Ever worked for a boss who didn’t have a clue how they affected the people around them? You know, the one who yells at team members, or ignores them, or constantly tells them what to do, and thinks motivation consists of a chart comparing sales performance.
How could they not know that their methods lead to low numbers and apathetic staff?
Years of research about boss-behaviors propose that many leaders can’t help themselves: they just aren’t aware that they are jerks. In a Harvard Business Review article, senior editor Julia Kirby explains what’s going on.
She points to studies of apes and monkeys that show when a group is threatened, the subordinates look obsessively toward the group leader, watching for indications of how to respond. Even in times of relative calm, baboons do a visual check on their alpha male two or three times per minute.
However, the alpha does not return the attention. Humans have evolved a bit beyond the need to check on the boss every 20 seconds, but the basic phenomenon remains that subordinates study the behaviour of bosses far more closely than bosses study subordinates. Assistants know much more about their bosses and graduate students about their advisers than vice-versa.
The article also quotes Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, who suggests, like our fellow primates, “People pay attention to those who control their outcomes. In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.”
The best bosses realize they are in the limelight, and that they can suffer blind spots about themselves and their organizations. Here are three methods for you to consider about becoming more aware of your impact:
- Take off the blinkers
All human beings suffer from “self-enhancement bias,” believing that they are better than their fellow travellers and have a hard time accepting any evidence to the contrary.Team members, superiors and customers consistently provide better information than the boss about his or her strengths, weaknesses and quirks. The HBR article noted the results of a study of naval officers, where peers more successfully predicted which officers would receive early promotions than the officers predicted in self-evaluations.
Good bosses ask those around them about their performance.
- Find ways to be in tune with the people you lead
Effective bosses devote real energy to reading expressions, noting behaviours, and helping their people think independently and express themselves freely.Especially in troubled times, good bosses realize that their people are looking to them more and more for compassionate help in predicting events, understanding what’s going on, and gaining control over the outcomes.
Good bosses regularly ask, “How can I do better?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of this group?”
Then they listen to the answers and act on the suggestions.
- Understand that exhaustion contributes significantly to behaving like a jerk.
For some leaders, it can be a badge of honor to say: “I’m so busy” or “I worked all weekend.”People eat junky breakfasts, or eat lunch at their desk, or don’t eat breakfast or lunch at all. People make endless excuses about how they don’t have time to work out or take a walk. Not taking care of yourself can lead to exhaustion with all kinds of unintended impacts, including how you treat others at work.
Good bosses understand if they need a tune-up, or a complete overhaul, and find a professional, or buddy to partner with, to elevate their health and interactions with others.
What are your thoughts? What are the signs of a boss in tune with reality — or alternatively, a boss still living in a fool’s paradise?