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Are Great Bosses Tough or Compassionate?

Getting the most from employees starts with the boss but how to be a good boss is often disputed.  Here is a great example of the conflict of which I speak. recently posted two articles on their website providing leadership advice.   “Want Happier Employees? Research Surprisingly Found That You Should Treat Them Like This” and “General Stanley McChrystal: Why the Toughest Bosses Have the Most Devoted Employees”.

According to research in the first article mentioned, employees are significantly happier when they thought of their managers as partners rather than as bosses.  The article suggests four traits that partner-bosses require to be successful.  They are:

  1. Partner-bosses put employees first
  2. They connect with their employees
  3. They release control
  4. They try to improve the lives of others

In the second article mentioned, General Stanley McChrystal raises an interesting point.  “If leadership is so dependent on people, why are we so energized by leaders who prioritize their mission over their people?”  In his book, Leaders: Myth and Reality, he provides examples of visionary CEOs such as Walt Disney and Coco Chanel, who treated their employees miserably.  By now most of us have read the harsh ways in which Steve Jobs managed his employees at Apple.  Despite their leadership being so very contrary to the four traits of a partner-boss as suggested above, these famous CEOs managed devoted employees.  The General argues that employees are willing to sacrifice their well-being and even their health to work with visionary leaders who are at the pinnacle in their fields.  McChrystal points to the popularity of Robert E. Lee among his troops despite the high rate of fatality for serving under him.

Despite these examples, McChrystal does not advocate for this form of management and suggests that the connection between a leader and their followers is not always rational.  “Once people connect with a leader, they are willing to discount the weaknesses and flaws.”

While one cannot ignore the results achieved by those CEOs who put their interests ahead of their employees’ needs, the partner-boss approach does sound best and if anything, more empathetic, more humane.  For every Scrooge who achieved epic success while treading on his subordinates, ten more partner-bosses triumphed who also shared glory and sought the well-being of their employees.

Even Scrooge, in Dickens’ classic, fondly reminisced about his jolly, old employer Fezziwig, who represented the opposite of everything Scrooge had become; caring, generous and concerned more about others than with profit.  Ultimately, after discovering the chains of pride and ignorance under which he toiled, Scrooge abandoned his prior attitude and embraced Fezziwig’s charitable style of management.  Not just because compassion was best for him but for his family and employee as well.

Recent research by revealed that 76% of employees either have or recently had a boss exhibiting some form of toxicity.  Too bad we can’t hire the ghosts of Christmas’ past, present and future to do some corporate management training.

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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