The good, the lucky…and the undead


Maybe you’re one of the good guys – the kind of person others are glad to work for. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky guys – someone who works for a good guy. If you’re either, you should feel grateful. Because everyone else…is the undead (cue spooky music). These are the people the HR blogosphere is frantic about! The huge swath of the workforce that is not engaged. The ones who are simultaneously present and absent. And the most likely zombie-maker? Their own bosses.

Did you know that the number one reason why people quit their jobs is because of a bad boss? The same Gallup survey that returned this unhappy fact also showed that areas managed by bad bosses are 50% less productive and 44% less profitable. Further, people who work for bad bosses are more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors. Another online survey found that half of employees would say they would fire their boss if they could. A whopping 75% of workers say their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job. Research also shows that bad bosses can literally make people sick. (And it can turn them into disengaged zombies.)

So what makes a good boss good to work for – how does one get good or get lucky? I think partly it’s a question of fit, as we have discussed before. There is no such thing as a perfect boss. Everyone has weaknesses and blind spots. But when you’re hiring people you can hire others who complement your strengths and weaknesses; and when you are job searching, you can be cognizant of the personalities that you work well with and the kind you suffer under. This is not to say that we can or even should cherry pick our experiences. Hiring our clones will backfire. Sometimes we grow the most when forced to work with people who put us out of our comfort zones. Part of doing due diligence as a hiring manager and job applicant, however, involves being thoughtful about fit, especially between the manager and employee.

That said, there are certain qualities that almost everybody will appreciate in a good boss. I’ve been one of the lucky guys and have actually had multiple good bosses. I’ve been part of the zombie march, too. And in this line of work, it’s easy to see the cascade effect of both good and bad bosses play out time and again. So I have some opinions. Three, in fact. Good bosses are a combination of good ethics, good heart, and good action.

First, good bosses aren’t jerks. They may not be Mr. Nice all of the time, but they consistently demonstrate character and integrity. You know they won’t take advantage of you or manipulate things to their advantage. It’s exhausting to work for someone from whom you feel you have to shield yourself. Good bosses are both trustworthy and willing to extend trust to you. They demonstrate maturity, taking responsibility for their own emotions and showing self-control when they get stressed instead of emoting all over the place. And while they may be confident, they aren’t arrogant, and are open to alternative ideas and perspectives.

Second, good bosses care about you. They make a point of knowing about your life outside of work, but more importantly, they work hard to understand what you are about at work – what sort of projects you enjoy the most, what you need to stretch and grow, where you want to be down the road. And they make an effort to match your needs with the organization’s needs. They take the time to provide coaching and feedback on a regular basis, partly because it helps the organization, but also because it helps you. They want you to be happy at work because they get that you’ll bring more back to the job if you are.

Third, good bosses create clarity instead of froth. When employees understand how actions and requests connect to higher order goals, it allows them to derive meaning from their work. Meaningless work creates zombies. Employees trust bosses whose actions don’t appear haphazard but clearly stem from a solid understanding of both the big picture and the details and how they connect. Good bosses have and communicate clear expectations for goals and how those translate to how you do your job. They direct your precious resources wisely.

So, the scary news is that apparently most employees believe good bosses are in short supply. If you are a manager, do the above statistics frighten you a bit? Do you dare ask yourself if you are an unwitting creator of zombies?

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