"Bossmanship" vs. Leadership; Reactions of 21st Century Employees

Brian Beck PHR, MHROD
April 14, 2009 — 3,947 views  
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"I'm the boss."  "My management style is firm but fair."  "My team knows that I'm the boss around here."  "More than once I've told my employees that if they expect to get ahead, there needs to be a respect for leadership."  "My title of CFO should be respected and my requests should come first."  If you have ever heard these kinds of statements, you may feel as most 21st century employees feel that these kinds of management styles just don't work.  In my career, I have often coached these kinds of managers in the hopes that they could change their management demeanor a bit to be more giving, encouraging, supporting, inspiring, loving and empowering....oh, and let's not foget forgiving. 

By day I'm an HR Director, but at night I am adjunct faculty at UNM teaching both grad and undergrad students.  In the three years I've been doing this, I have taught hundreds of students.  As much as they learn from me, I also learn from them.  These 20-30+ year olds are our next generation of workers in our organizations.  We often discuss this concept of bossmanship and leadership.  In their eyes there is a very clear distinction between the two.  In short, 21st century employees want leaders that do indeed inspire, support and commit themselves to leading teams to good things.  "Bossiness or Bossmanship," directness, even accountability are areas that these people will not embrace.  Companies need to understand the distiction between the two.

Now I am here to say that we do need to hold people accountable to the work that we give them.  However, threats and exposing the dark side of the force in daily management style are not the manners in which to drive this accountability.  It's all about delivery.  I often ask managers to understand each and every employee that they have on their teams.  True leaders are able to do this.  It doesn't matter whether you have 4, 40, or 400 employees...it's your job as a manager to know your employees....your icebergs (refer to article on this topic).  Middle managers can be used to scope out these employees if need be, but get to know who they are.  Each employee is managed differently and often with different techniques. 

I once knew a senior leader that would say to her staff members, "you know, I do control your eval."  Excuse me?  Wow.....as an HR guy, that was a long conversation that I needed to have with this senior leader, lots of management experience, that really didn't get it.  It never really hit her why she had low employee satisfaction scores or people were generally nervous around her.  In my career, I've worked with similar managers.  Some using the "firm but fair" idea.  Empower, love, inspire your staff guys and you will get the results you're looking for, it's really that simple.  People know who their boss is.  We don't need to preach it to them or show them each day by puffing out our chests or waiving titles in front of faces in a demand for attention and/or results.  21st century employees aren't going to tolerate that for long.

The economy is such right now that there are many people looking for work and that is an advantage to us.  But, beware of the "bossmanship" managers.  Once things change and the economy improves, our goal is to retain our workers.  True leaders will know that "being the boss" doesn't mean that one needs to be a big meany or drive accountability to the point of exhaustion.  Try the other techniques that I mentioned or at least introduce them.  I am sure you'll see quick results.

Brian Beck PHR, MHROD


Brian J. Beck, PHR, M.H.R.O.D., has worked in the human resources field for over 15 years, focusing on recruitment/retention, HR strategic planning, organization and leadership development.