Advice from the World’s Best Boss

I’ve had great bosses in my day and I’ve learned from each one.  I was lucky to have a wonderful boss at a pivotal time in my life – as I was beginning my professional career.  Her conversations shaped my management style, grew my confidence and ultimately have led to my successful practices today.

Think about what you’ve learned from your bosses – good and bad.  There is a wealth of knowledge with them and you can make the most of any situation by learning from each and every experience that you have.

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Don’t walk in with a wrecking ball. When I first started as a manager, my boss had given me a store that was a hot mess – I was probably in over my head, but still so excited about the opportunity, I didn’t realize the obstacle I’d inherited.   The business had terrible sales performance, staff with inadequate training and processes that were resulting in significant loss to the company. With a mess like this, it would be easy to walk in and change everything immediately.

But what did my boss tell me? “Don’t walk in with a wrecking ball, change takes time.  You need to see what needs to be changed and systematically make small changes as you go.” She shared with me that she knew I knew what needed to be done, but change is scary for others and instead of fighting to make changes, I needed to work on buy-in so the team would support my changes.  What did I do? I began to make the small changes first and took notes on my ideas for the bigger changes.  I knew that people needed to trust me, see that I could get results and then I could scare them (slowly!) with the major overhaul that needed to happen.  Guess what? It worked.  Within a year, the store was performing, the shrink had been eliminated and we had a happy, successful and well-trained staff. Win-win-win.

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Fix the root issue, not the indicators. My boss told me a story one day about how she was at a retreat with her colleagues.  The room was freezing and she put on her sweater.  One of her coworkers leaned over and said, “You fixed your issue, but look around the room at everyone else.  They’re freezing too.  Think about the root issue to this problem – and turn down the AC. This will help everyone.”

That example has stayed with me for a decade.  So often I see people spinning their wheels trying to fix the indicator and ignoring the root cause to the issue.  What a frustrating cycle! Sure, fixing the underlying problem is messy, time-consuming and may take years to see the results, but it’s worth it.  The end result will be a much better solution, one that will help everyone and make things much easier and more efficient in the end.  Look at what issues you’re dealing with right now.  Are you working with a band-aid solution? Be brave! Begin to address the root issue – it may take time, but you know the solution and you can make it happen.

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Hire great people. Ever heard the saying “Hire people who are smarter than you” or “always be smarter than the person that hires you?” Both statements are valuable and make a difference in your workplace.  When you take time to hire great people, you’ll realize you’ve found people who can invest in the details to make your big picture fantastic.  They may not actually be smarter than you, but they have the time, focus and dedication to invest where you, as the boss, may not have time or energy.  Good for them! You need people like this on your staff to get the job done.

And likewise, as an employee, you should invest your time to see what your boss is doing well and emulate that.  You should see their opportunities and learn to compliment these with the strengths you possess.  Eventually, you’ll realize that you are smarter than the people who have hired you – because you’ve watched and listened to the lessons they’ve given you – both formal and unintentional.

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Invest in all of your people. My boss would visit my business regularly and as she’d leave she’d stop with every employee and thank them for working here and ask or follow-up with them details about themselves.  I would watch her exit (which would sometimes take longer than our entire visit) in amazement.  Then one day she stopped me at the end of her visit and said, “Do you know why I stop and speak with each of your employees every time I visit? Because they matter and I want them to know they matter.”  Wow! My store had 50 employees at times and I was one of 10 stores – she did this with 500 people!

And you know what? My employees loved her, respected her and wanted to do a good job, because they felt like she knew them and what they were doing mattered.  Today, I spend time with each of my employees learning about what is going on in their lives and investing my time to let my employees know they matter – it certainly takes time, but if this is all I can do to let them know they matter, then it is worth my investment.

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Your personal problems are not your employee’s professional problems. When I was first promoted, my boss shared with me invaluable advice in a transformational conversation (for me). I had yet to discover the value of balance and was blurring my lines between my professional and personal life.  I was a mess and I hated my job and I hated my free time.  My boss had a serious conversation with me and said, “You need to learn to balance your life.  Leave work at work and home at home.  When you walk into this business, you need to be focused only on the business – leave your personal life at the door.  And when you’re home, take a break! I don’t need you thinking about the job on your own time.  I need you fresh and energized so when you come back to work; you’re fully here.”

From that day in 2003, I’ve separated the two uncompromisingly.  I don’t share details about my personal life and I don’t think about work when I’m not on the clock.  My strategy has been difficult at times; but by sticking to the work at work and home at home rule, I’ve been happier, healthier and more focused on the task at hand. You may think that your employees don’t see your bad day.  Wrong.  They do and it stresses them out and creates a work environment filled with unnecessary tension.  Do everyone a favor and bring balance back to your life.

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Leave things better than you found them. I was promoted six times in seven years with my previous company, with the last promotion I received (from a small store to a bigger store), my boss asked me, “How are they going to continue what you’ve been doing? You’ve set up impossible standards to live up to.  What you’ve been doing is amazing, but you need to think about what happens after you leave.” So what you’re telling me is be working on my exit strategy while I’m still in the job?

My husband has a great addendum to this advice, “Things need to be more process dependent that people dependent.” Have you ever noticed this? You go somewhere and need help and your answer is, “Oh, that person isn’t here today – so we don’t know what to do.” Failure! It may sound scary, but the more you can train and empower others, the better chance you have for lasting success in your current endeavor.  Things should run smoothly even when you aren’t there, develop processes that keep the business running smoothly. And realize your biggest investment – other people have the potential, talent and dedication to carry on your legacy – help them reach their goals, even if you can’t be part of the end result.

You can be a great boss (you probably already are).  You have the talent, the potential and the dedication to make it happen.  Think about your path and invest your time and resources into becoming the boss you want to be.  By focusing on the right things, you’ll make great progress, improve your relationship with your employees and build your business to the level you expect. You can do it!

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7 thoughts on “Advice from the World’s Best Boss

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