Harvard Business Review

Are You the Boss You Need to Be?


Posted on Harvard Business Review: January 13, 2011 9:01 AM

How are you doing as a boss?

As a leader and manager, someone responsible for the results obtained by others, are you the boss you need to be? Are you getting the best from your people, and from those you need but don't control? Are you fully satisfying the ever-rising expectations of your firm and its customers?

Equally important, are you meeting your own expectations? How would you like to work to develop yourself? Are you good enough to achieve your own aspirations? Are you ready for increased responsibility?

These are critical questions all bosses must ask if they want to be fully effective. Why? The two of us have spent nearly 60 years in total studying and practicing management, and again and again we've made a troubling observation: Most managers grow and develop to a certain point, and then they stop. They reach the "Plateau of Good Enough." Perhaps they struggled at first as new managers, but they quickly learned how it's done in their organizations, how to cope with the challenges they typically face every day, and they've come to feel comfortable.

Unfortunately, they mistake comfort for real competence. They only ask, "Am I good enough?" when they should be asking, "Am I as good as I should be and want to be?"

If your answer to the second question is less than an unqualified "Yes!" we hope you'll follow us as we explore here what it means to be a great boss — the boss you want and need to be.

In particular, we're going to explore three critical areas:

What's required to become a great boss. It's a difficult journey that requires years, not weeks or months, of learning and steady personal growth. It's difficult because most of your learning will come from your own experience, and so it will at times be painful.

What effective bosses actually do. You cannot learn if you don't know where you need to go. You need benchmarks to measure yourself against. Here we will focus on what we call the "3 Imperatives": Manage yourself, Manage Your Network, and Manage Your Team. Those are not only the three areas in which we've seen managers again and again fall short, they are also the basic ways bosses do their most fundamental task of influencing others. The 3 Imperatives are the heart of management and leadership, an action-oriented framework that encompass everything essential to being a great boss.

How you can assess where you currently are. Understanding the journey and knowing what great bosses do aren't enough. The real question is this: how do you make progress on your own journey? The answer is simple in concept but difficult to do. All progress begins with a good understanding of where you currently stand. To assess yourself not once but continually, you must hone such personal skills and practices as regular reflection, honest self-assessment, the ability to admit and learn from mistakes, and the willingness to seek and absorb candid feedback.

All these areas present daunting challenges for managers at all levels who are determined to make progress on their journey to mastery.

As we explore different facets of becoming a great boss, we hope to hear from all of you who are facing the challenges and making progress. We hope you'll share your reactions, thoughts, experiences, and stories of what has worked for you and what hasn't, lessons you've learned, along with tips and techniques you've found helpful. There is much you can teach us and each other.

We look forward to the journey together.

Copyright © 2012 Harvard Business School Publishing. All rights reserved. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School.


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