At one company, a former employee said the boss was “always so severe that they now find it hard to do or say anything that goes against the grain”. If plates were left on the kitchen bench or a worker missed a deadline, the reaction was the same level of severity.
"The boss would react to any offence as if the employee had just slapped one of her children,” the ex-employee claimed.
Considering all viewpoints
In Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the American management consultant urged bosses to remember that staff are people, being “creatures of emotion” rather than logic.
Similarly, it is important to respect other people’s viewpoints and approach issues from their perspective, rather than your own.
“Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving,” Carnegie wrote in his bestselling book.
Make your expectations clear
Management consultant Chris Whitecross says bosses need to be clear about their expectations for staff and their behaviour, managing the behaviour exhibited rather than getting personal.
“If someone has done something wrong, focus your attention on the behaviour and don’t belittle them as a person,” says Whitecross of Arrowdynamics. “Once you start making it personal, using criticisms like ‘incompetent’ or ‘lazy’, you break down trust and people start to take offence.”
He said by being clear with your expectations, such as asking for a report by 11am the following Monday for a meeting, it is possible to compare expectations with behaviour and respond accordingly if the employee fails to deliver.
Appropriate levels of discipline
Levels of severity towards staff should be adjusted to fit the crime, rather than taking the same approach to every misdemeanour.
For example, if an employee comes to work late for the first time, the manager might have a quick conversation about the starting time and whether there was a problem that day. However, if it’s the fifth occasion and you have spoken to them each time, it becomes a much more formal approach and possibly a disciplinary process.
The only variation to this rule is for non-negotiables, such as safety requirements at a mine site. In such situations, bosses need to be strict, as any actions that violate the rules threaten not only the employee’s safety but also put others at risk as well as the company.
Finding the balance
Toxic bosses can cause morale and productivity to slump at workplaces, with the effects showing up in high rates of absenteeism and staff turnover.
However, being overly friendly and lax with staff can also cause problems, with bosses who are too easygoing risking productivity and client service.
“It comes down to the job description and behaviours,” says Whitecross. “Too many organisations just focus on the job and not behaviours, and that’s where the most problems are because they have a severe impact on productivity.”
Good bosses have empathy with employees and try to encourage them to do better, rather than disparaging staff for errors. Their whole task is to create an environment where people can willingly work to their capacity and their philosophy is built around this.
If there is a formula in winning as a boss, it is obviously being kind rather than cruel and tailoring your approach to each situation.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Anthony is a communication consultant at BWH Communication and a freelance writer with 15 years' experience in the stockbroking and media industries of Australia and Asia. He is a regular writer on business and other issues for publications in Australia and Japan. He consults on communication strategy to businesses ranging from private enterprises to professional service firms and publicly listed companies, with a particular interest in entrepreneurship in all its forms.