How to be a better boss

Former automobile executive Lee Iacocca famously said, “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”

How does a boss achieve sufficient velocity without burning out his charges? And how can she infuse that ability into her employees? Experts say it comes down to such factors as experience, maturity and the ability to learn from mentors.

Of course, each organization is different, but general guidelines exist to help answer the question: What makes a great boss?

Paul Stowell, senior vice president and manager at City National Bank in Las Vegas, described a great boss as someone who listens and leads by example.

“He has empathy and genuinely cares about people,” Stowell said.

A not-so-great boss is “someone who thinks he knows it all and won’t listen to his employees,” Stowell said.

Terry Culp, deputy director of Nevada Industry Excellence, said exceptional bosses inspire employees to develop and achieve goals and objectives. The best bosses aren’t born but made, Culp said.

“We all learn how to be better through life’s lessons over time,” he said. “Some learn faster than others.”

Having good mentors can provide insight and speed the learning process.

“A boss is a leader, one who inspires his or her employees to fulfill the company’s mission,” said Rabbi Moshe Katz, dean of the Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas in Henderson. “The most effective leaders lead by example.”

Micromanaging can cause even the best bosses to get bogged down and be ineffective. Often, Katz said, “we get caught up in the minutiae and lose the big-picture focus. Arguments and disagreements coupled with ego can detract from a boss’s focus. If we keep our eyes on the endgame and stay true to our mission, we can be great bosses.”

At times, a boss may find it difficult to deal with an employee who is underperforming. The way to help that person, Katz has found, is to teach him or her how to improve.

“If a boss merely expects greatness but does not cultivate it, he or she will meet nothing but frustration,” he said.

His recommendation? “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” Katz said. “Study great leaders. What made them great? How did they merit success?”

Architect Howard Perlman, principal at Perlman Architects in Las Vegas, said it is crucial that bosses learn how to let go slightly to enable employees to succeed.

“You start out believing every resume you receive,” Perlman said. “You have expectations of your employees and how they’ll perform, and often you’re disappointed. At some point, you realize that nobody does it exactly the way you would, and nobody will get the exact results you think you could get, but if they do it well, in their own way, they take a tremendous burden from you and enable you and the firm to do more.”

Maturing as a boss means becoming “a bit more flexible,” Perlman says. “Every employee is different and will respond differently to challenges, deadlines, the difficulty of tasks, etc.”

The more someone manages people, the better he or she becomes at anticipating minor problems and dealing with them before they grow.

“Leaders are born; bosses are made,” Perlman said. “Leaders inspire; bosses manage. You can learn to be a better leader, but you’ve got to start with something at birth. Managing, on the other hand, is like anything else. The more you do it, the better you get at it. You don’t need to be Mr. Personality to be a great manager.”

Top-flight managers “set directions, hire the best people who can add to the process and give recognition to the team for a job well done,” retail consultant Bob Phibbs said. “Their ultimate job is to create an environment that lets others flourish. Their goal is to always create great leaders, not manage projects.”

Lackluster leaders, on the other hand, take credit for others’ accomplishments.

“That can make them selfish and petty,” Phibbs said. “They lock themselves in their office and then micromanage the enthusiasm out of their employees.”

“The first thing we must clarify is the difference between being great and being popular,” said John Arena, who operates six Metro Pizza restaurants in the Las Vegas Valley. “A great boss may be called upon to make unpopular decisions that serve the good of the employees.”

Effective bosses see their role as “being a steward to the team,” Arena said. “That means the great boss creates an environment where each team member can make the most of their potential.”

Conversely, a not-so-great boss views himself as being in a position of privilege.

“The great boss makes every decision from a position of empathy and respect, and understands that a positive work environment creates greater opportunity for success,” Arena said.

Arena has found that managers can learn to be better with honest self-analysis and conscientious study of leadership.

“The most important characteristic of a great leader is willingness to accept responsibility for failure and to graciously credit success to the team members,” he said. “A great boss is selfless and consistent in their appreciation of the team.”

The most important aspect of developing leadership skills, Arena said, is to find “a generous mentor, someone who is admired, respected and has consistently achieved excellent results. This is easier than you would imagine, because the best bosses share a common trait of generosity and a nurturing spirit. Invariably, when you find a great boss, you have also found a great teacher.”

Most experts agree that having a mentor is key to career success.

“Learning comes in a variety of forms,” said Simon Lader, international vice president of Salisi Human Capital Inc., in Henderson, which provides recruitment and staffing services to the enterprise software sector. “There are very good leadership manuals widely available. Others watch TV shows that show good leadership. I have attended management courses that freely quote Captain Picard (of the “Star Trek” franchise) and President Bartlett (of “The West Wing”). However, I believe having a mentor who can guide a manager through challenges based on their own prior experience can be an invaluable learning tool.

“Everyone faces challenges that are new to them (but) are likely to have been encountered by someone with more experience. The best bosses are those whose humility allows them to say to a mentor, ‘I don’t know what to do. How did you handle this when it happened on your watch?’ ”