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Are You a Bad Boss?

The old adage is that people don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses.

Everyone in construction is talking right now about how hard it is to find good employees, but we'd like to pose a different puzzle: How hard is it to find good bosses? 

Think about the arc of your career. Most of us had to master technical things before we became managers, bosses, or leaders. 

You were a good plumber, a good engineer, a good estimator, or a good something, and you came up through the ranks to find that one day you suddenly got the additional responsibility of not only doing tasks but also managing people. 

You got plenty of training on the technical aspects of your business, but you didn't get much training at all on how to manage or lead people!

None of us starts out to be a bad boss. 

In fact, most of us have difficulty even imagining that we have a few blind spots or bad habits and that we do certain things without thinking. 

We fall into patterns that aren’t productive over the long term. 

The old adage is that people don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses, and I would say that's probably true. 

Here are six self-tests you can use to see if you're a less-than terrific boss followed by six tips for changing and improving.

1.    Do your people walk on eggshells? Do they avoid you? When you walk down the hall, do you see your people going in the other direction? Are they reluctant to engage with you?

2.    Turnover. If you've got turnover in your organization, you might be a bad boss, and you may also have bad bosses working with and for you. Turnover could be an indicator – some say the very clearest indicator – that people are running away from your organization.

3.    Who gets credit? There's a story about a great basketball coach who always took responsibility for the negatives. Whenever his team experienced victory, the credit went to the players. Whenever there was a loss, it was the coach’s fault. When you have victories, the credit should go to your people. You should give them accolades, attaboys, and appreciation. When there's a problem, it should rest with you.

4.    Are you testing your people? Are you the kind of boss that calls the office at 4 p.m. on Friday to make sure people are still working? Do you patrol at 8 a.m. every workday to make sure people are at their desks? That's micromanaging and patriarchal behavior right out of the 1950s and has no place in the modern construction office.

5.    Do you find yourself doing things because you don't trust your people to do them? The old cliche is “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” That is no way to lead or manage in today's world. If you find yourself doing the tasks and work of other people, you've got some improvements to make.

6.    Do you focus on rules and compliance? Do you think, "What must my employees stop doing? Sam took 15 extra minutes at lunch; he's got to stop doing that because that's 15 minutes of lost productivity for the organization." Don't focus on rules and compliance; focus on how you can help your employees. Maybe Sam had a sick child at home and the extra 15 minutes was quite necessary! You've got to be compassionate and understand that people get caught in traffic, get flat tires, get sick, and their families or communities need them for all sorts of reasons. People have lives outside of your business!

If you have self-diagnosed that you're a less than terrific boss, here are suggestions for improvement.

1.    Read, search online, and find resources about what it is to be a good boss versus a poor one. Educate yourself.

2.    Measure turnover. Turnover is a key indicator. Some turnover might be good; there are employees that you'd rather not have, and if they decide to leave that may not be a net loss to your company. On the other hand, if you're losing talented people, that indicates something is terribly wrong and you need to address it right away.

3.    Undertake assessments. You can take a 360° evaluation, EQ-type instruments, and other assessments to get valuable, actionable feedback. You can even enlist a third-party professional who can administer the instruments and provide coaching. Be courageous and assess; put it to the test to determine if you're a good or bad boss.

4.    Engage with your peers. If you don't have the confidence to be in a mastermind/share/peer group with other people in your industry, that probably tells you something. Good bosses want to learn, want blunt feedback, seek out engagement, and find ways to continually improve. Joining an industry peer group might be the fastest, most efficient way of getting the kind of feedback, support, and accountability you need to change your career arc.

If you diagnose that you're not the kind of boss you want to be, you're certainly not alone. We've all come to the realization that we can and should do better. Utilize the self-tests and get the feedback you need to advance in a more positive direction, and you’ll be glad you did.

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