What Great Bosses Know about Their Impact

Great bosses understand the power of feedback. As I’ve written before, they’re skilled at finding ways to deliver praise and constructive criticism to staffers. Because the information is sincere and specific, people know what’s expected of them and where they stand.

But even if you really work to provide feedback, it’s quite possible that you don’t get all that much feedback yourself. Employees often keep their opinions to themselves, or share them with everyone but you. If they have complaints, they may fear reprisals. If they have compliments, they may fear looking like sycophants.

So how do you find out how you’re doing?

There’s feedback from your own bosses, but it may be sporadic or incomplete. There’s the occasional comment, positive or negative, from peers and employees, but does it tell you enough about your overall reputation?

Even without a formal assessment from your bosses or staff, there are ways to tell whether you’re growing as a manager and leader. There are the obvious signs: Your people aren’t sobbing at their desks, HR hasn’t come to you with a litany of complaints, and so far, you’ve discovered no blogs that rail about your shortcomings.

Still, you need better benchmarks. I’ve developed a self-assessment — 10 questions to give you a little guidance and insight.

1. Do people come to you regularly and frequently with ideas or projects they’re developing rather than wait for instructions or permission? If they do, it’s a good sign they don’t feel micromanaged. They feel free to get started on things because you’ve been clear on roles, responsibilities, expectations and budgets.

2. Do people offer their opinions freely in conversations and meetings, without waiting to hear what you think? People who feel overly controlled or criticized, or believe their opinions don’t matter, often shut down. It’s safer for them to wait to hear what the boss wants before speaking.

3. Do your employees tell you about people who’d be great potential employees? One of the best signs that people like their jobs is their willingness to recommend other good people, especially those they know. They’re endorsing the workplace and its leadership.

4. Do your staff members talk to you in terms of the whole organization, not just their group’s work? If they do, it is a sign that you’ve helped them share a vision for the whole organization, and with your leadership, they’re working as a team, not a silo.

5. Do your people admit mistakes or misgivings to you? When your staff is forthcoming with you about errors, it shows you’ve built a culture of trust and accountability. There’s more FYI than CYA. There’s more “speaking truth to power” because people see you as approachable, even when the news isn’t great.

6. Do the people your supervise ask you for help AFTER they’ve tried to solve problems or conflicts among themselves? If so, you’ve established a work environment where people don’t succeed by lobbying behind one another’s backs, nor by turning to you to resolve conflicts before they have given it their best effort. You’re a leader, not a parent.

7. Do you hear your staff talking about values, and if so, do they speak of them as their own, not yours? It might be ego-boosting to hear people say, “What would the boss do in a case like this?” But what you really want is for people to have a shared sense of values. You might actually hear them discussing a tough call and be proud of the process they use to make a decision on their own.

8. Do you know your staff members as people, not just producers? Do you know what they hold dear outside of work? Great bosses know that leadership is professional and personal.

9. Can you look at your team and see your potential replacement? The best bosses hire people who are smarter than they are. They aren’t intimidated by the strengths and skills of staffers, and they recognize the importance of grooming others to lead.

10. Could you ask your staff to answer these questions and be pleased with the results? If so, may I suggest you give it a try? But if you’re a great boss, you’ve probably thought of that already.

I have a bonus question to add to the list, and I share it in today’s podcast. But here’s a warning: It’s a very scary question for many managers. If you have the courage, give a listen to “What Great Bosses Know about Their Impact.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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