Conventional wisdom – and a bunch of research – says people don’t quit their companies; they quit their bosses.
Of course that means the opposite must also be true: people who love their bosses should stay at that company even if they could find (within reason) better pay and benefits somewhere else.
So how can you be a boss everyone wants to work for? Start by realizing that the basics – professionalism, objectivity, ethical behaviour, etc. – are a given. (As Chris Rock would say, those are things you’re supposed to do.)
You have to go further. You have to do things that don’t show up on paper, but definitely show up where it matters most: in the minds and even hearts of the people you lead.
You need to:
1. Take real, not fake risks.
Many bosses – like many people – try to stand out in superficial ways. Maybe they wear unusual clothing or pursue unusual interests or publicly support popular initiatives. They try to stand out – and they choose easy ways to do so.
Great bosses do it the hard way. They take unpopular stands, not because they hope to stand out, but because they want to do the right thing. They take unpopular steps. They’re willing to step outside business-as-usual to make things better.
They take real risks not for the sake of risk but for the sake of the reward they believe is possible. And by their example, they inspire others to take a risk to achieve what they believe is possible.
Great bosses inspire their employees to achieve their dreams: by words, by actions, and most important, by example.
Who doesn’t want to work with a leader like that?
2. See opportunity in instability and uncertainty.
Unexpected problems, unforeseen roadblocks, major crises – most bosses horde supplies, close the shutters, and try to wait out the storm.
Great bosses see a crisis as an opportunity. They know it’s extremely difficult to make major changes, even necessary ones, when things are going relatively smoothly. They know reorganizing an operations team is much easier when a major customer jumps ship. They know creating new sales channels is much easier when a major competitor enters the market.
Great bosses see instability and uncertainty not as a barrier but as an enabler. They reorganize, reshape, and re-engineer to reassure, motivate, and inspire – and in the process make the organisation much stronger.
And that makes people want to stay, if only to see what tomorrow will bring.
3. Believe the unbelievable.
Most people try to achieve the achievable; that’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than inconceivable.
Memorable bosses expect more – from themselves and from others. Then they show us how to get there. And they bring us along for what turns out to be an unbelievable ride.
No one is eager to step off of that kind of ride.
4. Wear your emotions on your sleeves.
Good bosses are professional. Great bosses are professional yet also openly human. They show sincere excitement when things go well. They show sincere appreciation for hard work and extra effort. They show sincere disappointment – not in others, but in themselves. They’re even willing to show a little anger.
In short, great bosses are people, and they treat their employees like people, too.
Treat me like a number and I’ll stay until a better number comes along. Treat me like a person and I’ll stay because, ultimately, that’s what we all really want.
5. Save others from onrushing buses.
Even good bosses sometimes throw employees under the bus.
Great bosses never throw employees under the bus.
Great bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way, often without the employee’s knowing until much, much later (if ever – because great bosses never seek to take credit).
When someone volunteers to take a bullet on our behalf they inspire incredible loyalty.
6. Go there, do that, and still do that.
Dues aren’t paid (past tense); dues get paid each and every day.
The true real measure of value is the tangible contribution a person makes on a daily basis.
That’s why, no matter what they may have accomplished in the past, great bosses are never too good to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and do the grunt work. No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.
Who wants to leave a job where they feel everyone – including and especially their boss – is in it together?
7. Lead by permission, not authority.
Every boss has a title. That title gives them the authority to direct others, to make decisions, to organise and instruct and discipline.
Great bosses don’t lead because they have the authority to lead. They lead because their employees want them to lead. Their employees are motivated and inspired by the person, not the title.
Through their words and actions, they cause employees to feel they work with, not for, their boss. Many bosses don’t even recognise there’s a difference, but great bosses do.
It’s easy to leave a boss we work under; it’s much harder to leave a boss we stand with side-by-side.
8. Embrace a larger purpose.
A good boss works to achieve company goals.
A great boss works to achieve company goals and to serve a larger purpose: to advance the careers of employees, to make a real difference in the community, to rescue struggling employees, to instil a sense of pride and self-worth in others.
Great bosses embrace a larger purpose – and help their employees embrace a larger purpose – because they know business isn’t just business.
Business is personal.
We all seek to find meaning in our personal and professional lives. Find that meaning, and it’s hard to leave. Money is important, but fulfilment and self-worth are priceless.