Boss, Buddy, or Leader, Which One Works Best for Your Team?

No matter your political affiliations, no matter where you are employed, culture changes as societies change. Failure to do so is exactly why almost everyone has a ‘bad boss’ story. How do you make certain you aren’t the next story told? Act like a boss… for real.

Skills that worked for a CEO, VP, Supervisor, Manager or Team-Leader a few years ago, may not work in today’s workplace, and probably won’t work the same tomorrow.

Like a Boss: A Real Boss

One of my Protégé’s and I have just had a conversation in which I guided her through this concept:

(It’s important to note that I was given permission to use this conversation as long as I changed some of the identifying details.)

“How am I supposed to manage people?”

Like a boss.

Seems a simple enough question, especially when factoring in the that she was recently promoted to the level of Director in an organization that, like many, truly does value its people, but doesn’t know how to follow-through on that value.

How many times have you been promoted, or simply given more accountability, but given no training on how to get the work done with someone else’s hands?

That is what managing is all about after all. Getting work done with someone else’s’ hands, using their priorities, values, skills, and knowledge in order to reach the strategic goals of your department, team or unit.

Divided by however many people you have reporting to you, and again by however many people report to them, and taking into account any internal obstacles such as those political or ‘tribal’ affiliations they have, any distance between them and you, and any life-changes that may be happening to each individual.


“What have you done so far?” I asked.

That is what managing is all about after all. Getting work done with someone else’s’ hands, using their priorities, values, skills, and knowledge in order to reach the strategic goals of your department, team or unit.

“Everything! I have been super-nice, like I even brought in donuts for everybody the first couple of weeks, and they told me that I was too nice. Then I tried to have meetings where I would have everybody tell me what they were doing, so I could tell them if it was good or not, and then people started talking about me. I heard somebody say that I was trying to act like their mom or something. But other people liked the meetings, so I just kept meeting with one or two people, and then people started calling them my favorites, so I had to stop that too.

I just got tired of trying. So, I have a couple of people that I know like me, and can just do their jobs, so that’s who I deal with, but I just got a complaint filed against me for having favorites and not treating everyone the same. I mean what am I supposed to do?”

It’s important here to understand that a large part of mentoring is the ability to remove yourself from your protégés’ situation emotionally.
And as with management, it’s a chance to apply the FIRST RULE: When in doubt, ask a question.

Some of us, sometimes without even realizing it, assume that we know what our employees are going to say before they say it, changing the tone and destination of the conversation. Instead, ask a question. This allows them the chance to see their own solutions, and with a little guidance, it also helps them to begin to think in terms of their overall position and goals in relation to those of the company. Keeping in mind, as I’ve said in many articles, keynotes and classrooms, but it bears repeating, the SECOND RULE: We don’t really manage people.

Anyone with a child over two can tell you this simple fact. We know that the older the child gets the more we must learn to guide and lead rather than ‘manage’ them as we did when they were helpless and dependent on us for everything.

Bosses can be born, but they are usually made.

Your employees are not infants. Don’t treat them as if they were. If your employees are incapable of performing the tasks and workflows required, doing them yourself, or having another team member do them is not the solution. Begin asking questions so that you can make a plan on how to bring them up to speed. Or get comfortable with either you or someone else performing their work. Forever.

“And how far away from your targeted goal were these results?” I asked.

“Uh, well…I…like…what do you mean?”

The next questions I asked were about her past employers/work situations, current company’s strategies and goals, and those of the person(s) to whom she reported. First what was important to both employer and direct tell, (a direct report is someone who reports directly to you, a direct tell is someone whom you report to), and how did they manage or lead?

It turns out that while the company she works for, a national level organization, does, in fact, have a strategy which involves proactive management and leadership, the person to whom she reports directly does not. That person believes in the power of fear. They are a boss only.
Bosses can be born, but they are usually made.
It begins with not knowing what exactly their job is, (meaning exactly what s/he is accountable for), having little to no training on project management, or delegation, and ends with whatever people skills have gotten the boss to this point. When people talk about someone being over-employed, this is usually who they are talking about.
When we discussed how others in her ‘past life’ managed, we found that many of them followed this singular principle, while one or two were great leaders, and one had even managed to become a life-long friend whom she communicated with even though they hadn’t worked for the same organization in over two years.

The truth is that a number of the people in management have no idea how to deal with the largest part of their jobs: The People.

And a surprising number of companies still don’t train them on how to overcome this obstacle, preferring to let each manager ‘feel’ their way through it. The issue with this is that, like their employees, each person in management, no matter their level, has different levels of ability. Seconded only by the fact that many of them have never had a great management-employee relationship from which to draw.

Although sometimes the employee won’t always quit the organization, they will quit the role of being a high-performer choosing instead to simply come in, do their job, and leave.

Put another way, you’ve never seen a healthy relationship, and you have just entered into the most important one you’ve ever had. What have you done so far? What do you do next? Specifically.

A different company asked me to come out to speak to their 3rd tier leadership about some of the opportunities that accompany a really diverse group. You know the kind of diversity that every organization says that they want? This one actually achieved. Now that they regularly hired based upon the needs of their team, both role, and duties, they that this particular level of management needed a different set of skills in order to reach their goals together.

Specifically, the level of leadership I was speaking with had grown accustomed to being able to identify with people based upon perceived identifiers, those things that we sometimes take for granted that help us to acclimate to the people that work for us.

What was needed with so many employees from different age groups, cultures, self-identifying differences, and work experiences as a way to get them all, including the leadership tier, to work together was a new outlook. Many organizations have this issue, yet only those forward-thinking understand that if you don’t plan for success in this regard as in all the others, failure may be the result. If you are in this position, what would you do? What have you tried?

While you decide, I’ll get back to the story of my protégé.

At this point we discussed the difference in the viewpoints:

A boss usually believes that “write-up’s” are the way to manage appropriately. In this case with a healthy dose of office-level bullying. No one around this type of manager can make any decisions because they get berated when they make suggestions. These employees learn to keep their heads down, and mouths closed. Effectively ending co-operation in lieu of strategic allegiances. This presents itself as an even greater problem for the organization because high-functioning employees, (you know the people that directors and Managers go to when they need high-level work done or projects completed?), leave organizations that undervalue them. Although sometimes the employee won’t always quit the organization, they will quit the role of being a high-performer choosing instead to simply come in, do their job, and leave. (I’m sure no one’s ever heard that statement before today).

Don’t misunderstand. There is a space, and a necessary one for being ‘the boss’ This is the person who takes care of the time management, (including meetings which begin and end on time), data and metrics, and corrective actions, (meaning we are taking this action as a part of an action plan or progressive training that it will help the employee to correct a misstep or inaction in the future), so the boss is an integral part of managing. Just not the only part.

Like a Boss: The Buddy

professional woman drinking - TSI Experience

“And your company has signed off on the fact that you only really interact with a portion of your people?” Had been my last question.

“No, I interact with everybody, I just don’t like everybody.” My Protégé responded.

Progress. It’s a myth that you like everyone at work, or whom you work with. The reality is that it is your responsibility to treat them with courtesy and respect. Openly. Like you would treat your Mom’s favorite great-aunt who comes around every holiday season just to push all your buttons. Only without the liquor.

“Ah. And that brings us to the new complaint?”

“Yes! And it was one of my so-called favorite people who started it!”

Sigh. Of course, it was.

‘Buddy-leaders’ are the leaders that don’t know that everyone will not get along. Different things are important to different people based upon their upbringing, education, abilities and concerns. In fact, if you are in an organization that is looking at market-share, you want to build a team that is diverse enough to have different outlooks and point of views. These are the fountain-springs of innovation.

Buddy’s can usually only be buddies for a while because they must make huge allowances in the way that they characterize their employees. These allowances leave little room for individuality, but can, in some instances work for a time. After that ‘grace period’ is over, they will begin to hear comments like: “That isn’t what I was going to say”, or “Yes. Let’s hear what (the perceived favorite person), thinks. Again.” Or my favorite: “No, that really isn’t what I was going to say, but O.K.”. All of these statements usually mean that the employee is beginning to rankle under a misconception as to who she or he is, and by the time the Buddy hears these comments, the employee has already discussed it with others who may be feeling something similar. The outcome is a newly-formed office-click.

It’s a myth that you like everyone at work, or whom you work with. The reality is that it is your responsibility to treat them with courtesy and respect.

Understand that there is a place for a Buddy at work. The Buddy is there with a nice greeting for everyone, (sometimes with donuts), is ready with a pat on the back, and is the person who explains what organizational success looks like to the team. You just can’t be the buddy every moment of every day. Almost every experienced leader has a story about how they went out of their way to help someone that they thought was a buddy, only to have that person ‘turn’ on them. Ask around. The experience has usually changes the way the manager leads from that point.

Hopefully, by then the manager has learned that no one way works all of the time, and that truly great leaders, you know the one’s we quote, as well as the one’s we personally have looked up to from our own experiences, need to be agile when dealing with people.

After all, the Boss thinks that they wrangle people. The Buddy thinks that they don’t need to manage, but the leader understands that the only thing that remains true is that the only person you can truly manage is yourself. And to keep yourself in your best ‘leader-shape’, you have to continue to find the right combination that is true to your employee, true to your organization, and true to yourself.

Final question to my protégé?

“O.K. so what’s your next move?”