Stuck as we are in the middle of the political-hyperbole "silly season," I've noticed that PR writers are, shall we say, exaggerating their points to get a busy editor's attention. In that light, I have to tip my hat to the writer of a recent press release who came up with the headline, "A Bad Boss Can Send You to an Early Grave." Whew! I've heard some horror stories about crude, crass and downright cranky bosses before, but a boss that'd actually do physical harm to you to the extent that your next-of-kin have to identify you down at the morgue? Sounds more like next week's episode of "Law and Order" than real-world "how not to manage your staff" advice.
As it turns out, the press release is promoting a new book by Travis Bradberry, president of consulting firm TalentSmart, which is "dedicated to the scientific study of personal excellence and organizational performance." The book is called Squawk! How to Stop Making Noise and Start Getting Results, and if you wonder why the title sounds like a birdcall, it's because Bradberry refers to bad bosses as "seagull managers." Not the gentle, spiritual Jonathan Livingston Seagull types, but the noisy, frantic, dyspeptic types who "come swooping in at the last minute, squawk orders at everybody and deposit steaming piles of formulaic advice before abruptly taking off."
In the current soft economy, when employees are so fearful of losing their jobs that they'll put up with lousy bosses, Bradberry warns about the debilitating effects of working for these tyrants. Pointing to a study conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (I'm not quite sure why Bradberry had to go all the way over to Finland for his statistics, but let's not dwell on that curiosity), Bradberry notes that seagull-type managers lead to a much higher incidence of employee coronary heart disease these employees were 30% more likely to develop heart disease than those who had less volatile bosses.
"Few companies recognize the degree to which managers are the vessels of a company's culture, and even fewer work diligently to ensure that their vessels hold the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied and love their jobs," Bradberry notes. "The very individuals with the authority to alter the course of company culture lack the facts that would impel them to do so."
Bradberry doesn't actually suggest that these seagull managers should be charged with reckless endangerment of their employees' lives, but no doubt some enterprising lawyers will make hay with these sorts of statistics.
Bradberry also offers what he calls "3 surefire strategies" to deal with a seagull manager:
1. Problem: Your seagull manager swoops in at the last minute and bosses your team around. Strategy: Communicate with your boss early and often. If you keep your boss in the loop, he or she won't have a chance to swoop in later. This includes daily communication on routine matters, and at minimum a weekly check in on the status of projects.
2. Problem: Your seagull manager thinks there is one way of doing things: his or her way. Strategy: Build support for your ideas by explaining the rationale and benefits up front. Then explain the process. Even the worst boss will be more apt to listen when he or she can see the benefits of a new way of doing things.
3. Problem: Your seagull manager lets you have it when you make a mistake and he or she says little or nothing when you're doing well. Strategy: Let your boss know you need both positive and constructive feedback. After completing projects, approach your boss and ask him or her both what went well and what you can improve upon in the future.