The boss is… just the boss.

Let me start by saying that what I will write here it is purely my opinion and it does necessarily reflect the reality. It is based on my perception, linked to my experience and also to some feedbacks that I gathered from several people, randomly and with no “scientific approach”. 

When we talk about job types, professions, and we evaluate the knowledge and the skills of the specific worker/professional, we do it usually based on our experience. When we talk about a doctor, we do not know if it is good or bad: we have 50% of possibilities to find a valuable or a mediocre one. The same with a mechanic, or with a teacher, or a butcher: we do not have a preconception. However, with some professions we have: think about the politicians. Without having any evidence, we have a strong bias against him or her. Why? Probably because we heard so many bad things about them: corruptions, scandals, crimes… It is easier to remember the negative things. 

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What about the bosses? The managers… How many good bosses have you had in your career? This is a question that I raised in several Facebook groups in the past weeks, but it is also a topic that during my professional life I experienced several times, during meetings or specific trainings. I noticed that in general, we had less “good bosses” than bad ones. It was not rare that people wrote to me “none”, or just around 33% of all the bosses they had were good. Is this real? How is that possible?

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I had more than 15 bosses during my career, and more or less the ratio of a positive and negative experience is around 50%. This is my experience, but this is not so common.

For some reasons, apparently, we do not really like our boss. We accept it. We have to. But we would not invite him or her to a private party. We have movies like “How to kill your boss”. It is similar to the neighbour, somebody that is by default “always annoying”.

These are not scientific statements. There is no business study behind it, but I think there is no need for it: we all know what I am talking about.

I will not give a clear answer to the reason because it would be arrogant and pretentious at the same time, but I will try to find some connections and possible explanations for this fact. 

If we think about it, being a boss, a people manager, is not necessarily a profession. It is more a title that we can deserve and gain during our career. We have bosses everywhere: in a retail store, in a hospital, in an office. This boss can be a salesperson, or an engineer, or a doctor. He is managing other peers that have similar knowledge and profession. So the nature of this position is to “say to the others what to do”. This is the starting point of the problem. 

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Having a hierarchy, having a manager is necessary: we need rules, we need direction, otherwise we risk to get lost in the sea of individual solutions. It is natural and efficient: one person who decide for the others. This exists also in nature: in case animals are living in social communities, they always have a leader. The great difference is that in nature the leader is selected based on required skills: the alfa individual has to be the strongest, the bravest because will be the one who will defend the others.

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Of course with human beings, especially in a civilised society, this works differently. If the leader is not a real leader, people will start simply to “get used” to it, but they will not like or accept him. This is because by nature a leader needs to make decisions, and the team has to follow. But we are smart, we have feelings, and if the boss does not own the right skills, it will simply not be trusted. Unfortunately, this happens frequently, and these are the instances when we have 2 main, typical scenario: the boss will get frustrated, insecure and will leave, “escape”. The other option is that will become autocratic, a despotic manager who will force his views, his opinion and ideas, and will repress anybody who will not agree.

In conclusion, based on my experience mentioned in the beginning, I strongly believe that people don’t like their bosses because they had bad experiences, and this is linked to managers that were not acting as leaders. They haven’t had the right skills or they have not used them. They acted incorrectly because they thought “this is the right way to do it, to have authority”, or simply because they are not the right people in the right place, and they should not lead people at all.

The function of the boss is sensitive and fragile: tell others what to do, eventually how to do and when. It can strongly make the difference how a manager does this: it is something that they can learn if they want. Often there is no time for this, because “they need to deliver”: training is time-consuming, expensive and organisations are only focusing on the result. Another big mistake is assuming that a “good expert” will be good also to manage a team. 

These wrong concepts are creating unpleasant situations when a manager does not know how to be a manager, how to lead the team, and people will get frustrated and “hate their boss”. They will not be motivated, their engagement will be zero and performance/quality will drop. Organisations would be surprised what a different world would be out there if we would have leaders instead of managers. It requires investments, but it is worth it.

Team Leader & Operational Knowledge. Needed or not?

In my opinion, this is an underestimated question in several organisations. Should the Team Leader know in details the technical part of the operations, the transactions, the processes? 

For the members of the team usually, this is the baseline for becoming a manager of the group. They will probably reply that it is essential. Other people are more convinced that a Team Leader should only “lead”. Technical knowledge is not needed, it is more important the communication with the stakeholders and development of the team members.

Who is right?

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When I started my career, I was first as a member of the Team and became the Leader later. This is quite typical, and in this case, there is no question. However, when you start with a new one as a Team Leader, this question becomes important to be solved. How shall you focus your energy? Should you learn the technical details, or should you focus on managing the people?

During my career, I needed to handle several Teams. Once, I decided to avoid the transactional part of the job and I gave more importance to resolve the escalations and talk to my Team. It was time well spent, but after a while, I realised that I could not help efficiently my Team, I could not understand completely their difficulties and frustrations without “seeing it with my eyes”. I needed to understand the details of their job, to give them solutions and improve the way of working.

However, it is not so simple. Balance is essential.

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I have seen some Team Leaders being fully immersed in the operational job and neglecting their tasks as a manager, not giving attention to the people. This is counterproductive.

I believe that a good Team Leader has to know well the operations, why the people are working in a certain way, why they do what they do. Which systems are they using, or which transactions in SAP, what kind of reports are they running and for which reason. Everything is important and has a reason, and the Leader has to know what is that. If there is no apparent reason, that process should be questioned. But to be on that level, we have to be aware in details what is going on in our Team.

It does not mean that every day the Team Leader has to do the same operational job that the others are doing. He/she has other activities to perform, he/she does not need to micromanage. 

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This means that in the beginning, the new manager has to spend some time with these details, allocate energy to get a more deep insight into the activities of the Team, to lead it efficiently in the future. However, he/she needs to give the same importance also to the managerial activities.

Having a good operational knowledge has several positive effects:

  1. It will help to find inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.
  2. It will help to assess better the skills of the Team members and coach/develop them.
  3. It helps to set realistic goals and expectations. KPIs will be meaningful.
  4. It supports the leader to build authority in a natural way.
  5. It will engage the members of the Team. They like to work with somebody who is fully clear about their job
  6. It gives more satisfaction and motivation to the Team Leader, he can connect better to his Team.

It is never too late to start this activity. It should come naturally in the first period when the Leader is appointed, but if it happens on a later stage, the positive effects will still be valid.