Who’s The Toughest Boss in the US? You see these headlines in business magazines all the time. But what interesting from a business perspective is not Who but Why? Does a tough love boss generate better results that a compassionate one? Do all cultures use this as their yardstick when judging CEOs and leaders?
Why We Champion Tough Bosses
Before we assess their performance, we need to examine for a moment why we do this. Indeed, maybe it’s the way we champion ‘tough’ bosses rather than looking at ways to bring people together is our fault.
Personally, I find something very odd about this tendency to admire managers who make aggression their calling card as opposed to say… creativity, innovation, or motivation.
One needs to balance the carrot and the stick but surely it’s the results that count.
Seeing Both Sides makes this point when reading Jack Welch’s columns in Business Week, called “The Welch Way”. In “Tough Guys Finish First” Welch writes in answer to the question, “Do tough bosses really get more out of their people?”, a simple answer: “yes”.
He argues that the right boss is tough as in tough-minded:
“They set clear, challenging goals. They connect those goals with specific expectations. They conduct frequent, rigorous performance reviews. They are relentlessly candid, letting everyone know where they stand and how the business is doing. Every single day, good tough bosses stretch people. They ask for a lot, and they expect to get it…Weak performers usually wish these bosses would go away. People who want to win seek them out.”
I’m included to agree with Jack but… it’s how one goes about this is the issue at least in the office.
- Connect goals with specific expectations – the key word here is specific. Poor managers are (deliberately?) vague or unable to define goals in specific terms. I heard one boss complain that he ‘felt’ his line manager wasn’t performing well. How do you answer that?
- Relentlessly candid – the key here is to be forthright but not scathing or derogatory of others efforts. My personal feeling is that people want to do the right thing but sometimes they screw up. We all do. It’s how mgt react to this that needs addressing. I’ve seen people torn apart in meetings for relatively minor mistakes. You can imagine how this affects their long term performance not to mention their self confidence.
- People who want to win seek them out – A good example of this is in Sports where players will endure the Coach if their performance improves under their guidance.
Are you a part of the problem?
Jerry Roberts asks the question no-one wants to ask, “Could you be contributing to the stress? Are you just an innocent bystander here, or have you done your share to fan the flames of discontent? Are you meeting stated expectations and do you do everything you can to strengthen the team?”
He adds, ‘When I stopped seeing my boss as good or bad and focused on what I could control — whether they viewed me as an asset or liability — things got a lot simpler.” He outlines five great ways to survive your tough boss here.
Tim Berry reminds us that “occasionally you hear about a coach who is either hard or soft to each individual player, depending on his sense of how that specific player responds. There too, though, with coaching, it’s a pretty complex problem, because it’s about the nature of the coach, the nature of the player, and the nature of the situation.”
Tough bosses have come to us from the Industrial Age where bosses behaved as tyrants and humiliated employees on a whim. In today’s ‘knowledge worker’ economy, employees are looking for direction, for ways to advance their career and move from ‘worker bees’ to creators.
Tough as in committed is admirable; tough as in abusive is… counter-productive.
How do you see bosses moving from a ‘command and control’ philosophy to one that helps their teams contribute to their firm’s success?
Image: noel tanner