Behind the Curtain with René Boer: How to Be a Great Boss [Book Review]
Traction® Tools talked with René about the book, and asked about what it takes to be a great boss. Here’s what he had to say.
Talking About How to Be a Great Boss
Traction Tools: What are some common misperceptions about being a great boss?
René Boer: Well, I think that one of the first ones is the misconception that “Whatever got me here is somehow going to get me there.” Lots of times people get promoted into that position based on the knowledge and technical skills that they’ve built over time. And that’s part of what it takes, but it’s not the most important part.
I think another misconception is that the boss is supposed to be the know-all, see-all, do-all. “I’m the boss, I know all the answers.” And that’s not true.
And I think the third one is the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt.” So, “I don’t want to get too close to my people. I need to maintain my distance.” Boy, that’s not true either.
TT: What’s the most common challenge keeping bosses from becoming great?
RB: It relates to what I just mentioned. Not-so-great bosses have an inability to be vulnerable. And, that’s being humble enough to admit mistakes and to admit that they don’t know everything and that they need some help.
Another challenge is that they spend way too much time doing the work themselves instead of focusing their people to work on what’s really most important now.
And, a lot of bosses spend way too much time talking and telling versus actually listening and asking questions.
And, by the way, I’m speaking from experience! (laughs) I was promoted to being a boss because I had knowledge and technical skills. I learned the hard way that that’s just a very small part of what it takes to be a great boss.
TT: So do you still find it challenging to be a great boss?
RB: Absolutely! You learn every day (laughs). And success is a bad teacher. You learn more from your failures.
TT: Can anyone become a great boss?
RB: I think so, but first you must genuinely care about people. The old saying is so true, “people don’t really care what you know until they know that you care.” Caring about people isn’t all about the warm and fuzzy stuff, it’s caring enough to say the things that people really need to hear versus sugar coating everything. That’s really important.
And, as I mentioned earlier, if you really want to be a great boss, you’ll build a lot more trust and respect by being humble and by being willing to be vulnerable. Not-so-great bosses just can’t get out of their own way.
TT: I think people will expect this book to tell bosses how to get people to enjoy working for you, but it isn’t really about that, is it?
RB: (Laughs) No, but when you think about it, a great boss creates an environment where people will take responsibility and accept the accountability that goes with it. They surround themselves with people who are really a great fit for the company and share the values. And they make sure that those people get it, want it, and have the capacity to do the job.
When you think about it, those are the people who will enjoy working for you. So you can get a lot of enjoyment from them, but it’s not about being liked. It’s about being respected.
So if you want to have people who really enjoy working for you, you’ve got to do a lot of the right things right. And I think it’s a two-way street. You’ve got to really enjoy working with them. And if you don’t, you have to ask yourself “why is that”?
TT: You integrate several EOS tools into this book, and people who are already using EOS in their organizations will be familiar with them. Did you have non-EOS bosses in mind as well, when you wrote this book?
RB: Absolutely. The target market is any boss working in a privately held company that has somewhere between 10 and 250 employees.
TT: You spend some time talking about the 63% of the workforce that’s not engaged at work, and you point the finger directly at bosses. Basically, you say that bad employees are the boss’s fault. I think many bosses would be surprised by that statement.
RB: Yeah, well maybe that’s a bit harsh. But I do think that bosses need to own the issue of disengaged employees. Disengaged employees aren’t necessarily bad employees—they’re just not engaged. It’s up to the boss to address the issue.
And the fact is, during exit interviews that are done by companies, people who leave the organization cite having a bad boss as the primary reason for leaving. They’re not quitting because of the company, they’re just quitting because of working for someone that’s a poor boss.
TT: You also spend some time saying that many bosses need to delegate in order to “elevate” themselves. What do people say after they complete the Delegate and Elevate Tool for the first time?
RB: If you were spending most of your time in activities that you truly love to do, and you could honestly say you’re great at doing, wouldn’t your day be wonderful?
One of the revelations that people have after the Delegate and Elevate exercise is, “I spend a lot of time working on things that I’m good at, but I really don’t like to do.” That means I’m either burned out on it, or I find myself doing them because of all sorts of head-trash stuff.
Many bosses do things that they’re good at but they really don’t like to do, and they’re telling themselves things like, “No one can do it as well as me. It’s faster when I do it myself. It takes too long to train someone. I feel guilty asking busy people for help.” And then, of course—this is my favorite: “I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.” You’ll never be a great boss if you carry this baggage!
TT: Which means you’re not asking anyone to do anything!
RB: Well, yeah. And honestly, when I got started as a boss, that was the biggest trap that I had. It was like, “I’ve got all these things I just hate to do, and they’re not a good use of my time, but somebody’s gotta do it. And I would feel guilty asking anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” So guess what? I was doing everything! (Laughs) So there’s a bit of a revelation there.
TT: You dedicate one chapter to leadership practices and one to management practices. Why do you differentiate them?
RB: Great question. First of all, when you think of leadership and management, think of it as a formula. In EOS, we call it “LMA.” So, leadership + management = accountability. Accountability is a byproduct of how we lead and manage people.
So you must create an environment where accountability is a byproduct of how you’re leading and managing. Leadership is defined by four things. It’s about working on the business; about providing clear vision of where we’re going, why it’s important, and how we’re going to get there; it’s about creating an opening; and it’s about taking time to really think.
Management is about working in the business; keeping expectations clear; really being effective in terms of communication; and it’s about doing. You can be a great manager without being a great leader, or you could be a good leader without being a good manager. And if you’re not good at both, it’s hard to be a great boss.
TT: Your book discusses four truths for every boss. I found them to be incredibly freeing and encouraging. How have others reacted to them?
RB: It resonates with them because it’s a bit of a relief. You read all these books about being a great leader—about 50 things you’ve got to do in this book, and the 25 top things to do in that book, and it just twists you up in knots!
So first, being a great boss can be simple. Second, your style doesn’t have to change. Whatever your style, just be yourself. You’ll build more trust and be more respected if you’re genuine. Third, as I mentioned earlier, you must genuinely care about people. And fourth, you must want it. You’ve got to want to be great, not just average (laughs)!
TT: What’s the greatest encouragement you hope to give bosses through your book?
RB: I think you must look at the role you’re in, and ask yourself, “Do I genuinely want it?” And boy, when you want to be a great boss badly enough with a fire in your belly, you’ll figure it out. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll always learn from those mistakes.
If you’re a boss doing what you really love to do—which is leading and managing and helping people get better—and you’re doing it with people you really enjoy, and you’re making a difference, and you’re being appropriately compensated, and you’ve got people that are good at what they do—then you have freedom to pursue other interests. Life is pretty short. Don’t you want to spend it really being satisfied and happy and fulfilled in helping others?
So that’s hopefully a word of encouragement.
TT: Thanks so much for your time, René!
Join the Be a Great Boss Workshop!
Discover firsthand how to be a great boss. Join René at the next How to Be a Great Boss Workshop on March 8 in Chicago. This workshop is for mid-level managers at companies that are running EOS and using an EOS Implementer. You’ll dive into the five leadership practices and the five management practices. This workshop is limited to 50 participants who truly desire to be a great boss.