Is this scene familiar?
So you’re at some event for work….a party, a company picnic perhaps, or maybe you’re lucky enough to be at the office at just the right time and place. Maybe you’re enjoying lunch at the cafe downstairs from the office when one of your associates happens to come by with their spouse, partner, parent, friend or children. As you stand up respectfully to warmly greet them or shake their hands, your co-worker introduces you and says:
“I’d like you to meet my boss.”
I cringe when I hear that word. I’d take “manager ” over being called “boss” any day. Hell, I’ll even take being called “chief,” “big cheese” or “head honcho” before you lay the “B’ title on me.
Have you ever seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption?” Do you remember what the inmates all called the guards, especially that tall, large, vindictive extra-mean with-a-side-of-whoop-ass guard that was the warden’s enforcer? The one who was ready to throw Tim Robbins’ character off the top of the prison roof for asking him a question about his wife?
Yup…you got it. Boss. The same guy who played Kurgan in the first “Highlander” movie, yet another character who loved to inflict pain and misery on the less fortunate.
That’s what I think of when I hear that word. That’s the guy who has no regard for your development and most certainly does not care if you have an opinion about your team issues or not. That’s the narcissistic woman who only concerns herself with what’s best for her with no consideration of the people who work to make her look good every day. The enforcer…the uncompromising, unwilling self-serving dictator that expects respect without having earned it.
That’s the cancer inside the organization.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m being too sensitive right? There are plenty of people who use “boss” in a respectful, almost jovial manner and mean no disrespect to you or your position. In fact, some use it as a playful term and may use it exactly in the opposite manner, as in “like a boss.” “Call me what you want,” you say, “as long as the job gets done, and we can work together in harmony. Call me the janitor, for all I care.”
Ok…no argument there, but I still hate the word. Why? Because it implies someone who has no willingness to work as part of the team. Very few bosses possess the flexibility and emotional intelligence required to be the type of influential leader that efficient and productive teams demand. Instead of developing, coaching and building the associate, mistakes become immediate performance write-ups or disciplinary actions instead of first becoming teachable moments. The method of operation becomes “my way or the highway”, and soon after, the organization begins to churn through employees like my grandmother whipping home-made butter to cook for a family of ten (my grandparents were dairy farmers).
Think I’m wrong? Take a gander at this. Webster’s dictionary defines “boss” as:
“A person who makes decisions, exercises authority, dominates.”
Dominates? Really? I know I’m a Type A personality, but dominates?
Or try this one on for size:
“A politician who controls the party organization, as in a particular district.”
Oh, Lordy…please…not a politician. That’s worse than being a dominator.
Not convinced? How about as a verb?
“To be master of or over; manage; direct; control. “
“To order about, especially in an arrogant manner.”
Control? Order? Arrogant? Holy insults, Batman…this isn’t getting any better. Maybe in a personal context? Like when my daughter screams at her older brother:
“You’re not the boss of me! “
Yeah….because Mom and Dad are. They make her do things every day, like clean her room, take out the trash, pick up dog poop, etc….clearly, they are very unreasonable people.
There are 3 lines from the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “A Tale Of Two Cities.” Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, it tells the story of two men who look similar but are very different in traits. It could also accurately describe my experiences with past managers:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.
I’ve worked for great leaders, and I’ve worked for a few that used questionable tactics, yet I’m sure there are others out there that could dwarf my experiences. In retrospect, I realize that I owe each of my past supervisors a debt of gratitude as they’ve helped to shape who and what I am today. I’ve learned how to lead a successful team from some of the best, but more importantly, I’ve learned how not to manage people from some of the worst. For that, I’m thankful. Every experience, good and/or bad, help to make us what we are today.
Take a moment and think about the leaders who have made the greatest impressions on you in your lifetime. They stick out like a sore thumb in your memory, don’t they? Like anyone who has a story to tell about something very bad or very good – the service at your local restaurant last night, the DJ at the wedding reception you attended a year ago, or the burrito you just had for lunch – everyone can talk about the leader who was perfect, and the boss who was a modern-day version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” There is little gray area…it’s one or the other.
I am thrilled to have supervisors now that are among the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and I’ll admit that I’ve kiddingly referred to them as my bosses from time to time. I can do that because we have an awesome working relationship that is based on open communication, an understanding of each other’s goals and responsibilities, and at times, uncompromisingly brutal honesty. There’s no dis-respect, though. We both appreciate the equal importance of not only making the company successful but supporting the people who make our jobs easier to do. Neither one of us wants to be “the boss.” To our teams and to the people whom we supervise, we want to be the co-worker…the friend…the leader.
Which one do you want to be?