What Great Bosses Know

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Management Guru Jill Geisler joins us to discuss her book "Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know" and her step-by-step approach to improving work environments.

Things to Know About Being the Boss

The following interview excerpts have been edited for clarity.

You Have to Set Expectations Very Clearly

"People watch bosses for cues and unless you are very explicit you will find that you as a boss made rules you never knew you made."

Bosses are Contagious

"Daniel Goldman, I think, said that [a boss's] mood runs through the room like an electrical current. So if you are not emotionally intelligent -- you come in frazzled, you come in angry, you come in stressed, you are going to have an effect on everyone in that room and it can be to lower their performance."

Motivation Comes in Many Forms

"Autonomy is actually a motivator, it's an intrinsic motivator... Some bosses tend to think that it's just money or perk or privileges -- we don't turn that down. None of us would say  'No, no, no, give me less.' But having said that, if that's all you think as a boss is what motivates people, you're gonna miss out on competence, [and other] intrinsic motivators... Look at the person and say 'What motivates them?'"

People Want Feedback

"People want to know where they stand, especially in changing times. When you know that the economy is tough and that tomorrow there might be a displacement of workers in the organization, and you're walking in each day going, 'When was the last time anybody here told me whether I’m hitting the mark or missing the mark? Was it a year ago when I had an evaluation?' And so it isn't just [about] the positive feedback, it's wanting not to be surprised and finding out that I was far more expendable than I thought or doing something that I could have changed if you had told me.


Jill Geisler, author and head of The Poynter Institute's Leadership and Management programs


There are bosses who say 'If you don't hear from me, assume you're doing a good job.' That is essentially saying, 'I’m going to neglect you, consider it a compliment, until you see me coming.'

There are also bosses who say 'I don't praise people for doing what they're supposed to do.' And I say to them, you know, long before you get to praise, there are all kinds of other steps on a taxonomy of positive feedback that you could give: encouragement, acknowledgement, appreciation. Even if it's somebody that isn't perfect there are ways to say 'You know, I see what you're trying to do. You're on the right track.'"

Be Deliberate in Your Feedback

"If you really put feedback glasses on, essentially you are now saying, 'Every time I look at work, I’m going to look at something specific that I can have a conversation with people about. It's going to change the way that I have encounters with people.' People will know that you - or your deputies that you've also trained to do this, because you can't be everywhere at all times - are very attentive to their work. Now that people know that you are paying attention to their work, and that proportionately they are getting better feedback from you, when you sit down and say ' I want to talk to you about, I noticed that...' you are talking to them from a basis of strength and very specific about something that didn't go well.

And you are not doing what I call a 'praise-eraser' -- 'Nice show, but... ' The word 'but' erases everything that comes before it. [Instead you should] have a conversation with someone regularly about your standards, about what works so that when you sit down with them and say 'Come on, I really want to go through a review today. There are a couple of things I think we can be doing better,' it isn't coming out of the blue. And, in fact, people know, 'Oh my gosh, this is a person that really wants me to succeed and I've missed the mark.'"

Incompetence Has to be Dealt With

"Many bosses are simply too nice to sit down and have the tough conversation with people who are under-performing. They don't like conflict, they don’t like confrontation... It is more important to have the conversations that describe to the person what your expectations are, despite your fears of not being liked or even of having that person walk out."

Trust is Multi-faceted

"If you look at some of the keys to actual trust it's: expertise,'I trust you for what you know;' integrity, 'I trust you for what you stand for' and with a boss by the way, that's measured in things like sharing credit, taking blame. You know one of the absolute trust busters for a boss is to appear to take credit or to truly take credit for other people's work, which is common, unfortunately. And the third [key], by the way, is empathy. It's expertise, integrity and empathy. 'Can you see the world through my eyes? Can you look at the world through the work I do? When you're purchasing equipment, when you're budgeting, when you're designing the rooms that we're going to work in? Can you see the world through my eyes?'"

The Practical Things Matter

"Great bosses manage and lead. If you've ever worked for someone who can't get work schedules out or vacation schedules done, you don't like that boss even if they're an inspiring leader. You've got to get the nitty-gritty of things like systems and processes, and all of that down and you have to do the inspiring work of leadership that encourages people."

It's Not About You Anymore

"The most important thing a boss does is help other people succeed. It isn't about you anymore. You used to be a great producer, you used to be a star performer, they said 'Hey, be in charge of a team,' and suddenly the focus isn't on what I do,  the focus is on what they do."


'"Some of the most powerful words a boss can say to someone are 'I believe in you.'"

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