Anyone who’s at the top of any corporate hierarchy is often asked the question: “What does it mean to be a great boss? I’d like to learn so I can be one too.”
But it is, in fact, the wrong question. The right one isn’t what makes a great boss, but what makes a great leader?
There’s are a number of crucial differences, as Alain Goudsmet, the founder of the Mentally Fit Institute, recently explained to THP’s management in an inspiring training session.
We decided to engage one of the world’s top corporate trainers this November to re-energize our upper and middle management teams after coming out the gruelling three-on-the spot policy during Vietnam’s recent lockdown. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, hundreds of staff had to spend over 100 days eating, working and sleeping at the factory to keep production going.
We assumed that everyone would be feeling exhausted and stressed by the whole experience. But that didn’t turn out to be the case at all.
It was quite a revelation when Alain launched the training session by conducting an anonymous online poll among our middle management staff. This revealed that 41% were feeling highly energized and 44% had medium energy levels.
I was initially quite surprised. But in retrospect, I realized that I shouldn’t have been, for two reasons.
Firstly, it was very clear how proud everyone was at THP about the way we had all pulled together to pull the three-on-the-spot policy off. Other companies hadn’t fared so well during the lockdown.
And secondly, many companies talk about corporate values. But at THP, we really do live them every day. This means that they are truly embedded in the company and therefore came into their own when the crisis hit.
As a result, many staff members have come out on the other side of the lockdown eager to embrace the future. It was wonderful to see.
What Alain set out to do was to explain the importance of setting goals and understanding the difference between being a boss and a leader. He is uniquely well qualified on both counts having coached different Belgian Olympic teams to Gold Medal glory.
Here, in a nutshell, are the key distinctions between being a boss and being a leader:
A boss wants a title. A leader wants to have the right attitude.
A boss wants to demonstrate authority and power. A leader wants to energize and inspire.
A boss operates through a command and control management structure. A leader trusts and empowers.
A boss threatens punishment. A leader creates a culture of development.
So what does all this mean in practice? Well, the first thing that’s needed is the right kind of framework for staff members to operate in.
This framework should be one where individual team members feel they can operate to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, they may fail in a particular task, but it’s important that they know it’s ok to do so. They need to feel safe.
If someone feels that they won’t be criticized, or blamed for failing, then they’re generally far more willing go that extra mile and try something a little bit new. Companies always thrive when they encourage a culture of innovation.
A good framework should also encompass stretch goals. A true leader will then support and encourage team members to achieve them.
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This support can take a number of forms. Availability and proximity is one very important one.
It’s good to empower staff members with autonomy and independence. Every director, manager, or employee should feel like a leader in his or her own individual sphere.
But a good leader should always remain close at hand to provide help and advice when it’s needed. Praise and recognition for a job well done is also clearly very important.
So is time for recovery. I think this is one thing that companies sometimes forget, but the world’s best sportsmen and women never do.
As Alain explained, elite athletes need time to recover from the stress, which their particular sport inflicts on their mind and body. If exercise becomes too gruelling, it saps muscles, energy and focus.
It’s just the same with working for a company. Giving people some slack at the end of a project, or the achievement of a goal, is essential.
It enables them to re-charge their batteries. It also boosts morale and shows that companies care about their welfare. In pre-Covid times, celebratory meals and other company events are a great way to draw a psychological line underneath one project before the start of the next.
That’s where goals come in as well. When Alain started training the Belgian Olympic team, they had a very long road ahead of them to reach the winners’ podium.
But they had a vision and set out a long-term goal, just as THP has done. We want to become one of Asia’s top largest beverage companies. That will be our gold medal.
In the interim, we have established a series of shorter-term goals and aim to be agile and adaptable as we move from one to the next. Indeed, the whole purpose of asking Alain to come in was so that we could enable our upper and middle management to re-focus on near-term goals in the weeks leading up the calendar New Year and Vietnamese New Year (Tết) at the beginning of next February.
This was also the first time that we’d done this kind of training for middle management. In the past, it’s always been for upper management.
But it was very worthwhile extending it further into the company. In addition to providing valuable training, it also showed middle management how much they are appreciated by THP’s boar. It also gives them more of a voice.
If I have one take-away message it is this: leadership is all about generating positive energy: the energy to perform and the energy to re-charge.