Boss to Self: How to Build a Better Me

If you're an employee, you can't build a better boss. But if you're the boss, you can improve your boss skills and boss performance. Here are seven steps to building a better you.

1. Each day, take 20 minutes to have a conversation with someone you're responsible for.

Just listen. Ask some easy, open-ended questions: What are you working on? What's going on? What do you see coming in the next couple of months that will be important?

2. Make it clear to people how you want to hear from them

- in a two-page memo on your desk, in a voice mail, in a phone mail - then respond briskly to those who use your preferred method of communication.

3. Don't presume that people can read your mind.

If a consistent pattern of behavior, performance, or way of communicating rubs you the wrong way, say something about it. People rarely go out of their way to irritate each other - especially when the other is the boss.

4. You can always raise the tone of your voice later.

People who are trembling with fear rarely do their best work. Give them a chance to do what you want without yelling at them first.

5. Don't be obtuse.

Of course, the people who work for you have no idea of the range of issues you have to deal with, of the routine pressures on you, of the competing demands for your time and attention. But you can help them understand these things. Explain yourself. It can only help people understand how the business works, and it can only increase people's respect for you.

6. Get some lieutenants you trust, and make sure they know they can bring you the bad news.

Bad news must come to light sooner or later, and too many bosses make it hard for the bad news to reach them. The sooner people can tell you when things have gone wrong, the faster you can help them.

7. If you take care of point #6, you'll end up with people you can trust to tell you what you do that drives people crazy.

You may or may not want to change, but it never hurts to know which of your quirks are hard on your subordinates.

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