Learning to be a great boss

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Today, Jeff Immelt is the CEO of General Electric, but once he was a boy whose father worked on the line at a GE plant. In 2005, Fast Company asked Immelt if his dad behaved differently at home when he had a bad boss. Here’s Immelt’s answer.

“Yeah. He came home in a bad mood, uncertain about the future. And when he had a good boss, he was pumped.”

You can become a great boss, the kind whose teams are top performers, where team members go home at night energized and feeling good. It won’t be quick and it won’t be easy.

It takes most new bosses a year and a half or more to get the basics of the job down pat. Then it takes another decade or so to become one of the great ones. Here’s how to get started on that road to greatness.

Learn what greatness looks like. You’ll make better decisions as a boss if can imagine what great performance looks like. Start by choosing some role models.

Identify the best bosses you’ve experienced or heard of. Think about a time when it was great to come to work. Who was your boss then? What did he or she do to make it great?

When you’re confronted with a problem, ask: “How would [my role model] handle this?” Use that as a guide for your own behavior.

Whatever you do needs to fit your personality. Things will work better if you pick role models who have a personality similar to yours.

Ask for advice. Why use just your brain when you can get some experienced brains to help you? When you ask for advice, make it specific. Don’t ask how you can do better, ask how to deal with a specific challenge.

Coaches and mentors can accelerate your development. Even if your company provides coaching, you may want to engage a coach on your own. It’s one of the best investments you can make.

Get ideas from reading and classes. But remember that being a boss is a lot like dancing. You can read a book to get an idea of what you should do. You can even role practice in class. But your real learning will come on the job.

Accelerate your learning by reflecting. The best bosses I’ve worked with over forty years critiqued their own performance.

Take notes. You won’t remember the details so take notes about things that happen, how you dealt with a challenge, and the results. Conduct “after action” critiques of significant events.

Schedule regular time for reflection. Take some time every week to review your performance and how you can do better. Discuss things with your coach and mentor.

Concentrate on making progress. Work on something specific every day. Get a little better. Over time those little bits of progress add up. One day, you will realize that you’ve become one of the great ones.

Boss’s Bottom Line

You can become a great boss, but it will take some time. Better start now.

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What advice would you give someone who wants to become a great boss?

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