We have enjoyed the leadership of a good boss and suffered through the foibles of a bad boss. We know the difference when we see it, but do we know how they got that way? What makes a loving father and husband become a tyrant at work? Why does a strong and common-sense mother give up her leadership role at work and become passive and weak? What makes a good person become a bad boss?
I think it has to do with fear of failure. When a fearful extrovert finds himself faced with a tense and unfamiliar crisis, he begins to shout and scream and look for excuses. When a fearful introvert wanders into a strange environment, she backs off and looks for a place to hide. Both bosses become bad bosses because they’re afraid to fail. What can they do about this?
They can learn to trust.
The reason we label some bosses good is because they trust us. When I joined Charter Medical as vice president, I had a whole lot to learn about psychiatric hospitals. But my boss, Bill Fickling, trusted me to find out. He trusted my intelligence and my research capability. He trusted my loyalty and my integrity, and his trust paid off. We became a very successful company during the 10 years I was there.
When your boss loses that trust, you know it. Your team meetings are no longer open and fun. They become “boss monologues.” Your boss has this urgent need to be sure everyone “understands.” He can’t take the chance that one of you might veer off the chosen path and do something unique. He no longer listens to you. He no longer values your opinion. He’s afraid the company is going to crumble around his head. Whether it does or not, you will label him a bad boss.
Trust comes from two basic behaviors: truth and transparency. Truth means I’m not lying to myself, and transparency means I’m not lying to you. I call it the three T’s.
I can’t trust you if I can’t be truthful to myself about my own weaknesses. I need to look at myself and say: “I talk when I should listen,” or “I neglect the details,” or “I’m not good at confrontation.” Whatever my weaknesses are (and we all have some), I’ve got to acknowledge them and then delegate to people who have my weaknesses as their strengths. If I am completely truthful about this, I will trust you to do this thing better than I can do it.
Transparency means the open book. This can be “relative” both at home and at work. I am relatively open with my children. That is, as they get older, I can share more important family facts with them. The more open I get with them, the more trusting I get.
It’s the same at work. The more confidential information you receive, the more trusted you will feel. Most bosses go very slowly with this, but not Jack Stack, the president of Springfield Remanufacturing Corp. He shows all of his people -- even his janitors -- his income statements, his cash flow statement and his balance sheet every month. And this is why his company grew from 13 employees to 1,200 and makes over $400 million a year. He wrote a book about it called “The Great Game of Business.”
Many leaders wait for their employees to prove their capacity for trust before they themselves become truthful and transparent -- you know -- “Let’s wait and see.” Stack did the opposite. He laid open every aspect of his business from the start and challenged his people to become partners. And they did.
It’s all about the three T’s. “Truth to oneself and transparency” to others spells “trust.” If you’re feeling a bit inadequate as a boss, a teacher or a parent, try brushing up on your three T’s.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.