DR. CUMMINGS: Be a good boss

April 27, 2014 

What do you think? Are you a good boss? Not just at work, but everywhere. Parents are bosses, too, you know. So are pastors and police and parliamentarians in our clubs. And don’t forget our teachers. We’ve all had good ones and bad ones. Anybody who tries to lead another person in some direction is a leader or, as we call it, a boss.

So how about you? Are you a good one or a bad one? I don’t mean ethically, although ethics will certainly enter in. I mean effectively. Do you lead your followers -- your children, students, employees, friends, citizens, etc. -- to do the things you want them to do in a way that makes them think they want to do it? That’s the sign of a good boss.

How do you do that? Three ways.

First, present the “big picture.” The first job of everybody who’s “in charge” is to have a vision of where you’re going. Soldiers follow the lieutenant into battle, because they believe he studied the situation and has a plan. Every good teacher has a lesson plan. Every good project manager has a detailed design. What do you have? Do you have an overall view of where you want to lead these people (or this person), and have you taken the time to describe it to them? They may not understand it the way you do, but they trust you. And because they trust you, they buy in. Without their “buy-in,” your big picture is just a dream.

Second, listen intently. It was years ago, but I can still see my boss sitting at his computer when I walked in with a huge problem. He kept his hands on the keys, closed his eyes and blurted out: “What is it now?” Not exactly the sign of a great listener. How about you? Do you really listen to the people you’re leading? Do you let them finish, or do you interrupt? Do you ask them to enlarge on the major issues? And then do you summarize and ask them if you got it right? Listening intently is a complicated skill, and very few bosses have mastered it. Have you?

Third, make the tough decisions. President Harry S. Truman had this sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.” Every good boss has it, too. The time comes -- after you’ve presented the goal and they have bought in, and after you’ve listened intently to all their ideas and concerns and objections -- when you must make the final decision. That’s your job. But can you do it? Many times bosses hesitate because it’s risky. Sometimes they procrastinate because they’re afraid people won’t like them. And once in a while -- not very often -- I’ve seen a teacher simply give up with a difficult class and make the decision to yell and threaten and bully rather than make the really tough decision to teach.

One more thing. It’s lonely at the top. That’s why good bosses need somebody to confide in, somebody to talk to, somebody who’s honest and candid and blunt and yet, loving. Somebody like my wife, Ann. For the past 50 years, Ann has quietly but surely turned me into the kind of boss I always dreamed of becoming. And all of you men out there who have been fortunate enough to have your own “Ann” in your lives and at your side know what I mean. Good bosses aren’t born. They’re grown very slowly.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service