How can I be a good boss?

After a long and checkered career, I’ve finally ended up at the dreaded point where I’m going to need an assistant. Specifically, I’m a system administrator at a university, and I’m hiring a student part-time.

I’ve done the interviews, selected a bright and enthusiastic MIS student, and he starts next week.

I’m terrified. I’ve had some rotten bosses with good intentions in the past, and don’t want to follow their examples. So I’m calling on the Font of All Wisdom (the SDMB) for any advice you may have.

What can I do to be a good boss to this employee?

Your assistance is, as always, appreciated.

I’ve been a boss in many positions, and the single most important thing, at first, is to let the employee have a clear few decisions decided by himself and not you.

For example, if the first thing he brings you is part wrong, but not to the extent that it will cost anyone money, don’t complain, but quickly accept it, flaws and all.

Once you have built up a little trust, because he knows he can win once in a while, then you can indulge in actual supervision and coaching.

Ok, MrVis, since you had to leave so fast, here’s what i like in a boss:

  • Not hovering overme all the time, but not so uncontactable as to leave me wondering what i need to do.
  • Who is patient enough to not get upset at the occasional forgetting of things :slight_smile: (like with my new job, the program we use is pretty simple, but it will take me a while to really get it)
  • Who isnt so hot-headed he’d explode on me for minor things
  • But not too laidback he wont catch me when i slip up
    Basically that. I cant be too helpful since I havent had a job for about 4 years. :smiley:

All that and as much money as you can possibly arrange for.

Doobieous gives great advice, particuarly the first line about not hovering over the employees all the time. My current boss is a champion micro-manager, and it bugs the hell out of me. The boss doesn’t just do it with me, but with many others as well, and it strikes me as a lacking of trust. Employees will likely pick up on that, and keep an eye out for a better position. I know I am.

ShakeNBake’s first suggestion is also good. While it is important to supervise your employees, I think it is also important to allow them to have some control over certain aspects of how they do their job. IMHO, an employee who feels powerless in their job is likely to be an unhappy one.

If I could also add some of my own here…

  1. Be willing to listen to the suggestions and advice from your employees, especially new ones. They may often have a fresh or unusual perspective on something that you may not have noticed.

  2. If you’re going to criticize an employee, never do it in front of a client, customer, patient, co-worker, or whoever. Do it in private. It’s between you and the employee, so leave it that way, unless the situation gets totally out of hand and you need to bring in an outside opinion.

  3. Hi, Opal! :slight_smile:

  4. In written communication to your employees, pay attention to how you may come across in your writings. Smilies got invented for use on the Internet for a reason, although they are not (yet) a common feature of interoffice memos…at least none that I’ve seen.

  5. If you can, pay well.

  6. Benefits are nice, too.

  7. Recognize that an employee has a life outside the workplace. Unless you are married to an employee or an employee’s love partner/slave/monkey/bunny/whatever, it is unlikely that you are the most important person in that employee’s life.

All I can think of for now.

I have one of the world’s worst bosses so allow me to put in my opinion.

Make things happen. If you say you are going to look into something, do it. If you promise to get something to/from/for the employee, do it. If the employee has an idea, acknowledge it.

Interact with the employee. Even though you may be doing different things at different times, make time to observe the employee doing what he does on a regular basis–it will greatly increase your understanding of what his job and his performance. For example, this comes in handy when you have a new project you want him to do. By knowing how his workday goes, you can tweak the project so he can fit it in rather than just expecting him to find time. You have to work together as a team and you can’t do that if you don’t know what the other team member does!

The hardest part about being a boss is to satisfy the needs of both those who you supervise but also those who supervise you. Alot of times this seems to be opposites. But really it is not, if your employees are happy, management is happy (or at least most of the time).

Another task that is hard to accomplish is being strict enough that the employee doesn’t slack off yet lenient enough so that you can tap into an employees strengths. Also some employees are self-motivated and can be left alone most of the time. Others need to be constantly encouraged or they will not accomplish the needed tasks.

The best thing is to trust your people skills, all employees are not alike. My best bosses have been those who are friendly without being chummy. I find that when I am the boss, employees like to know that I am there to answer questions without reiterating what they already know.

You know really, the fact that you are concerned about being a good boss is a positive. With that attitude you will succeed.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their master and your is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Ephesians 5:5-10, New International Version.

And no, I’m not saying that the Ephesian/Greek master/slave relationship is perfectly analogous to the modern employer/employee relationship. But the principle remains. See my point below.

…the worker deserves his wages. Luke 10:7, New International Version.

Glad I could be of help. :smiley:

Some of the suggestions so far have been excellent. But remember to return to basics:

1. Clearly define the employee’s role. What does he do, specifically? Make sure all his duties are clear to both you AND him. It’s very common for people to be hired for jobs without being given a specifically defined set of duties, and that just causes trouble.

2. Clearly define the employee’s key performance indicators. If six months from now you give him a formal performance review, what specific criteria will you use? Make sure you both understand this; it prevents misunderstandings in terms of what your and his expectations are.

3. Give him constant feedback. It’s important to D&D (delegate and disappear) and not micromanage, but in my experience an even more prevalent error is to never tell the employee what the hell is going on. Tell him what he’s doing right and what he isn’t doing right. Let him know why you’re asking him to do certain things. Keep him informed. Always do this with a mind to point 2: what are his key performance indicators and how’s he doing?

This is really more of an IMHO thing. I’ll shoot it over there for you.

I haven’t even bothered to read the other posts yet, because I have such clear cut ideas on this. So, sorry if I repeat anything.

But I think you already know the answer to your OP. You stated that you’d had lots of bad bosses and do not want to repeat their mistakes. 'kay.

Don’t do what those bad managers did!

I find that the best bosses manage by Golden Rule principles:

  • If you want to make a friend, be a friend
  • If you want to be respected, then offer your employee respect first, without having reason to. You’ll earn it back, trust me.
  • If you want to be trusted, then trust your employees first, without having reason to. You’ll earn it back…
  • Think (hell, make a written list) of all the crappy things former bosses have done to you. Then do the opposite with your staff…

Don’t like being misled, lied to, manipulated or deceived? Then, don’t do that.

I swear, on my cat’s grave, that this principle WORKS. You will not have to balance what your staff wants with what your boss wants… Because they all want the same thing: open sharing of information, trust, honesty, respect, integrity, leadership… Pick your favorite attributes.

I’m at least 10 years younger than 75% of my staff. Yet they look to me as a coach, mentor, friend, and most of all, supporter. I have earned their respect through a) knowing WTF I am doing in my own job and b) trusting and respecting their talents and experience. They have never let me down yet. And my boss just gave me the maximum raise possible, attached to a lovely little thank you note in my praise.

More on this? E-mail me.

Dogzilla is right on; you’ve received a lot of good advice here from folks. I’ve been a boss for over 20 years. As I recall, the two main mistakes I made in the beginning were not to give clear directives and expectations, and I did not give enough feedback (both positive & nicely critical.)

Praise & thanks for work well done or extra effort is so important! My employees, for the most part, are wonderful. While I think it’s because they are wonderful people :), I also hope in part it’s because I really try to be fair & give credit when due.

Bonuses (monetary, symbolic, whatever) are nice too, whenever someone has worked extra hard or done a particularly good job.

And ask your employee for his ideas & feedback when warranted.

Good luck! You sound like you’ll be a great boss, just by virtue of caring enough to try to be one.

Congrats on being worried about being a good boss. I think this is a damn fine starting point.
My best friend was made a senior technical manager a while ago. He has not been there as long as some of his staff, and in his own opinion, is much less technically competent than a lot of them. He has had no ill-feeling at all, on the contrary he is very popular. He attributes this largely to his willingness to listen whenever anyone comes to him with a problem, or otherwise. I seem to recall a survey amongst managees(?) which listed ‘willingness to listen/approachablility’ as the most valued trait in a manager.
One of the first things my friend did was buy his entire staff juggling balls, and then he taught them to juggle. Whenever someone gets a bit stressed out, he tells them to go and play with their balls :slight_smile: until they have calmed down a bit.
Also, I once came across this piece of advice on how to handle the dreaded disciplinary interview:

  1. Do it in private!!
  2. praise some aspect of their work.
  3. Raise the concern you have, and for god’s sake give them time and space to put their point of view.
  4. praise some aspect of their work.

Never been a manager myself, but I’ve had good and bad ones. Hope this helps, and IMHO the fact that you are concerned enough to seek advice proves you have what it takes!!!
Go well, and be happy :slight_smile:

Here is some VERY old advice on the subject. I keep this posted on the wall of my office. I could interpret what this means to ME; better that you think about what it would mean to YOU.

Why are the rivers and seas lords of the waters?
Because they flow to the common level
And so become lords of the waters.
The common people love a leader
Who first humbles himself before them.
Because he does not talk above their level,
Because, though he leads them,
First follows them.
He imposes no authority on them;
And they, in turn, because he does not force them,
Yield to him, content.
People never tire of anyone
Who is not bent on comparison.

                 --Lao Tzu

I think I’ll send this thread to my boss. Not that It’ll do much good. Bosses in large companies are pretty much constrained by the “corporate culture”. Management strategies imposed on bosses work ok for the average Joe, I guess, but they sure can make it difficult for the true leader.
And if the employee’s duties don’t extend outside the workplace, and he/she indicates a desire to leave work at work, let them be.
I know a few (myself included) very good employees who much prefer to shed their workface at the door. That’s part of what enables me to do the job that I do. I just need a break, that’s all.
For some reason my boss can’t stand this attitude.

One thing that’s not been mentioned is not as obviously in the “be nice” traditions set here so far, but:

Quality check the work of people under you. That way it won’t come out of the blue that the work is being done poorly and will set everyone else behind schedule while they fix it.

(I just got bit by that one. I should have been checking, and now we’re behind schedule.)