I often liken my work as an executive consultant to that of a detective. Each engagement involves aggregating different puzzle pieces in order to form a complete picture of a given employee and/or organization. As you might imagine, I frequently come across unexpected insights about employees, organizations, and the qualities and characteristics of effective and ineffective leaders.
Recently, on assignment as an executive coach in San Francisco for a start-up biotech company, I heard about a famously superior boss. Scientists wanted to join her team, and once they arrived they didn’t want to leave. Inspired and intrigued by her strong accolades, I immediately reached out to her, eager to learn more about how she had managed to stand out from the masses and consistently prove herself to be a great boss.
Career growth opportunities
In my conversations with the highly lauded leader, it became readily apparent to me that she was firmly committed to being a great boss. Interestingly, her motivation for putting her employees first was, in large part, driven by her recognition that doing so would empower her to advance her own career trajectory. Far too often, bosses strive to keep their distance from their employees so as to maintain the organizational hierarchy. They refrain from engaging with employees out of fear of being perceived as “soft” or “biased”. Regrettably, this approach is often ineffective. Research spearheaded by Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School found that bosses who project warmth tend to be more effective at gaining their employees' trust as compared to “tough love” bosses. In fact, a boss’ attitude is as contagious as a common cold. Research by New York University’s Jonathan Haidt revealed that when leaders are self-sacrificing, their employees are more likely to be helpful and friendly to their coworkers. They are also more likely to be loyal and committed. The most effective bosses recognize that their ability to rise the ranks is, above all else, dependent on the loyalty and commitment of their employees. Employee loyalty and commitment are much more contingent on a boss’ leadership abilities than on his/her intellectual abilities or individual performance levels.
"Far too often, bosses strive to keep their distance from their employees so as to maintain the organizational hierarchy."
Being a good boss has far-reaching implications. Studies consistently show that a kind work culture not only impacts employee productivity and engagement levels but also improves customer service and similar relationships. Through emotional intelligence, mindfulness, perspective swopping, and other techniques, executives can develop a culture that is conducive to career advancement…their employees’ and their own personal well-being improvements.
The benefits of being a good boss have widespread physical implications. When a boss establishes strong personal relationships with his/her employees, stress and anxiety levels plummet. A study spearheaded by Emily Heaphy of McGill University and Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan found that positive workplace social interactions lead to lower heart rates and blood pressure levels, as well as strengthened immune systems. What's more, research by the Karolinska Institute revealed that the quality of a leader is associated with a decreased number of incidents of heart disease among employees. Emma Seppala, the Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of "The Happiness Track", explains, “A good boss may literally be good for the heart.”
Great bosses recognize that a culture of empathy and kindness can prove transformative in terms of enhancing their and others' personal well-being. It can be a challenge to do what it takes to be a good boss, especially when you’re an entrepreneur with little time and sparse resources. But small relationship-building techniques go a long way. Experiment with active listening, demonstrating compassion, being in the moment, and emotional intelligence. Entrepreneurs can be bad at saying no, often placing themselves last, which makes it hard to truly connect with employees or contractors because they themselves feel disconnected or tired. Therefore, saying “no” is also required to develop a healthy work environment.
Non-work-related relationship improvements
Many of the traits associated with being a great boss are analogous to the traits associated with being a great human being. When bosses exude empathy, compassion, and sympathy in the workplace, they are much more apt to exude these same traits outside of the office. Empathy, compassion, and sympathy are indeed honed and developed over time. Research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that individuals can be trained to be more compassionate and engage in greater altruistic behavior. Leveraging functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers identified that compassion training via meditation increases brain activity in the inferior parietal cortex, an area of the brain commonly associated with empathy. Compassion training also increased activity in other regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation and positive emotions. Helen Weng, the study’s lead author, explains, “It’s kind of like weight training…[W]e found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’.”
The most effective entrepreneurs appreciate that being a great boss will not only empower them to strengthen interpersonal relationships with their employees, but will also enable them to improve their relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. As Heather Schuck, author of “The Working Mom Manifesto” reminds us, “You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.”
Many of the clients I work with initially have distorted views with respect to what is entailed in being a "great" boss. The most successful bosses, such as the biotech entrepreneur, recognize that being a great boss doesn’t entail treating people like puppets. Rather, it entails radiating high levels of empathy, kindness, compassion, and emotional intelligence. This starts with meeting people where they are at. As Simon Sinek once remarked, “A leader's job is not to do the work for others, it's to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible.”
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at