Being the Perfect Boss… Is Bloody Difficult!

Yesterday, I read a really unexpected post by Anna Bråkenhielm, a major leadership advocate among women in Sweden and founder of PassionForBusiness, a women’s business magazine.

She was wondering when the handbook for the perfect employee would be published. Why is this? Because when you are a manager, the number of complaints and grumpy attitudes you get from team members can become pretty unnerving. She explains how she did not at all enjoy becoming the boss of her, be it fun and crazy, colleagues, presenting business results in front of a full house, doing annual development discussions, or coaching people all day long. 

She says she couldn’t change who she was when she started getting promoted, she couldn’t be one Anna at home and with friends, and another at work being the boss. Somehow, this seems understandable. And she says she thinks she is not the perfect boss, insinuating she is probably quite a bad one. 

I had the same discussion a while ago with two other company directors, this time men. They talked about the things they had to deal with every day, which, basically, were the same as Anna, with a few additions…

It can be people grumping about a pay raise which hasn’t been high enough, looking for a “glossier” title to sense recognition for their long term work, crying or shouting into your office because they are overwhelmed by something (mostly women though. I don’t think this is a bad thing to cry, mind you. It doesn’t make someone less professional than someone who for example shouts – which in my opinion should be regarded as far worse than crying by the way, but that’s probably cultural), “blackmailing” you saying they have got a better offer somewhere else hoping to get what they want, saying specific tasks are not in their work description, saying that a problem isn’t their fault because blablabla, etc. The list can be made endless.

So how do these guys react? If you are the head of a few hundred people, there will always be someone who is not happy, but “you just deal with it”. In spite of this they do admit that it would be sooo much smoother to run the business, if you didn’t have to deal with these things. And they don’t think they are bad managers for saying this, nor for distancing themselves from the feelings of their unhappy employees. 

Why? I don’t know. Maybe they somehow manage to make things run off them as water off a goose. Is it a typical male capacity that goes into the now popular discourse of women being more sensitive than men and allowing it to show? Maybe they don’t work the same way in terms of feelings? We are all different after all.

Both Anna and the two guys however try to deal with the issues as best they can, given their personalities. There are people who don’t.

So what’s the conclusion? Well, in spite of leadership and management gurus and magazines describing the new inclusive, transparent, authentic leadership by managers that we all long to have at our workplaces, managers remain human beings. It is not because managers are paid more and have more responsibility, that they should always carry all the blame if something is not working out (well, not all the time anyway). “Bad employees” can be a pain in the butt to managers, just like “bad managers” can be to employees (although I recognise that managers can have more of a “hold” over employees than vice versa). We all have to try to bring our contribution to a well functioning workplace, regardless if we are managers or employees.

Intelligent leadership can, and should, go both ways. So maybe a handbook on being a “good employee” isn’t such a bad idea after all!

Pssst, Anna had seen a list of 10 things a boss never wants to hear on – it’s a start 😉

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