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Idealog—in the ideas business

How to be a good boss

Want to be a good boss? Consider stroppy chef Gordon Ramsay your role model

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[Workplace]

Smashing pots and swearing at staff. TV chef Gordon Ramsay—he of the  foul-mouthed, food-throwing ways—actually knows how to lead a successful team, says Wellington organisational psychologist Dave Winsborough.

“Ramsay is from all accounts a cherished boss,” says Winsborough.  “He does exactly what really good managers do. He always sets high standards and makes sure people work together as a team, and he invests lots of time coaching individuals. He’s held on to 80 percent of his staff over the last ten years.”

It may sound bleeding obvious that good managers are focused on the team and the task. But as Winsborough found recently when he asked 2,000 people from eight large New Zealand organisations about their bosses, an alarming number of bad managers just don’t get it. They’ll let poor performers drift and just can’t define good performance. Unlike Ramsay, who clearly insists on Michelin-star standards.

Good managers  have integrity and honesty, skills that Winsborough reckons are untrainable (fake sincerity anyone?). But lack of authenticity is not limited to Kiwi managers, as Lester Levy, professor at University of Auckland’s Excelerator Leadership Institute, found when comparing the scores of leaders in New Zealand, Singapore, the US and Russia.

“The levels of authenticity are alarmingly low across all these countries”, says Levy. “But equally alarming is the effect this has on performance. Bad leadership hollows out the essential capacities for good performance: self-confidence, optimism, hope and resilience. How can we expect to be an idea-generating, productive and engaged society if we have such a fundamentally low score?”

Ramsay does exactly what really good managers do. He always sets high standards and makes sure people work together as a team, and he invests lots of time coaching individuals. He’s held on to 80 percent of his staff over the last ten years

Mind you, notes Winsborough, even good managers struggle to nip poor performance early, tending to “avoid confrontations and hope things will sort themselves out” in that nice Kiwi way we have.

Both Levy and Winsborough say managers need to be more real than right. To grow from sole idea-person to global domination, Kiwi entrepreneurs need to think about complexity and collaboration, not being the only person who knows stuff. They also need to be good at relationships, not just the technical mumbo-jumbo.

“If you think you have to act your way through, then you’re wrong. You don’t have to get everything right, everything perfect. Own up to your flaws and move on,” says Levy. “Focus on being real. Our organisations tend to be over-managed and under-led, but people are tired of fakes.”

“High-quality managers are seen as good people, as well as good managers,” says Winsborough.

Ramsay may not be Mr Calm and Considered, but his brutal honesty wins every time.

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Good managers are 25 to 30 percent better than poor ones at managing themselves, building teams, being honest and achieving results. Source: Winsborough Ltd, The Strengths and Weaknesses of New Zealand Managers, 2008

Originally published in Idealog #17, page 133

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