that harms both the employee and the business.