Who’s the Boss?

It’s often not the manager these days, as companies are evolving into collaboration-oriented cultures that place less emphasis on hierarchy. But the changing role of managers also means changes in training and organizational mindsets.

The traditional manager who is a planner, visionary, and master of delegation, rather than a co-collaborator, may be becoming less common. In fact, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh recently fast-tracked the company’s elimination of its managers as it continues to shift to a “Holacracy,” an operating structure that eliminates as much management as acceptable and puts staff in individual leadership roles that require self-governance. The goal is a supervisory structure that eliminates the personal ego and deters politics from coming into play in personnel management.

While this type of structure may not work for all organizations, four Training Top 125 companies and a management expert recently shared their insights on how the role of manager is shifting and the training challenges that presents.

No More “Boss”

The word, “boss,” has negative connotations for many people, bringing to mind images of a person in a corner office who gives orders without asking for input and delegates rather than participates. For that reason, some companies are getting away from not only that word, but the common imagery surrounding it. “I am anti-use of the term, ‘boss,’ to describe the role of a leader in today’s contemporary workplace,” says Norton Healthcare System Vice President, Learning & Organizational Development/Chief Learning Officer Al Cornish. “It has the connotation of an authoritative person who barks orders and directions to his or her employees while receiving no input or feedback—a ‘my way or the highway’ type of philosophy. I see the role today in the contemporary organization as a ‘leader’ using a collaborative approach to his or her role.”

At Norton Healthcare, the emphasis is less about authority, and more about communicating the culture of the organization to those the manager leads. Cornish says the company asks managers to: “model our values; care for others; build an engaging workplace; strive to be an exceptional communicator; learn, adapt, lead; engage in the life of our organization; and accomplish great things.”

United Shore is another company that has gotten away from the traditional concept of “boss,” and also is careful about the language it uses to describe those who supervise others. “We don’t use words such as ‘manager,’ ‘director,’ or ‘employee,’” says Assistant Vice President of Training Matt Boschi. “We refer to our people as team members and leaders, and refer to our HR department as Team Member Services. We see each other as partners on a team working together to meet an important goal.”

Quicken Loans does not have managers, it has leaders, notes KimArie Yowell, senior director of Training. “We predict the word, ‘manager,’ will become extinct and replaced with ‘leader’ throughout the entire business world. Managers focus on processes; leaders focus on people. Without people, there is no company, progress, or innovation. The tidal shift we all will see in the next five years is the great emersion of culture in companies, the continued rise of leadership, and the necessary skills involved to rise to that level.”

Yowell says the biggest investment companies can, and will, make is in leadership development. “Leaders are the ones who can teach what they know, and replicate themselves in others—helping the company continue to grow.”

Side-by-Side vs. Top-Down Culture

Some companies feel that creating an innovation culture is easier with a collaborative, rather than topdown, approach. At Paycor, managers aren’t just leaders; they are collaborators. “Paycor’s culture has a heavy emphasis on innovation—as a result, managers often are working side by side with our individual contributors to define new processes, efficiencies, and best practices,” says Greg Goold, director of Talent Management & Learning. “We believe in giving our rising talent a seat at the table during those conversations, and our managers take those opportunities to coach them along the way.”

Managers at Paycor are still expected to set the agenda for their work group and to lead, but they also are expected to be “down in the trenches” with their employees. Along the way, managers are expected to be a source of encouragement for employees, helping them to meet the department’s goals and to realize their career aspirations. “Historically, manager training has focused on procedural components of the position,” Goold explains. “Today, there is more focus on developing the manager as a coach and helping him or her diagnose and address positive and negative performance challenges.”

Goold says Paycor understands that its managers are an essential channel for communicating culture to employees. “The recognition of the importance of culture and employee engagement has introduced new elements to managerial scope,” he says. “The employee’s desire for more frequent and detailed feedback and career development—combined with more cross-functional projects and self-directed teams— increases the complexity of the managerial landscape.”

Trained to Coach

The new role managers are playing, in which they’re collaborating and working as coaches with employees, requires a new approach to training. At United Shore, there has been a shift away from the theoretical and toward the practical. “We’ve gotten away from lecture-style training sessions and have adopted more hands-on and engaging techniques, where individuals practice the skills in order to improve,” says United Shore’s Boschi. “And this changes how leaders are able to coach their team members on the floor. We’re no longer ‘telling’; we’re ‘showing and doing.’ Everything we do in training is scenariobased or skill-based, instead of people being dictated to.”

The ability of managers to help employees with their day-to-day, on-the-job responsibilities is the focus at United Shore. “Leaders today have to be in tune with where their team members are on their respective career ladders and the skills they can improve, and make sure they not only get the training they need from an organizational platform, but also make sure the training is relatable to on-the-job responsibilities,” Boschi explains. “It’s more of a partnership where the leader is ensuring that training is being done for his or her team and team members are getting the one-on-one training they need.”

Part of being a hands-on manager is understanding the work of your employees yourself, so you can help each individual figure out the best way to approach projects. The manager no longer can lay out his or her vision, give orders, and then walk away. “The world was different 10 to 20 years ago for leaders, as the mindset back then was: ‘I’m the leader and because I said to do this, you have to do it,’” says Boschi. “That’s not how it works today if you want to keep team members engaged and get the best out of them. Leaders today have to be agile and recognize the diversity of team members’ preferred work habits and learning styles—and be able to provide coaching at any moment.”

The ability to obtain a holistic view of a leader’s performance throughout the year also is important. Quicken Loans ensures those whom they lead, as well as peers, are involved in providing feedback regarding a leader’s performance, Yowell says. The information is anonymous to ensure the team member or peer has the opportunity to express his or her unfiltered feedback. This information then is leveraged when finalizing the overall review.

Also, throughout the year, feedback is sought about the leader. This is either done through individual conversations or team discussions. “Consistently gathering information on the leader throughout the year allows for the company to identify what strengths and opportunities may exist for that leader,” Yowell explains. “The leader often is provided the feedback in real time. This information also is included in the yearly review.”

And sometimes the manager needs a coach. A network of other managers to consult with can be a valuable resource, says consultant Brian Fielkow, author of “Leading People Safely: How to Win on the Business Battlefield.” If you don’t have an internal peer mentoring group, he says it might be worthwhile to help your managers find one outside of the company to join. “A peer advisory group is essential to good leadership, whether that is inside or outside the company,” Fielkow says. “For instance, I have been a member of Vistage International (a professionally facilitated peer-to-peer advisory group) since 1996. Vistage and other groups, such as the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), can perform a vital role in both a manager’s business and personal life.”

Inside the company, even an informal one-on-one mentoring of managers can be helpful. The mentoring they receive then will be turned toward the employees they manage. “Employees in leadership positions must help guide managers, be a resource, and give them the tools they need to be successful,” says Fielkow. “Then, leaders must expect this type of mentorship to trickle down throughout the company— managers should act as mentors to those on their team so they can help their employees grow.”

Successful managers require a successful corporate culture, Fielkow emphasizes. “The most valuable time I spend training my managers is ‘on the job,’ as opposed to through some formal process. We must provide our managers with the tools to be successful in our company’s culture,” he says. “We can assume that a manager is hired because he or she is technically proficient. But to effectively lead, the manager also must operate within and uphold the organization’s culture. If a healthy culture is in place, a manager’s training will come more naturally. Building a culture and training people to manage within that culture costs very little. This is something you can’t outsource.”

And that culture likely is undergoing a generational change with the Millennials entering the workforce and moving up the ranks. “As new generations enter the workforce and the workplace changes, the role of the manager will continue to evolve,” Fielkow believes. “Advances in technology and the growing ability for employees to work outside of the office will require managers to adapt and learn how to lead their teams, even if that means they are not physically in front of one another.”

In addition, Fielkow says, “we must be conscious of the difference between a manager and leader, and look to our opinion leaders (those who have influence in the company, no matter their title) to not only grow within the organization, but help the company’s culture evolve.”


  • Emphasize collaboration over authoritative management, focusing on training managers how to partner with employees to complete projects
  • Ensure managers have the skills needed to be “in the trenches” with those they manage, rather than just serving as planner or visionary.
  • Train managers to serve as coaches who have the ability to jump in and provide just-in-time support to employees challenged by assignments.
  • Offer scenario-based or skill-based training to managers, rather than lecture-style classes that are theoretical, rather than practical.
  • Create an internal mentoring network and/or help managers connect to a manager mentoring network outside of the company.

Are You Ready for Self-Management?

By Sunny Grosso, Culture Chief, Delivering Happiness

Holacracy is hot. Whether it’s a fascination, a spectacle, or, in some cases, a dirty word, the idea that organizations can be self-managed, purpose driven, and function better has our attention.

The solution is not always getting rid of managers, but it is in doing things differently. Here is a simple way to assess your organization and three game-changing concepts to evolve your approach.

Where Are You Now?

Let’s look at the values and beliefs your leaders hold about people. Three stages describe most companies today. Which is closest to you?

  1. Your organization and managers value competition, control, delegation, stability, and top-down structure. People function best when there is order and clear rules. Most companies are run this way. Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy led from these beliefs.
  2. Your organization and leaders value equality, acceptance, consensus, and resource sharing. People function best when there is value alignment and family spirit. Ben & Jerry’s and nonprofits thrive here. Jimmy Carter led from these beliefs. Delivering Happiness wrote the book on this.
  3. Your organization and leaders value change, flexibility, transparency, learning, freedom, and individuality. People function best when they are purpose-driven and self-organized. Patagonia operates this way. John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods, leads from here. Self-management thrives here.

No stage is better than the others; each can be exceptional. However, they do build on each other. So you now have a pulse on how far you may be from adapting a holacratic model.

Three Principles

These concepts of self-management can help you evolve. The goal is to integrate these in a way that feels natural and works with your culture.  

1. We’re all leaders. How do your managers lead? How much are trust and control shared? What drives performance?

In self-management, the role of leaders evolves to a that of a servant-leader: They empower, enable, and inspire. Leaders coach individuals to realize their unique purpose and how it aligns with the organization’s purpose. Ultimately, they hold the space where employees can be their best by offering education, a sense of progress, and meaningful relationships to adapt and thrive. Solutions are not handed down; employees find their own approach. Trust and autonomy tap into powerful personal motivation.

2. Be purpose driven. Does your organization have a higher purpose? Does it resonate? How do leaders model it?

In self-managed organizations, the mission goes beyond making money or winning, to making valuable contributions to a cause that elevates humanity. No small stuff! Leadership’s role is to exemplify this purpose and use it to inspire decisions. People are able to align and pursue their own purpose and gifts through their work.

3. Transparency. How is organizational information shared? On a need-to-know basis? How about financial information?

In a transparent organization, information is no longer a commodity; it flows freely. Teams need information about finance, organizational direction, and cross-functional initiatives to make the best decisions. In practice, it’s about openness and a commitment to truth. Transparency removes shadows, silos, and fear to free everyone up to focus on the work that matters.

To explore these principles in your culture, e-mail sunny@deliveringhappiness.com.

More than Money—Promoting Managers’ Internal Motivation

By Kristin L. Cullen-Lester, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, Research, Innovation, and Product Development, Center for Creative Leadership, and Laura M. Graves, Ph.D., Professor, Management, Graduate School of Management, Clark University

Naturally, many organizations use compensation and sanctions to increase managers’ motivation, but these actions only go so far. To optimize motivation, organizations must understand and address the wide range of motives managers have for doing their jobs.

Clark University and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)’s research on managerial motivation demonstrates that managers have multiple motives operating simultaneously. We identify a number of motivational profiles that are common across managers. Each profile includes a different mix of external and internal motivation.

• External Motivation: Pursuing recognition, financial rewards, or promotions (or avoiding sanctions or termination)

• Internal Motivation: Pursuing one’s own values, goals, and interests

We find that managers benefit more when their profiles include internal motivation. To create a setting where internal motivation thrives, organizations must train supportive bosses, implement fair reward systems, and reduce organizational politics.

Training Supportive Bosses

Managers with supportive bosses are more likely to have motivational profiles characterized by substantial internal motivation. These managers possess a sense of security and self-worth that allows them to feel self-directed and motivated. When support is lacking, managers feel insecure and struggle to express their true goals, values, and interests.

As such, it’s critical for organizations to train leaders to:

Explain the rationale behind goals and tasks to help managers more fully “own” them

Give managers a chance to investigate problems and develop solutions to improve their competence and sense of ownership

Give constructive feedback to help managers improve and take charge of their development.

Ask managers about their interests, and help them bring those aspects into their roles

Let managers choose assignments that match their goals and personal passions

In many organizations, individuals are promoted because of their technical expertise. In such cases, be prepared to provide training and coaching to help them learn to be supportive leaders and engage in leadership behaviors that foster internal motivation. When possible, select and promote people who already have these skills.

Implementing Fair, Affirming Reward Systems

External rewards (e.g., competitive compensation and bonuses) can motivate managers and signal that they are valued by the organization. Reward systems also can undercut internal motivation when they are manipulative rather than fair and affirming—for example, when a large amount of compensation is at risk or when the organization encourages cutthroat competition between managers.

Fair, affirming systems:

Assign challenging, but achievable goals that are important to the manager and the organization

Use achievable metrics linked to fair compensation

Provide opportunities for self-direction

Avoid undue pressure that preoccupies managers’ thoughts, feelings, and actions

Minimize Negative Organizational Politics

In highly political organizations, managers feel they must act politically—including connecting to powerful people, manipulating others, and stifling honest criticism—to get ahead. In such an environment, managers feel a need to protect themselves, as opposed to pursuing their own goals, values, and interests. This interferes with their motivation, and hence, productivity.

Boosting managers’ internal motivation ultimately will enhance job attitudes and reduce costly turnover throughout the organization. While everyone appreciates fair and competitive compensation, a system that includes both internal and external motivation creates a more productive workforce.

Visit CCL.org to download a recently published white paper on this topic.


Lorri Freifeld
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 APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.