Want To Be A Better Boss?

Why being “the one in charge” is the least we should aspire to be

I’ve managed people for pretty much my entire working career. Studying at university aged nineteen, I was working part-time for one of the largest coffee companies in the world. At twenty-two, I was appointed as a Store Manager. I had become the boss. Looking back, I know that I was appointed before I was ready, and that twenty-two-year-old me wasn’t at all prepared for the level of responsibility that came alongside my new position. I knew that my colleagues, who were once my peers, were now in my charge, and I had authority over them, so they did what I asked them too. Beyond that, I was like a deer in headlights.

What does it mean to be the “boss”?

Depending on the context, there are several definitions of the word:

boss (noun)
a person who is in charge of other people at work and tells them what to do.
I’ll ask my boss if I can have the day off.’

to boss (verb)
to tell somebody what to do in an aggressive and/or annoying way
I’m sick of you bossing me around.’

to show someone who’s boss (idiom)
to make it clear to somebody else that you have more power and authority than they have.

The word ‘boss’ in its noun form is pretty much universally accepted. Some people don’t like their boss, but we all accept that there is someone higher up the pecking order than we are. But what about the word in its other forms? To be “bossy” is more often used in a negative way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody be praised for their bossiness, have you?

Mike, I couldn’t be happier with how well you bossed us all around today, I really loved how aggressive and annoying you were when telling me what to do, keep it up!’

It just doesn’t happen. So why do we happily use such a negative word to describe those more senior than we are?

And what about the old adage, to ‘show someone who’s boss’? This clip from Game of Thrones practically makes my point for me.

To act in a way which demonstrates your power or authority over the people in your charge may show everyone that you are the “boss”, but it also makes it abundantly clear that your style of leadership leaves a lot to be desired.

Workplaces have it all wrong

In the past, I’ve asked my teams not to refer to me using the word “boss”, because I don’t like connotations that the word entails. My team do as they’re asked, not because I have power and authority over them, but because they understand why I am asking them to do something. Having previously worked for people who relished every opportunity to ascertain their positions of authority, I refuse to do the same, and a good leader should have no need to do so.

As I mentioned at the start, one part of the definition of a “boss” is someone who has to tell people what to do. Well, you can count me out of that one as well. In fact, my goal with any team I’ve ever worked with is to rarely have to tell anyone what to do.

Last week, a member of my team asked me for help. Let’s call her Karen. The way in which she asked for my help actually served as inspiration for this article. Karen was perfectly polite, yet the two things she said before asking for help made me realise how wrong we have it within our workplace culture. She said:

‘Jon, I’m sorry to bother you, I know that you’re busy, but can you help me?’

What she should have said was:

‘Jon, can you help me?’

Let me explain.

I’m sorry to bother you.’

Workplace culture has brainwashed us into thinking that asking for help from those above is something we should apologise for, and by doing so we are being an inconvenience. This is completely wrong! It is the duty of those above us to help us when we need it, why should we apologise for needing help to do the job that we are paid to do? Nobody should ever have to apologise for asking for help or be made to feel like they are an inconvenience. It is not my job to tell her how to do her job, but rather to show her, so that next time, she is able to do it on her own. It is my job is to help her to do her job, that is literally what I am paid to do.

‘I know that you are busy.’

We live in a world where we automatically assume that the job of the person more senior than us is more important than our own. This way of thinking is completely backwards. We are confusing level of importance with level of responsibility. They are not the same thing, and they are not equal. In fact, as your level of responsibility goes up, your level of importance actually goes down. Let me give you an example.

My job title is Hospitality Manager.

I manage my store’s Hospitality section. It is my responsibility.

My team’s job is to run the Hospitality section. Their job is to keep the wheels turning, make our customers happy, and hopefully, as a result, those customers will return.

If I didn’t show up to work tomorrow, nothing catastrophic would happen. I know this because I have given my team the tools to do their job without needing constant supervision. Would it be perfect? Maybe not, as I’ve already alluded to the fact they occasionally need my help. But it would run and I’m confident in their ability to do the job without me being there.

But if my team didn’t show up for work tomorrow, what would happen? The operation would grind to a halt, customers wouldn’t be served, and the business would suffer. So who’s job is really more important? My job role has a greater level of responsibility, but looking at the bigger picture, my team’s job role has a far greater level of importance.

We need to get rid of the idea that our job is less important than that of those more senior than us. Because no matter what industry you work in, whatever organisation you work for, if the bottom rung of the ladder collapses, the rest of the ladder comes down with it.

So, what should we aspire to be?

You might want to sit down for this one.

I started this article by giving a definition of what being a “boss” entails:

  • Telling people what to do.
  • Having power or authority over others.

You shouldn’t aspire to be either of these.

Aspire to be someone who doesn’t need to spend their days telling people what to do. Be someone who empowers their team to do their job without holding their hand. Be able to watch from the sidelines as your team takes risks, learns new skills, and goes on to accomplish more than they ever thought they were capable of.

Be somebody who doesn’t believe that their role is more important than that of the people in their charge, and view your people, not as people who work for you, but with you.

You should aspire to be a leader, someone whose presence isn’t even needed but is very much wanted.

Jon Peters is a 28-year-old writer from the UK who has spent too much time on this article and is currently running the risk of being late for work! If you made it this far down the page, welcome! It’s great to have you here. If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more of my ramblings, you can get to my profile super quickly by clicking here.

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Trying to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

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