Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How to Be a Boss People Like (and Respect)

Are you manager material?

Bosses. We love to hate them, and hate to love them.

Everyone knows how much a boss is responsible for shaping our work experience—whether it’s the good (a supportive atmosphere and beers on Friday afternoon), the bad (throwing last-minute deadlines on your desk on Friday afternoon), or the ugly (throwing you under the bus and stealing your ideas … on a Friday afternoon so you an stew about it all weekend).

Research suggests there’s some scientific truth behind the claim that bosses, more than any other factor, have the most impact on employee job satisfaction. “A person’s direct supervisor is a lens through which they view their work experience,” said Seth M. Spain, Binghamton University Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, who conducted a study on bosses and workplace stress. “We think, in particular, that a boss can be an incredibly substantial source of stress for people who work for them.”

You’ve been through your fair share of bosses who have definitely upped your stress levels. During those times you swore that when it was your turn to lead a team, you would be a dream boss: mentor your team and help them grow, be mindful of their work-life balance, and invite them out for a weekly happy hour on you (hello, company card).

But once you actually slide up into a leadership role, it quickly becomes apparent that being a boss that people like, and respect, is easier said than done. It’s walking a tightrope between being an effective leader whose team hits goals and deadlines, while also cultivating an environment that allows people to actually enjoy coming to work everyday.

Perhaps you just recently became responsible for a team, or maybe you’ve had people reporting to you for awhile but think it’s about time to step up your boss game. Whatever the situation, here are some science-backed tricks for being a more effective boss.

Share Stories About Your Personal Life

No, we’re not saying to start every Monday morning meeting with a 20-minute story recounting your entire weekend. But sharing some details about your personal life with your employees is key to gaining their trust and loyalty.

A 2015 study found that more than half of the millennials surveyed felt that knowing more about their CEO’s experiences managing a work/life balance would have a positive impact on their feelings about their workplace (28 percent of Gen Xers and 39 percent of baby boomers said the same). The results show the need for those in management roles to share more personal stories and communicate beyond company strategy, especially for companies hoping to recruit and retain top, young talent, Matthew Kohut, co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential, told the BBC.

That’s because sharing a little piece of information about yourself is key to cultivating warmth, which is a trait distinct from friendliness or cheeriness, explained Kohut. It’s about how easily you can convey to another person that the two of you have something meaningful in common. In this way, what feels like warmth to one person, may not resonate the same way with another, since connections are built through establishing that you share the same specific goals and values.

You may bond over your love for football with one employee, while discussing a new restaurant you tried over the weekend with another. You don’t have to share a ton of information about yourself; instead, it’s about finding the little tidbits that will allow each employee to feel that connection with you.

Let Employees Unplug, But Don’t Tell Them When To Do It

There’s no shortage of research showing that being able to unplug—ignoring the after-hour calls and emails on weekends—lowers stress levels and increases productivity.

But a recent article from Time Magazine claims that while allowing employees time to unplug is a smart way to prevent burnout and increase job satisfaction, mandating when and how they do it is not.

“Dictating when and how employees should use their connected devices will inevitably handicap many workers. Parents have come to count on being able to pick their kids up in the afternoon or put them to bed, because they’re able to catch up online later at night. And there are plenty of people who do their best work at 3 a.m,” reported Time. “In fact, a majority of working adults recently surveyed by the American Psychological Association say that being able to check work email at home makes it easier to get more done; many also said it improved their relationships with colleagues. Perhaps that’s why so many efforts to impose blanket rules—like Intel’s Quiet Time, a 2008 experiment in which a group of employees cut off their means of communication for one morning a week—haven’t gotten much traction.”

Let it be known that it’s okay to not answer emails sent on the weekend until Monday morning, or turn off your phone on weeknights. But don’t forbid employees from getting some work done on Saturday afternoon if that schedule works for them.

Be Able to Do Your Employees Job

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) looked at 35,000 randomly selected employees and workplaces to see how workers are affected by their boss’s technical competence. To measure this, they defined supervisor competence in three ways: Whether the supervisor could, if necessary, do the employee’s job; Whether the supervisor worked his or her way up inside the company; The supervisor’s level of technical competence as assessed by a worker.

What they found was that employees were far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.

“When we look closely at the data, a striking pattern emerges. The benefit of having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction,” reported HBR. “Even we were surprised by the size of the measured effect. For instance, among American workers, having a technically competent boss is considerably more important for employee job satisfaction than their salary (even when pay is really high).” In fact, no other factor—type of occupation, level of education, tenure, or industry—mattered as much as a bosses competence did.

It makes sense: you’re more likely to respect and enjoy working with someone who understands what you do, and could jump in and get it done if need be, than someone who is clueless. And the fact that being competent increases the job satisfaction of your employees is good news for your bottom line too, since there’s a strong link between job satisfaction and productivity. One study found that even a small boost in happiness translated to a 12 percent boost in work productivity. Plus, employees who are happy at work are less likely to quit, and retention rate is often used as a measure of how effective a a manager is. So it’ll pay off come annual review time.

“The bottom line is that employees are happiest when the boss knows what she or he is talking about, and that drives performance: there is growing evidence, from randomized trials done under laboratory conditions, that when you make workers happier they become more productive,” wrote HBR. It’s a win-win.

Show Compassion.

A recent study of over 300 managers/leaders found that the majority of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of warmth and care displayed at work and believed that their wellbeing would be improved if there was more “love.”

In fact, 70 percent of respondents reported that they would prefer a “collaborative & supportive” working environment. But don’t be too much of a softy: only 26 percent said that they wanted a manager who was “nurturing and kind” or ”unconditionally supportive.”

“People want clarity from a logical and pragmatic manager, but they also what to feel that a manager and the organization genuinely care about them and that is often what is missing. In the drive for performance management the human touch gets overlooked,” explained study author Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones, Chartered Psychologist and Managing “and as they say, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Director of The Cognitive Fitness Consultancy.

Create an environment where your team members feel supported by maintaining an open dialogue where people can feel comfortable coming to you about issues that arise, whether they be personal or professional. But don’t turn into a ball of mush when your employee informs you of a death in the family. Instead, remain logical and be strategic in helping them figure out how to handle the situation while meeting deadlines.

Don’t Micromanage

Who wants their boss breathing down their neck or checking in on Slack for an update every five minutes?

Beyond being an annoyance to your employees, micromanagement reflects poorly on you as a boss. A new study in Personality and Individual Differences indicated that people micromanage because they feel powerless, prompting them to exert control over what employees can (and would prefer to) just take care of themselves.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers conducted two experiments. First, they asked participants how much they agreed with statements that indicate how powerful people feel personally like, “In my relationships with others, I can get them to listen to what I say.” Then, they measured how comfortable each person was with delegating tasks by asking them about a management philosophy that claims employees are not to be trusted. What they found was that the less powerful people felt, the more they mistrusted their employees, and in turn, were less likely to delegate tasks.

In a second experiment, they asked participants to recall an experience where they felt either powerful or powerless, and then asked them about the same management philosophy above. Again they found that when people were manipulated into feeling powerless, they grasped harder at maintaining their authority, reported Science of Us.

Implement these five tactics and you’ll be the cool boss (who still manages to exceed goals) in no time.


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