Leading without being bossy

Leadership is one of those words that’s getting tossed around a lot lately. So much that it’s an empty buzzword for many people. It’s really not fair for those that truly want to be a good leader – balancing the harder things in life with what could be – not just for you, but assisting those around you find their own balance.

But leading people is a balancing act in itself. The key is to guide, not to aggressively boss people around.

Let’s be clear on one thing: Not many people speak the same nuance of language around things that make them defensive. Back when I was a kid, (1980s) being bossy was the same as being a control freak, telling people what to do, and being a bitch when things didn’t go your way. It didn’t matter if you were male or female – everyone hated the bossy kid.

Now? Bossy is being taken akin to leading in a strong way. 

The bossy I’m talking about here is the off-putting, demanding, controlling type. Think overbearing manager, and you pretty much have it nailed. The style that takes freedom away from another and makes them feel small. No one likes that feeling, and everyone can feel diminished by a wide variety of things. Feeling like this makes even the most determined person resist and turn away – which wouldn’t make you a good leader. Your job as the leader is to be able to sense this and work with each personality as they are.

That’s what I mean by guiding, not bossing people around. It’s working with people in a way that helps them, not intimidates them.

Mastering influence techniques won’t get you very far on their own.

While I highly recommend learning and practising some influence techniques, I want to draw you to an indispensable skill of every good leader: Being clear.

If you know of anyone that is a legit mind-reader, give them my number. I want to do some neurological tests on them to see how the brain lights up the fMRI. Most likely though, you’re like me; you need things to be said out loud in a way you can understand them. Humans have that as a weakness.

As a good leader, you need clarity on the goal of a project and benchmarks you want to see reached.

As a great leader you need to be clear on the why as well as goals.

People are most responsive when there is clarity about the goal, the reason why you want to reach that specific goal, and benchmarks to reach.

Most people hear about SMART goals over and over again. Specific, Measurable, Actionable/Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. That’s because this method brings about clarity that is easy to act on. It also sets in benchmarks that are clearly defined.

Think it’s not possible in the business of science? Yes, it is.

Recently I set the goal of “Finish base processing of all soils samples from sections A – C by end of Q1.”

It’s very specific in terms of both what I want to get done and how much of the process I want to get done. It’s measurable because it has a very obvious end point in the process. It’s achievable if I focus. And timely? Oh, yeah. This client had goal of further back, but I think with a bit of effort we can get it done on an earlier time table.

The why for all that is because

  1. We want to speed up our processes in the soil lab and push ourselves.
  2. We’d like to impress this client so they give us more work.
  3. We’d like to take it easier over summer so some of us can go on vacation.

No one ever said your why couldn’t be more humanistic and less businessy. But, it’s always good to have a mix of both that help motivate yourself and the team working with you to get things done.

And when it comes to letting them work… let them work.

When you have the goal, benchmarks, and why ─ you need to learn to trust your team to do what they do. That’s part of leadership. Micromanaging every single thing isn’t going to help you or them. It not only makes you seem like a bossy control-freak, but also stifles their growth and even the capabilities of the business or project.

I’ve found that many times when I hand the ropes over to someone else they ask a few questions, make a few mistakes, then come up with some interesting ways to be more efficient. Sometimes that involves multitasking, sometimes that involves rather bizarre Rube Goldberg-esque automation.

In the end we either learn a new method or have some fun and laughs. There’s always room for refinement and laughter.

These lessons are what you find in the After Action Review

After action reviews, reflections, whatever you want to call them, are very important for growth. It’s a time to sit back with your team and objectively reflect on the things that happened during the day, week, or project.

The key is “objectively.”

Over to you. What ways do you like to be led?