Take a minute to think about the greatest bosses you’ve had over the course of your career. Think about the bosses who brought out the best in you and in turn, the ones you worked the hardest for. Now think about the qualities they possessed that made you feel supported in an environment where you flourished. What are these qualities? I’ve asked this question to many friends and colleagues over the last few years and am usually met with the same set of responses: “Kind.” “Understanding.” “Flexible.” “Nice.” And sometimes just “Chill.” I’m never satisfied with these contrived responses, though. The words roll right off people’s tongues as if they have been trained to say them. They sound like the superficial qualities of an elusive “ideal boss.” When I dig further, I hear a few other words: “Challenging.” “Inspiring.” “Demanding — in a good way.” “Reliable.” I then ask for examples. There is one common tie in all the anecdotes about these admirable bosses of the past; they ignited a sense of confidence in their direct reports. Their team members could rely on them and understood their expectations on any given day, on any given project. When their expectations were met, they were appreciative. And when the expectations were not met, they challenged.
This, combined with my personal experience, got me thinking. Being a great, memorable boss isn’t about being nice or chill all the time, because this isn’t realistic or motivating. What is realistic, motivating and actually achievable is being consistent, and yet this word rarely comes to mind when we reflect on positive boss experiences.
There are times when a boss does need to put a foot down, to express dissatisfaction, or to push for better work…and that’s ok. The difference between these actions being deemed “mean and unfair” or “just and motivating” relates directly to consistency in expectation. If a boss takes the time to set the bar and stick to it, there is long-lasting clarity around what quality of work is expected and justification to be dissatisfied with anything that falls short.
Consistency can also incite confidence. It is much easier to feel confident in the work you put forward when you understand and accept your boss’s unswerving management style. It is empowering to walk into work every day, present new ideas, and work cross-functionally within an organization when you can rely on the stability of your boss and your knowledge of what they expect and how they react.
Now, take another minute to think about your greatest bosses. Did they share the common trait of being consistent?
So, I'm calling all you bosses out there! Here are three steps to becoming a more consistent (and great!) boss.
1. Take the time to set the overarching vision.
Corporate culture can be a vast ocean allowing many fish to wander and get lost. A leader who takes the time to create a vision, put it on paper and ask for feedback will have an easier time keeping the team he/she is responsible for focused and productive. It is the boss’s job to sell that vision (and continue to reiterate and reinforce it) higher up the food chain.
This step is not groundbreaking, but for some reason seems to be pushed aside more often than not in today’s haste to push for output. It is important to note that this vision will serve as the blueprint for working together and the foundation of consistency.
2. Set your personal expectations. Be honest!
Who are you as a boss? What behavior do you value? What does top quality work look like to you? What is absolutely unacceptable? Do you learn visually? Do you like to be in the know constantly or are you more hands off? Take a close look at yourself and share the results. You might actually learn more about your personal management style!
3. Stand behind your expectations.
No one can predict the ebbs and flows of corporate culture, so it is more a fact then a possibility that the overarching vision will change. This can be challenging for both boss and direct report, but just because the vision is constantly evolving, does not mean that your personal expectations have to. Give your direct reports the gift of consistency and they will be empowered to put their best work forward.
Caitlin Larwood Collins is a content and social media consultant and freelance writer based in Connecticut. After eight years of digital marketing experience at large corporations in Manhattan, she decided to found her own consulting business, CaLaCo, focused on helping niche brands use content to tell their story, expand reach and drive action.