THE BLOG
10/16/2014 12:13 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Do Bosses Need Their Own Day?

Chris Ryan via Getty Images

October 16 is National Boss Day. Do bosses really need their own day?

Over the last 20 years, my company has asked hundreds of thousands of bosses about the challenges they face every day when it comes to managing people. What have we learned? In short, managing people is harder now than ever before. Managers are being asked to do more and more with less and less. Employees are more and more "high-maintenance." Most managers spend too much time fighting fires and scrambling to get their own "real work" done. Many feel they simply don't have enough time to manage their people.

The boss -- at every level -- is the most important person in the workplace today. Everybody is under more pressure. Employees are expected to work longer, harder, smarter, faster, and better. And employees are not about to wait around for long-term rewards. They rely on their immediate boss more than any other individual for meeting their basic needs and expectations at work, and for dealing with just about any issue that arises at work. They want to know, "What's the deal around here? What do you want from me? And what do I get for my hard work today?" The boss is the point of contact -- but much more than that, on a daily basis, the boss defines the work experience. On this there is widespread consensus: In study after study, the number one factor in productivity, morale, and retention is the relationship between employees and their immediate boss.

Here's the problem: Most managers move into positions of supervisory responsibility because they are very good at something, but not usually for the reason that they are especially good at managing people. Once promoted, most new managers receive very little in the way of effective management training. And the management books and training that they do receive are dominated by the false empowerment approach (the idea that the way to empower people is to leave them alone to do things their own way... an approach that almost never works).

Meanwhile...

  • You cannot always hire superstars. You have to hire the best person available, and often that person is in the middle of the talent spectrum, not at the top.
  • When you do hire superstars, they can be even harder to manage than the mediocre people.
  • Even if you set expectations clearly, sometimes employees don't achieve those expectations.
  • Not everybody is a winner. Dealing with failure is a big part of managing.
  • Employees can't always work in their areas of strength because there is lots of work to be done, and employees are hired to do what needs to be done.
  • Employees don't always earn praise. And those who do earn praise usually want tangible rewards, not just praise.
With all of these challenges, what can a real boss in the real world do to make things better? What our research shows is that no matter how difficult things may be getting for the average boss, there is no newfangled solution necessary. Rather, what is missing in nine out of 10 management relationships is the old-fashioned basics: regular, consistent, high-structure high-substance communication between managers and their direct-reports. It turns out that when managers take charge, things almost always go better. Be the boss who says, "Great news, I'm the boss! I consider that a sacred responsibility. I'm going to make sure that everything goes well around here. I'm going to help you get a bunch of work done very well, very fast, all day long. I'm going to set you up for success every step of the way. I'm going to spell out expectations for you every step of the way. I'm going to help you plan. I'm going to work with you to clarify goals, guidelines, and specifications. I'm going to help you break big deadlines into smaller time frames with concrete performance benchmarks. I'm going to go over standard operating procedures. I'm going to offer reminders. I'm going to provide checklists and other tools. I'm going to help you keep track of what you are doing and how you are doing it every step of the way. I'm going to help you monitor and measure and document your success every step of the way. I'm going to help you solve problems as soon as they occur, so they don't fester and grow into bigger problems. I'm going to help you find the shortcuts, avoid the pitfalls, and follow the best practices. Count on me. When you need something, I'm going to help you find it. When you want something, I'm going to help you earn it." It's okay to be the boss! Be a great one!