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By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
October 2006

It’s that time of year when things are falling where I live. Temperatures. A few leaves. Gas prices. My hopes for the Jacksonville Jaguars to have a stellar season. And that tells those of us who follow these sorts of things that it will soon be, yes, October 16. National Boss Day.

A ‘holiday’ in its late forties now, Bosses’ Day originated with Patricia Haroski, a secretary with State Farm Insurance in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1958. She selected her father’s birthday, October 16, and registered the holiday with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

We last wrote about Bosses’ Day in 2000, and figure it’s about time we do it again. Thanks to you, our readers, our clients, and audience members who have, over the last few years, supplied us with additional thoughts about what sets the really great leader-bosses apart from the rest. Going beyond the obvious “communicate better, be approachable, monitor your instant messaging behavior” and that kind of thing – you know that already – we hope these ideas will add, or shift, one or two of your behaviors and actions, and really make a difference to those who call you “Boss”.

1. Trivialize the trivial. One common effect of stress on the part of bosses is the tendency to mountainize molehills. And let’s face it. We’re all wound a little tight these days, aren’t we? Keep things in perspective. The next time you’re tempted to make a big deal out of some minor-league issue, infraction or misstep, ask yourself a few questions:
a. Will this matter a week from now?
b. Does it affect the business, or just me, the boss?
c. Does the seriousness of the infraction justify making it an issue?
d. If I make it an issue, am I prepared to follow through with help so the person doesn’t repeat the error?

2. Stop the Madness. I’m talking about, of course, meetings. Now, don’t get us wrong, we make a good part of our living at meetings. We’re not referring to your quarterly or annual conference, management meetings, and the like. But the next time you’re tempted to “call a meeting”, first, ask yourself a few questions:
a. Will this meeting matter a week from now?
b. Will the meeting affect the business, or just me, the boss?

Do those questions sound familiar? Well spotted. In his book "Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn", Dave Barry has hit the nail on the head. “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’"

There is simply no excuse, in 2006, for having meetings that are not thoughtfully planned, and professionally facilitated. With an agenda that gets “stuck to”. No, we don’t mean go out and hire a professional facilitator for every little meeting you have in the conference room. Learn the skill yourself! Suppose it’s just a small meeting, with twelve people. Every five minutes spent unproductively equates to an hour of lost time. Have you got that kind of surplus time hanging around? (Hint: don’t call a meeting to find out.)

3. Invest in “Reciprocal Effort”. One thing we’ve learned in our study of Discretionary Effort over the last couple of years is that people tend to expend effort in direct proportion to the effort that is expended on them. We heard Dan Cathy, President of our favorite fast food company, Chick-fil-A, define to an audience of his stores’ managers, their brand of customer service, which they call “Second Mile Service”. “We won’t see Second Mile Service in front of the counter,” Dan told them, “until we have first given Second Mile Service behind the counter.”

4. Pretend you’re crossing the road. Stop. Look. Listen. When someone, especially one of your employees, is trying to talk to you, we could hardly do better than to follow the advice we were all given as children for crossing the road. Stop (what you’re doing). Look (at the person directly in the eye.). And listen. Really listen. Back to step 2 (look) – if you’re really listening to someone, you ought to be able to recall, an hour later, the color of their eyes.

5. NEVER belittle, abuse, or humiliate ANYONE who calls you their boss (or anyone else for that matter). And if you do, ask their forgiveness. You’ll need it.

I hesitate to use the following example, because I don’t – I mean I really don’t want this to be seen as a backdoor political statement, but the example is just so perfect, and timely, that I’m going to use it anyway. Several independent witnesses, including some with no axe to grind, reported that last month, following the rather unfortunate interview between Fox News’s Chris Wallace and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in which neither gentleman fared particularly well, Clinton “chewed his staff out mercilessly” all the way out of the studio and into the car that drove them all away. Maybe they deserved a reprimand. Maybe they failed to perform their duties as assigned. But they didn’t deserve to be belittled, abused, and humiliated by their boss, who was probably justifiably angry at what he had just experienced.

When you find it necessary to ‘climb on someone’s bumper,’ it needs to be done in private – always. Many years ago, my boss’s boss spent ten minutes tearing me a new rear end over the phone. I could tell that we were on a speaker phone, but not until we hung up and one of my peers immediately called me back did I learn that two of my direct reports, two of my peers, and a vendor were all sitting in this bozo’s office while he was venting his spleen. To this day, if I were to see that guy in a cross walk, I’m not sure my car’s brakes would hold up.

6. Start a campaign. Not a crusade, but a campaign. Identify one (you can count, can’t you? – we said ONE) skill that everyone, or most everyone, on your team could benefit from developing or improving. Maybe it’s public speaking. Writing with better grammar and usage. Facilitating meetings (see item 2 above). Whatever it is, figure it out, and then start helping them with it. Make it visible. With specific goals, targets, and rewards. Encourage a sense of team and individual accomplishment throughout the quest. And celebrate the victory when it is achieved.

Maybe the best general advice any U.S. president ever gave about being a good boss came from Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” We know that Teddy was a man of good character, and had he said these words a hundred years later, he would have used more inclusive personal pronouns. But we think you get the point.

Happy Bosses’ Day!

Leadership...the Workplace...Creating a Great Place to Work...Getting Discretionary Effort from Your Workforce. Every week, we speak to corporate and association audiences about these topics, at conferences, conventions, and management meetings.

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Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC

phone: 904-720-0870
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