Monday, October 15, 2007

Dont Be That Boss

Nowadays, I consider myself really lucky because I have an extremely level-headed boss. She might tell you her opinion and will definitely let you know when things need to improve but, in doing so, she never speaks in a way that I've construed as offensive. It's always been direct but not demeaning and I have never left her office feeling like I just got pummeled.I haven't always been so lucky though, I used to have one of the worst types of bosses imaginable: A Screamer.

On a near daily basis, I would hear my boss yelling at someone in her office. To put that in perspective: the distance from her office to my desk was through one room, then a hallway, up a flight stairs and then behind a solid oak door... a distance over 100 feet. To put this it in further perspective, I have a moderately severe hearing loss. If I could hear the screams just imagine what other employees and patrons actually heard her saying! I left the position almost exclusively because of her and took the first job offer that came my way... Fortunately, it lead me to my current boss.

But some of my friends aren't so lucky. Just having to listen to the nightmare stories and thinking back on my own experiences I am dumbfounded as to how these people wind up in management positions. What quality did they possess which made the administrators willing to go with such a nasty and ineffective communication skill? And what possibly makes that boss think that their method of management is, if not effective, is constructive or pragmatic in the overall scheme of running business!? Furthermore, how do these screamers possibly think they are actually good bosses!? And yet, it seems that I always have at least one friend who is plagued by such a boss.

So, why is this being put up on our library's blog? Because we are certainly not immune to such poor managerial practices and maybe some of us are active participants, and I have been offered a promotion to the Head of Youth Services in the Library where I work. As excited as I am, this had led me to really reflect on the poor bosses I've had in the past and my own managerial skills.

In hopes of being proactive against the habits of "poor bosses" I have compiled a list of, shall we say, ethical goals I would like to instill upon myself in hopes of becoming a quality supervisor. By all means, please add your own advice.

Do not panic: Even when things are at a panic stage, it is my job to present level-headedness, which leads to the second point...

Do not play into histrionics: Situations should emit their own sense of emotions and do not need my help.

Do be approachable: If staff and I cannot talk openly, then we are already on losing ground.

Do be pragmatic: When problems arise, find ways to 'fix' them.

Do be clear with expectations: Make sure that staff knows what is expected of them and their job details.

Do not micromanage or get bogged down in minutiae: nobody likes someone looking over their shoulder and critiquing their work to the very foundation.

Do not personalize: Sometimes, you have to be the bad guy and some times people will goad you... but do not let it sink in.

DO BE POSITIVE: Remember that your leadership will affect how the department runs.



At October 15, 2007 11:27 AM, Anonymous Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran said...

Don't let it fester: if you have a difficult situation/associate/problem to address, just do it. Letting it sit will only make things worse.

At October 15, 2007 3:27 PM, Blogger Library Blogger said...

I was in a position where the boss did not yell, she was just a terrible manager and a terrible librarian. I spent much time studying what she did and writing down my list of "how not to run a library". It was a perfect learning opportunity. That said, I was out of there in less than 6 months :)

At October 15, 2007 4:50 PM, Blogger Jeff Scott said...

I think we all learn more from bad managers than from good ones. They usually get into their positions from a kiss-up/kick-down approach. That way nobody from above knows what is going on. Very sad :(

At October 15, 2007 5:39 PM, Blogger Janie L. Hermann said...

A great list Ty. You are going to rock as a supervisor. Congrats on the Promotion.

At October 16, 2007 6:54 AM, Blogger ADHD Librarian said...

I have that boss at the moment.
I just realised the other week that as well as destroying the morale of the staff (which she's done well) we've had no new programs/ facilities/ collections/ technological innovations etc in the two years since she started.
No wonder I'm bored.

Plus, we were looking at stats today, and I realised that most of the figures were better during the six months I was acting manager (yay me)!

At October 16, 2007 11:53 AM, Anonymous Liz said...

Thanks for the list! It seems particularly timely in light of a conversation I had with a librarian last night--his advice to me as a library student was to start thinking about how to develop management skills now, because he foresees most future roads in librarianship leading to management sooner rather than later. Makes good sense to be prepared.

At October 16, 2007 6:46 PM, Blogger Tyler Rousseau said...

Liz, that is probably good advice. I have only been in the profession for a little over 3 years, and only at my currently employees for about a year and a half.

But even starting out in my friend Librarian position, I was put in a supervisor position for some staff. By all means, managing is likely going to be part of your professional responsibilities.

At October 16, 2007 9:20 PM, Blogger Liz B said...

In terms of being a boss: don't ask staff to do what you aren't willing to do yourself.

The scariest thing about "those bosses": that some of them have, indeed, gone to various trainings/workshops about being good/better bosses/managers/leaders -- and still don't recognize themselves as "that boss."

At October 17, 2007 11:24 AM, Blogger Peter Bromberg said...


First, congrats on the new job! I think you will make an exemplary supervisor!

You did a great job hitting on many of the keys to successful supervision. As a number of people have pointed out, many of us have learned as much (or more) from our bad bosses as from our good. Therefore, let us all take a moment to thank all those baddies!

In my own experience, there really haven't been any bad bosses. There have been bosses who have exhibited behaviors that I thought were helpful to achieving our goals, and behaviors which I thought detracted. Screaming has got to be in the detraction column! But I also know people who work for screamers who are brilliant and often effective leaders. Arguably, they could be much more effective if they didn't scream. We are human. We are a mass of contradictions. We are large. We contain multitudes, etc.

You've stimulated a lot of thought for me, and got me thinking about my own pluses (I actually care, I communicate well) and minuses (I'm sometimes too hands-off and maybe project an "I'm too busy to talk to right now" vibe) as a supervisor, so thanks for the great post.

I've been mulling a post on doing employee evals, and perhaps it would make a nice companion piece to this one. I'll try to get cracking on that! :-)

Congrats again my friend!

At October 17, 2007 8:00 PM, Anonymous Cynthia said...

What a great list! That you are aware of the existence of 'that manager' leads me to believe you will not be 'that manager'.

Over my years in corporate America, I have been lucky, but I have seen many terrible managers that I was happy I did not report to. In nearly every case, they were excellent employees and were promoted for that reason. Often being a manager is just that--a reward for a job well-done and it has nothing to do with the skill set needed to stop working and start managing. Often, good workers haven't a clue as to how to manage because they haven't ever needed to be managed.

So far, in the library world, most managers I have encountered have management skill--they understand that humans work for them. This is one of my top reasons to leave corporate America and join library land!

At October 19, 2007 4:57 PM, Blogger Marie L. Radford said...

Great post Ty! You've hit on some very important insights. Much of management ability is tied to our interpersonal communication styles. Screaming at people when we are upset is a primal urge, but one we have to learn to control if we are to earn the respect of others.

I agree with Jeff that we can learn more from bad managers. Years ago I had a Screamer boss and unfortunately everyone (including me) was too frightened of upsetting him to stand up and ask him to stop. One thing that employees can do is to go to the boss's boss and complain which I did do. Looking back I wish that I had done more... but I did learn what not to do.


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