The Type of Working Atmosphere People Want: Part 1

12 Stone Church

Undercover Boss is an Emmy Award-winning television series created by Stephen Lambert and produced in several countries. Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company for about a week.

At the end of that time, the executive returns to their true identity and requests the employees they worked with to come to corporate headquarters. The bosses reveal their identity and reward hard-working employees through promotion or financial rewards while other employees are given training or better working conditions. It’s an entertaining show, and its popularity reveals this is a topic of great interest.

Part 1 of this two-part series deals with what people want in a great boss. The context of this article is the local church, but it can easily be adapted to any environment.

Before I jump in, let me start by offering three essential characteristics in outline form that apply to both boss and staff member.

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1. Love Jesus

  • Humble spirit
  • Servant’s heart
  • Hear God’s voice

2. Growing Leader

  • Security
  • Learning atmosphere
  • Practicing leadership

3. Strong character

  • Trustworthiness
  • Living by the same standards they expect of others
  • Discipline to do the right thing

What Characteristics Do People Want to See in a Boss?

(What kind of leader do you want to work for?)

Being a great boss is a tough gig. Here are three truths to help set the stage:

1. It’s true that perfection is an unproductive expectation. The expectation of a perfect boss is something like the expectation of a perfect spouse. That’s not going to happen. If you persist in that expectation, not only will you be disappointed, but also you’ll miss all the good that was right before you. It’s your boss' job to keep growing, not your job to fix them.

2. It’s true that you will find what you look for and you will experience what you focus on. For nearly every boss, the list of negatives is usually short and the list of positives is usually long. Think about it: Your boss was chosen over all the others, and for several good reasons! If you focus on the short list, you will miss the long list.

Jesus had much stronger words:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matt. 7:1-5).

3. It’s true that your relationship with your boss reveals more about you than them. This is true because you are in the follower position to your boss. That instantly produces more potential inner tension for you as the team member, especially for strong-minded, opinionated and highly competent leaders. This will always reveal your level of maturity—that is, your ability to serve without getting your way.

5 Characteristics in a Great Boss

1. They know how to manage the tension between making things happen and making staff happy. These two extremes break down if you push, but I like the extremes because they paint a great picture. Most bosses lean toward one or the other. It’s in the extremes where we get in trouble, especially in the local church.

As a boss, you are not responsible for the happiness of your staff, but some bosses try. I know I have. But that’s a mistake. Good heart, bad leadership. There is a fine line between the leader who gets results and the one who just wants everyone happy.

Boss extreme type one .... all about the relationships.

Boss extreme type two ... all about the results.

The truth is you must lead in the reality of both ends of the tension. The team needs to work and play. They need to be challenged and cared for. It’s tough to get the balance right.

A great boss needs wisdom to wrestle the margin between kindness and productivity. Bosses can be tempted to play favorites, and that never goes unnoticed.

Life isn’t fair, but only a rookie or foolish boss tries to be fair. Bosses can be tough and push too hard, but no one wants to be on a losing team. Bosses try to mix friendship and business, which I think is really good but risky at the same time, and it can cloud your judgment. We must pray for wisdom.

You need courage to make tough decisions. If you have the responsibility to oversee staff (paid or volunteer) and you won’t make the tough call, you are not leading well.

You owe it to your team and to your church to make the hard decision. In fact, over time, the avoidance of that decision, while appearing like kindness at first, will cause others to doubt your leadership.

2. They know what they’re doing! Let’s just say it: Great bosses are smart. A great boss doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but has thought through the issues and collaborates well with others. Just because you are smart doesn’t mean you think. The willingness to engage the discipline of consistent thinking is far more valuable than a high IQ. Of course, a leader who is smart and thinks is a force to be reckoned with!

Great bosses are competent. Effective bosses are really good at something. A good boss doesn’t have to be an expert in all areas, obviously, but must be able to lead through layers. They must be able to lead leaders who in turn lead others. Much of their credibility comes from the specific area they are good at, and the rest comes from their ability to inspire and coach others.

Great bosses are out in front. You can’t lead if you are always catching up. You can lead only if you are out in front. The secret to this is that you don’t need to be out in front in a long list of things. In fact, if you are truly out in front in perhaps just three to five priority areas (as the senior leader), you are leading well. A staff member can be out in front in one to three priority areas and do very well.

3. They are committed to develop the team. A great boss genuinely cares about the people on the team. It all starts here. The truth is that it’s just too much work to lead well if you don’t love your team. If you love and care for them, you’ll do whatever it takes.

A great boss treats people on the team with respect. Kevin Myers, 12Stone’s senior pastor and my boss, has always treated me with great respect. I’ll give a simple and practical but personal example—my time. As my boss, he has the right to change my schedule whenever he wants (I’m referring to major changes here). I think he’s actually done that maybe about once a year, at the most! He has the utmost respect of my time and trusts my plans.

A great boss uses a simple plan. A wise boss knows that a list of 27 things is not a good plan to coach someone with. It is much better to keep it simple and consistent. One or two things at a time are plenty.

4. They intentionally and consistently empower the team. It’s so important to fully grasp and practice the art of empowerment. I’m giving a brief outline here because it deserves much more time and attention than the length of this article can offer. Let me refer you to my book Amplified Leadership for a more thorough treatment on empowerment.

  • Trust with responsibility.
  • Train for competency.
  • Unleash with authority.
  • Communicate for clear expectations.
  • Believe in for maximum results.

5. They know how to create an environment conducive to success. Seeing the big picture, knowing what’s going on, knocking down problems and setting the stage for maximum wins is at the core of what a great boss does.

A great boss knows how to read the playing field. A leader is lost when he or she can’t read the field. When you can’t read the field, you can’t make the right call. The bottom line is that an effective boss knows what’s going on. He or she is in touch with reality.

When you know how to read the playing field, you can then intelligently ask these three key questions. What resources do we need? What problems need to be solved first? What do we change?

A great boss knows the direction the team should be headed, and how to get there. Good strategy is critical. As I’ve mentioned, you don’t have to possess all the answers, but it’s imperative that you have the overall direction and plan well in hand.

A great boss knows how to create positive team morale.This may be the linchpin to this entire fifth point. You can’t overestimate the importance of morale and the need for high morale. It’s not easy to achieve, especially under speed and pressure. Morale to the staff is like momentum to the church. With high morale, you can do nearly anything; without it, you can do next to nothing.

I know this seems like a lot, and it is. But let me recommend that you don’t try to tackle it all at once. That will likely overwhelm you. Take this material a piece at a time. Think it through. Where do you need to start? Pick two to three things and start there. The rest of this material will be waiting for you when you need it.

Dan Reiland is executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

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