Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why It's so Hard to be a Nice Boss

When I was about 16, I was elected president of a high school club. I was happy, of course, and thrilled that my peers had selected me.

It all went downhill from there.

Somehow, I let that title change me. I became very serious, looking at every decision as if the future of the free world depended on who we selected as the band for our next dance. For those who stepped out of line -- watch out. I wasn't above calling them out before the entire club, asking them to explain their actions as if they were preschoolers.

My presidency didn't last long, thank goodness. I was voted out during the next election, and rightly so.

But I learned an important lesson: It can be tough to be nice when you're in charge.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a young manager who told me that as a boss, she was going to be one of the "cool, nice ones." She had worked for many different managers, and was popular with her colleagues. She just knew she could be a boss who was able to maintain great friendships with the people who worked for her.

I recently ran into her, and the story has changed a bit. "I couldn't believe I did this, but I was nearly screaming at one of my employees on the phone and said if she was late again for work I was putting a note in her personnel file. I told her I didn't want to hear any excuses and hung up on her."

Yep. That's definitely a story I've heard before. People believe that once they gain a title, they will not change or do anything differently. But as my 15-year-old self can testify, that's not always the case.

There are a few hard truths that new bosses need to understand. Among them:

1. You're going to have a**hole moments, no matter how nice you are. There's a lot of things that are going to change your thinking about being one of the "cool, nice ones." Some worker will lie about why she's absent (she's not really sick, she just doesn't feel like working) and she will lie more than once. Eventually, you're going to talk to her about it -- and then she's going to do it again. She's going to continue to push your buttons like a 2-year-old who won't stop coloring on the walls. She's going to drain your energy and your niceness until you end up screaming at her on the phone. Just accept that you're going to have such a moment, but it doesn't make you a horrible boss. It makes you a human one.

2. Know your breaking point. Once you've had your little a**hole moment, then you can learn from it. Did you let the lies from the worker continue too long without scheduling a sit-down with the employee and clearly communicating the consequences of her behavior? Once you've reached the point that you're yelling at someone, you've gone off the rails. You need to think about how you'll handle such situations better the next time.

3. You're going to work harder than ever. Many people believe that once they get a new title they're not going to have to pull weekend shifts or answer emails at night or have their vacations interrupted with calls from the office. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Being the boss means that you're going to have more responsibilities -- and that may mean covering a shift when you're short-handed and working on the weekend to help the team meet a deadline. If you're going to get resentful about it, maybe you should reconsider if you're really cut out to be a boss.

4. You will be treated differently. Being a manager can be lonely. Team members may ask one another "How are you? How as your weekend?" -- but they may never ask you. You may not be asked to lunch when everyone else goes. They may be huddled together, talking and laughing -- and stop cold when you approach. You may get your feelings hurt, but try not to take it personally. Just think back to how you viewed your boss. Did you want her to go shopping with you on your lunch hour? Did you want to hang out after work? Probably not. It doesn't mean you're not a perfectly nice person -- it's just that now you're the boss, and that changes everything.

Much of being a good boss depends upon maintaining the attitude that you will need to learn and grow every day. You will be faced with new challenges, and that demands time and energy. As long as your team sees you as having their backs, being fair and treating everyone with respect, you will indeed be one of the "cool" ones.

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