I hope I’m not your boss

I have always hated the term boss but could never put my finger on why.  After (literally) meditating on it, I finally figured it out.  I equate the word boss with a poor leader.  When I hear the word boss I seemingly insert the word ‘bad’ in front of boss, creating a mental image of a stereotypical autocrat.  I actually cringe when I hear the word.

The core competencies of a ‘bad boss’.  BambooHR recently posted a ‘Bad Boss Index’ on their blog.  It elegantly captures the traits of the boss I strive not to be.

  • failing to empower the team
  • taking credit for somebody else’s work
  • not caring about the well-being of others
  • focusing on weaknesses instead of strengths.  

Servant leaders are not great ‘bad bosses’.  The core tenet of my leadership philosophy is servant leadership.  Robert Greenleaf’s groundbreaking essay in the 70’s is based on leaders serving the team instead of bossing people around.  The ultimate test of servant leadership is whether people “while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” That approach renders a leader incapable of the ‘bad boss’ competencies outlined above.  

I believe in supporting lines, not reporting lines.  The ‘bad boss’ I picture is driven by the power of the reporting line.  I had the privilege of growing under the leadership of Steve Lucas, now CEO at Marketo.  He would say “I am not your manager unless I need to be”.  Essentially, we are all leaders and excel in our craft.  The role of a leader is to support the team and focus on people’s highest priority needs.  That is a ‘supporting line’ as opposed to a reporting line.  

If somebody is struggling or the team is missing the mark it may be warranted to be a ‘manager’.  A servant leader uses a supportive coaching approach in these situations.  The right outcome can be achieved while being in service of the team and helping people grow.

I hope I’m not your boss, though I would be happy to serve as your leader.

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