Secret Sauce for a Better Boss

Bosses who know their strengths, have the tools they need to succeed, and are adaptable enough to try out different job roles are leaders your organization and employees will respect and admire.

By Margery Weinstein

When employees are asked to rate their managers on 360-degree assessments, there usually is apprehension. It’s theoretically anonymous, but in a work group that may consist of just six people, what if the boss figures out who described him as disorganized? Similarly, the evaluation managers receive from their managers also can lack honesty. The boss’ boss may never have observed her subordinate’s management style. So, the evaluation from higher-ups may be based solely on financial performance. With all that in mind, how do trainers help develop managers who not only deliver financial results for the company, but create a productive work environment for their team? It’s a topic that nine Training Top 125 companies had insights on.

Self-Aware = Better Boss

You can’t improve until you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, is how financial services provider First Horizon National Corporation approaches management training. “Self-awareness leads to self-management—a choice. Instead of the old, ‘My way or the highway,’ we look for leaders who think, ‘I see where you are, I know who I am, I will adapt,’” says Vice President of Learning Services Lisa Pruitt. “Self-awareness also includes a realization of where you are in the moment. I realize that at times my thinking is in the wrong place due to my circumstances. That is when I take a deep breath and count to 10. Then I become curious instead of judgmental.”

Likewise, a boss’ intelligence at solving mathematical formulas and writing a great memo or presentation doesn’t mean he will have the requisite emotional intelligence (EQ) for handling interpersonal relationships. Shaw Industries, Inc., considers both kinds of intelligence in its recruiting of new managers. “There are varieties of reasons managers potentially could be unsuccessful. First, there is a failure to understand and align IQ and EQ,” says Director of Corporate Sales Training and Development Chris Clement. “IQ, which reflects the intellectual intelligence of an individual, helps to measure aptitude for a particular set of responsibilities and roles. EQ reflects the ability to relate and interact with others. When there is imbalance between IQ and EQ, leadership effectiveness can be compromised. If an individual has a very high IQ, but his EQ and ability to communicate well with his associates is poor, then leadership suffers.”

The desire to give to others at the company, and, ultimately, the company’s customers, is highly valued at Afni, Inc., a global customer contact services provider. “Our ideal managers exhibit an attitude of servant-hood, caring for the coaching and development of each level reporting up through them,” says Senior Manager of Leadership Development Heather Cushing. “Afni believes that the ideal manager empowers others to reach their full potential, while also inspiring teamwork and loyalty and improving employee engagement. Ideal managers not only make good decisions themselves, but teach others how to do the same.” In 2012, the company launched a new leadership program, achieveMORE. This program was implemented to provide a developmental structure for Afni leaders, with a companywide scope and flexible process, including classroom learning, self-paced computer-based training, and experiential activities driven and tracked through individual development plans housed in the company’s learning management system (LMS).

Superior Communicators

If employees don’t understand what is expected of them, how can they deliver results? That is the rationale underlying manager training at ABF Freight System, Inc. “The ideal leader at ABF is a person who makes sure his or her employees understand specifically what they are asked to do, makes sure the employees know how to accomplish the task (if they don’t, the leader makes sure the training is made available for the task), makes sure the employees know when the task must be completed, and, finally, makes sure the employee knows why the task is being done,” says Director of Training and Quality Joe Davis. “This allows the employees to take ownership of what they are doing and provide input on accomplishing the task in a more efficient manner.”

SunTrust Banks, Inc., believes that listening to employees is foundational to the firm’s organizational health and financial performance. “At SunTrust, we solicit feedback from all of our teammates through our annual Voice of the Teammate (VOT) survey. The summary results by department are provided to each manager to protect the individual teammate and allow for a candid view for management,” says Group Vice President of Talent Management and Development Michelle Resnick. “The scores ‘roll up’ through the management layers all the way to our CEO. The VOT scores are an element of our annual review process for managers to ensure they understand the importance of creating an engaging workplace, and they are measured against it annually.”

Dell Inc. takes the opportunity to use employee feedback to help establish managers as inspiring leaders and takes employee feedback to heart. “Tell Dell, our employee engagement survey, measures the team member feedback of the leader relative to their inspirational leadership. This feedback is incorporated into the leader’s performance appraisal,” says Executive Director of Leader Development Maureen McDonald. “We also use this feedback to recognize those who do this on a regular basis and year over year. We call this our Rockstar and Inspiring Leader programs. These leaders are recognized at our quarterly earnings meetings, annual worldwide leadership meeting with all executives, or via a personal thank you note from their senior executive leader.”

First-Line Employee to First-Time Manager

Many managers come from a company’s first-line trenches. So getting them used to managing more than themselves is key to creating a great boss. Home services (security, HVAC, plumbing) provider DEFENDER Direct created formalized programming around getting first-line employees ready for management. “Our Leader in Training Program (LIT) prepares our front-line team members for success in their first leadership roles. The Leadership Learning Community (LLC) program allows more experienced leaders to take a deeper dive into how to grow and develop others, and DEFENDER’s Strategic Leadership Consortium (SLC) prepares our director-level leaders for the demands of executive leadership,” says Chief Learning Officer Mike Lantz. “The Leader in Training Program is a six-month program teaching new leaders basic leadership principles and practices such as coaching, goal-setting, leading with data, conflict, teambuilding, and change management.”

American Fidelity Assurance Company has a school specializing only in preparing new managers. “This new program is designed to give our new supervisors a foundation of tools and skills to succeed in their new manager roles,” says Senior Training Specialist Jeff Forsythe. “The first New Manager class begins with an opportunity to network with other new managers within the company. Throughout the first day, participants are introduced to: The Legal Issues—Harassment, Discrimination, and Corporate Policies; Performance Management—Expectations, Measurements, and Role-Play; Motivation and Team Building—The Art of Motivation and Team Building 101; Great Place to Work and Our Environment—Employer of Choice and the American Fidelity Culture; and Just In Time Training—Online Manager Center and Links to Key Information.”

Getting the fundamentals right as soon as possible after becoming a new manager is considered a priority at Baylor Health Care System. “We have a required foundational course for new leaders at each level. They take this course within the first 90 days in their role. It teaches them the first two to three leadership competencies that have been determined as most critical,” says Director of Employee Development Kathy Jones. “They then have 18 to 24 months to take four other four-hour required leadership courses. Each of those follow-on courses represents another important competency. When new-to-role leaders have been in their role for six months, they take an assessment that determines their strengths and opportunities related to those competencies.”

On-the-Job Tools for the Boss

Bank of America finds that bosses, like their employees, often benefit most from learning that is delivered at the exact moment they need it. “We provide access to a variety of online, on-site, and Webinar offerings to promote career development for managers and leaders. We also provide quick reference guides and training tools for specific tasks and processes,” says Global Learning Executive Eryn O’Brien. “Through our performance management process, all employees are coached by their manager throughout the year on an annual development plan they build collaboratively.”

A portal where leaders can find everything they need to succeed is a great help at Economical Insurance. “For ongoing e-learning development for our leaders, we established a Leadership Knowledge Centre portal offering a variety of learning assets, including customized and off-the-shelf e-learning courses, videos, and leadership books, and it includes the Women’s Leadership Network,” says Assistant Vice President of Organizational Development and Corporate Marketing Mary Beth Alexander. “Targeted leadership development also occurs through the delivery of leadership development workshops, including Leading Change and Leading Virtual Teams.”

A systematic approach to being boss sometimes lends a helpful structure to management, according to Expert Global Solutions. “EGS has created and leverages two programs to create the ideal manager: The Management Operating System and the Level 3 Leadership Development for Excellence (LDE) program for managers,” says Vice President of Training and Development—Operations Control Ann Mercadante. “EGS takes a two-pronged approach to manager development, believing the ideal manager is strong in both management and leadership skills. The Management Operating System is a comprehensive toolkit for operations managers to support and drive skill development. Every manager is introduced to EGS’ Management Operating System and instructed on how to use the tools within the kit.”

Providing Bosses with Options

A boss who feels she has room to grow is a happy boss. For that reason, G4S Secure Solutions (USA) makes it easy for managers to make career moves. “We offer multiple opportunities for managers company-wide and worldwide to enable vertical and horizontal movement within the organization,” says Director of G4S North America Training Institute Dr. Joseph A. Finley, Jr. “Managers have the option of volunteering for task force initiatives, emergency response teams, and mentoring program initiatives. To continue ongoing skill development, managers enroll in online training programs on the G4S LMS.”

A boss who is adaptable and can handle myriad situations is beneficial to the company, as well as those who work under him. Caesars Entertainment Corporation makes stretch assignments a regular part of leadership training. “Giving leaders the opportunity to lead other functional areas and providing them with stretch assignments is a common practice at Caesars Entertainment,” says Corporate Manager of Learning Operations Krishawna Henderson. “Leaders practice our exceptional leadership components in various roles with different teams. This allows them to bring the organization’s vision and mission to life in different settings and broaden their connection and pride with the organizational story.”

Quick Tips

  • Encourage bosses to help employees gain an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and how to leverage what they do best.
  • Emphasize the need to give more than they receive as boss by preparing managers to deliver coaching.
  • Employees won’t be engaged if their bosses aren’t, so provide enriching opportunities such as stretch assignments to keep managers stimulated.
  • Consider establishing a school or formalized curriculum just for new managers.
  • Provide on-the-job support for bosses in the form of online manager portals and intranet systems that provide just-in-time learning.
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.