Please, Don’t Call Me Boss

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

As a young adult, I could not wait until I had the title of “manager”; that meant that I had taken a huge step in my career. I was managing not just my processes and myself, but also other people. I would see other managers in action as they barked orders at their team members and told them what they needed to do each day. I too, had orders given to me for execution; some of them with a significant amount of detail: do these steps, do it this way, and do it on this exact timeline. Process is important, I definitely respect that, but process for the sake of control is wrong.

As I began to progress in my career, I made the decision not to manage a team like a “boss”; meaning, I would only cascade orders when absolutely necessary. Rather than barking orders at the team, I would bring them along on the journey with me. I would ensure that the team is seeing the larger, strategic picture and would ensure that they understand where and how their work impacts the strategy that we as a team are working towards.

An important aspect of this is clearly setting expectations. If you set clear expectations up front, your need to micro-manage a team diminishes greatly. I can recall many conversations over the years where I was given an assignment; one of the first things I would do with my manager is ensure expectations were set: are you just looking for ideas or do you want a buttoned-up strategy? When do you want me to have this completed by? Do you want an executive-ready presentation or just the concept outlined in a document. If your manager doesn’t set clear expectations with you, take the initiative and set them yourself.

Another important aspect of this is truly leading the team; managing versus leading a team are two totally different concepts. Managing a team is about providing oversight, telling people what to do and when to do it. Leading people is about focusing on driving activities that lead to organizational success; it’s about influence and motivation across the teams you work with. Sometimes, that means jumping in and doing the work alongside them.

A great example of leading is a rowing team. Personally, I’ve never been on a rowing team; I always thought that would be fun (a lot of work, but fun). Thinking about this scenario: if the leader of a rowing team did nothing but bark orders, they would essentially be “dead weight” in the boat; they would add little value to the team in terms of rowing and accomplishing their goal. On the other hand, a leader who came alongside the team and rowed with them while also ensuring their tasks were being complete and helping to guide and motivate the team adds significantly more value to the team. Not only do they provide guardrails and guidance, but they also take on some of the burden and do real work.

I’ve seen both of these types of managers in actions; those that take the role of leading a team often have better outcomes with their work, stronger team morale and sense of accomplishment, and better business results.

My challenge to you: think like a leader, not a boss. Lose the word “boss” from your vocabulary. Better yet, act like the leader that your team needs and maybe your team will notice the difference and stop calling you a boss.