People leave managers, they don’t leave companies. If you feel this is true, your hunch is supported by a study completed by Gallup across 2.5 million manager-led teams around the world, where they measured the engagement of 27 million employees. Incredibly, this study reported, “that one in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.”
For an early-stage startup, employees could be leaving because of the founder and maybe the founder isn’t great at managing people. When you have turnover of staff that you are sorry to see leave, this is called “regrettable turnover”. To keep these staff, it might be helpful to look at the way you are managing them. Are you a “great boss”?
I’ve had a think about the people I have worked for over the years. Some were outstanding, great bosses, others had some downfalls but overall were pretty good and I’ve definitely witnessed at least two examples of what not to do!
I’ve also interviewed literally thousands of people where we discussed the push factors that may have lead to their disengagement. If there was a push factor at play then it often related to their direct manager in some way.
Here are my top 5 characteristics that are shared by great bosses I have worked with as well as what I hear in my interviews.
1) Great Bosses are Inspirational – each in their own way.
My early career managers were inspirational because they were technical experts and operated at the top of their game – they did what I wanted to learn to do and they were outstanding. They were examples of excellence and incredible role models. Founders who are technical experts in a particular field or discipline can be highly inspirational to their specialist teams. In interviews I’ve conducted, technical people’s eyes light up when they talk about a manager who did their job at an expert level.
Another boss was inspirational because he was so passionate about what he wanted to achieve and his passion and enthusiasm were highly contagious. He really believed in what he was trying to achieve and I felt it too. We were doing something important and there was a clear connection between what I was doing and what ‘we’ as a business were working towards.
That sense of belonging and feeling part of something important was unbeatable.
Many people I have interviewed speak in glowing terms about their bosses who were visionary. These were managers who created a truly compelling picture of the future and who were strategic and forward-thinking, often highly values-driven, and could create ideas/products/services that were underpinned by logic, ethics, values, opportunity and/or the greater good.
These bosses were not always operators; they often hired operators who got things done to deliver their vision. Being an operator for these types of inspiring founders/managers is so rewarding as you are literally bringing their vision to life, and these managers are so appreciative and grateful for the work you do, that it simply compels you to work harder.
2) Great Bosses are Emotionally Intelligent.
Emotionally intelligent managers are really perceptive. If you’ve ever worked for someone who has invested the time in developing their emotional intelligence you know that they seem to really “get” you. They understand what is important to you. And on top of this, they actually care for you as a person. Some of the best managers have mini catch-ups with their staff on a regular basis, and they take the time to understand what is happening in their work world as well as in their personal lives (within reason). They ask a lot of questions and show empathy in good and not so good times.
But no matter what, they genuinely care about you.
I’ve worked with plenty of highly perceptive and astute people who lacked the “care factor”. To me, I couldn’t really describe them as emotionally intelligent. You’ve got to do something with the information you’ve picked up on.
When managing larger teams in my career, I’ve always allocated regular time to catch up with staff – this has given me the opportunity to discover and learn more about them but also the opportunity to respond to anything I pick up on, to offer support if needed and to encourage and challenge as well.
3.) They are Super Clear on Goals and Have a Focus on Results.
The best bosses describe what they expect from you with crystal-clear clarity. They talk about the results that are needed and by when. And then they check in on a regular basis to see how you’re going and if you need any help. The timing will vary – for people earlier in their careers or learning new skills it might be a catch up at the start and end of each week, later in your career, it may be less often. The best bosses prioritize this time and very rarely cancel the meeting.
I know it’s labor-intensive to have weekly catch-ups but, with a clear agenda, the meetings can be pretty quick. Dedicated time reviewing their performance with their boss, in real-time, (ie weekly not at the end of 12 months) but in a time period where they are able to adjust their performance quickly if needed, is really useful for people and a powerful management and relationship-building tool.
4) They Create a Feedback-rich Environment.
Everyone is motivated by positive feedback, right? Great bosses know this, and they understand how to deliver positive feedback in the most meaningful and impactful way to their staff.
Some people don’t like public accolades and kudos but find a one-on-one pat on the back or small compliment to be highly motivating. Others like all the attention directed their way and giving them positive feedback in front of the rest of the team is super motivating to them. Ask your staff what they prefer, they will tell you!
The best bosses also always seem to be genuinely grateful for the work others do in their business. They are often heard saying “thank you”.
When it’s time for negative feedback, great bosses prioritize one thing – saying it as soon as possible. They don’t labor the conversation or delay it, rather they see the feedback as information, and provide that information to their employee to use to further guide their work performance.
5) Great Bosses Share Wins With Others.
Great bosses share the wins and accolades with their team. They also act as ambassadors for their staff by talking them up to others. Sharing successes with others doesn’t take anything away from them, in fact, it has actually made me admire my bosses more when I have seen them do this. Give it a try.
Being a great boss takes time and effort, but it’s worthwhile to try some little things and see if it helps. Besides retaining the staff you have for longer, it can also make you a “talent magnet” so you can help your business achieve amazing things and enable you to make a positive personal impact on the people you are leading. It is worth investing the time to get better at this.
This is just my list of what it takes to be a great boss. Thinking about great bosses you’ve worked for in the past, what else would you add to this list? Is there a manager you have worked for in the past who was a truly great boss for you?
This article was written by Luke Henningsen and he is Co-Founder of the growing startup community at Ucities which is being developed to help provide a dedicated space for founders and startup people to network and support each other. He also leads a business called Scale & Swing, which delivers executive search to startups looking for senior talent at a startup-friendly price-point. Feel free to reach out to Luke on LinkedIn or at Scale & Swing or join the growing community at Ucities.