About 25 years ago I was running my coaching business out of my home office. I had an assistant come to the house twice a week to run errands and do some light bookkeeping for me so I could keep my focus on building the business and coaching my clients.
I don’t remember how it came up, but one day my husband remarked on how good I had become at bossing people around. I was floored and asked him to clarify. He pointed out how comfortable I seemed to be telling my assistant what to do. I countered and asked him how my assistant was to know what I wanted her to do if I didn’t tell her. Looking back, it was the first time I had made the distinction in my own mind between providing an employee with clear direction and simply bossing someone around.
And even with that understanding, when I overheard that same assistant on the phone referring to me as her “boss,” I was still somewhat uncomfortable. When she got off the phone I said, “I’m not so much your boss as I am your employer.” She laughed and said, “Oh cut it out, Mad, you are too my boss–and if I didn’t want to have a boss I would start my own business like you, so just relax.”
The Benefits of Clear Direction
It took me a long time to get comfortable with being a boss. And as much as no one wants to be bossed around all the time—especially if they really know what they’re doing—likewise, no one wants to do a bad job because they don’t know what a good job actually looks like.
The In-Director (the first character we looked at in our series on seven ways good managers sometimes get it wrong ) shies from being straightforward about what the job is, the expected result when the job is done, the exact steps that will create the result, and even how long it should take. Having a boss who is an In-Director is a little like following an unclear recipe: you have to figure it out using trial and error. This is a waste in every way—not to mention totally annoying.
Nobody wants to be bossed around all the time. And nobody wants to be thought of as bossy. But when you are, in fact, the boss, you must gather your courage and practice giving clear direction. Maybe you could write out the instructions at first. Use a neutral tone. Smile. You won’t seem bossy; you’ll seem as if you know exactly what is needed—and your employees will thank you for it.
Giving clear direction helps your employees be successful at work. And who doesn’t want that?
About this column
Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard, and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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