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We’ve all had that boss, the one who makes work life so much harder than it needs to be. We all swear we’d never do the same if we were in charge, right? Then, one day, you become the boss — and gasp: you’ve become the nightmare! Or is that just me? Honestly, I think my first step in becoming a better boss was being that nightmare at one point. I saw firsthand the dysfunction it caused, and here’s what I learned.
No-no’s from a reformed nightmare boss
Looking back, I can see that I never really set my employees up for success. During my stint as a nightmare boss, I had an amazing team; I just wasn’t an amazing leader. I wanted them to produce perfection (or what I considered perfection) without guiding them in how to do so. I struggled with articulating my vision for their roles and setting expectations. Instead, I would cherry-pick anyone willing to work and just hope they would learn well through trial and error. I have since realized this is a horrible way to onboard anyone. To avoid my mistakes, consider the following.
1. Don’t try to mold someone to fit a job post
Just because you like someone or need a new team member immediately doesn’t mean they are right for the job. I own a PR agency, and in this creative industry, some things simply can’t be learned. You either have the talent — as a copywriter, a designer or a media relations guru, for example — or you don’t.
That’s not to say skills can’t be honed, but it’s essential to learn what people’s strengths are instead of what you’d like them to be. And who knows? Even if they aren’t a fit for that particular job, they may be perfect for another role on your team.
On the flip side, when you find someone with the right passion and talent, you still have to manage them effectively. I once had an incredible brand director who was so creative and proposed making videos to convey PR lessons.
This was long before Reels and TikTok, so it was a fantastic, novel idea, and I was all in on proceeding full steam ahead. However, because I didn’t hold her accountable for producing the end result, no videos were ever made! Not one.
Related: 6 Tips for Hiring the Right People
2. Don’t fire fast and regret it later
When people make mistakes — and they will — take it as a teachable moment instead of a reason to cut them loose. This one was big for me. I was hiring fast and firing even faster. That’s no way to run a stable and successful business. Though I wanted people to succeed on their own, I now know that is not how things work.
People need direction, input and support. When they mess up, that’s the time to teach and redirect so they can improve for the next time. I look back on the talent that was a part of my team, and I regret some of the fast decisions I made, letting them go before trying to show them how to make things work. I have since come a long way in this regard.
What’s more, following this approach, I can appreciate that sometimes it’s just not a fit, even when you have taken the time to teach. That’s still okay, too, and in making that effort, I can be confident in my decision.
Related: How to Fire an Employee
3. Don’t separate yourself
You and your employees are on the same team, and while there needs to be respect and clear roles, creating a you-versus-them mentality will not be effective. You must be approachable, willing to do the work and ready to share the successes.
My PR agency is much stronger with a team that feels comfortable sharing ideas, no matter how off-the-wall, and letting me know when something isn’t working or when they have a better solution.
For example, I’ve been trying to set and streamline operational standards for more efficiency, but having more of a content-oriented brain, organization and I are not the best of friends. This is not true of others on my team who are strong in that area and in the new project management tools we’re implementing.
So, while I’m leading the charge, others are attending to process details. Not only will this produce better results, but my staff will also take more ownership in use of the software. Win-win!
4. Don’t forget that you’re human too
Both nightmare bosses and dream bosses are human. The difference is that only one of them is likely to admit it. When you misstep, acknowledge it and, if warranted, apologize for it. Showing you’re human doesn’t make you a weak boss; it makes you a more skilled leader and will further cultivate connection among your team than acting infallible ever will.
Along these same lines is making the effort to do better. Remember when I mentioned teachable moments above? That applies to the boss, too. Things move fast in my industry and probably in yours — when growing a business, we always want to say yes to the client.
But we need to learn to say “no” when doing so protects our team. Sure, there are times when an immediate turnaround is necessary, or we want to overdeliver to grow the relationship, but setting boundaries with clients and keeping expectations for staff realistic will go a long way toward bridging the gap between a not-so-great boss and a great one.
The path to dream boss status
Would I say I’ve achieved dream boss status? You’d have to ask my team to know for sure, but I’m trying my darndest to be, and that’s half the battle! With a bit of intentionality and by avoiding these mistakes, you can channel your inner dream boss too.
Emily Reynolds Bergh