“I hate my boss” is an all-too familiar phrase in today’s workplace. Maybe the environment under your leadership, or the manager you work for, is excellent right now, but chances are you’ve experienced a bad boss once or twice before. Remember that feeling? How your days were commanded by someone whose ego walks into the room 30 seconds before they do? How their dictatorial barks of “do this” and “don’t question me” were the angst-ridden topics of conversation among irritated employees at the local happy hour on Thursday nights? How you would dread Mondays not because of your work specifically, but because of the tyrant for whom you worked?
A virus is rampant in the professional world. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, but the virus of the ego-driven boss infecting a workplace that needs a compassionate and principled leader. A mentality where anger masked as “passion” is what drives workers into feverish production, and where any display of humanity or vulnerability is seen as an opportunity to get stepped on by your manager or your team. After all, how can someone stomp on your neck if you’re not sticking it out?
Here’s the principle I follow: don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I believe that those called to lead need to do just that—to lead, not boss. I believe that people do their best work when they’re inspired, fascinated, and motivated by their work (I talk about this topic in last week’s blog post as well: read that here), and that your ability to produce your most creative, energized, and passionate work is a direct result of the fulfillment you derive from your professional environment.
If you’re in a position of leadership and you’re feeling stuck with unmotivated employees, or if you’re hiding in the restroom reading this as your “bad boss” gives another obtuse presentation about why you need to cover up their miscommunication about KPIs before the regional manager arrives this afternoon, no worries; here are a few key steps that you can use to unlock the potential in others, and establish a culture of growth through your leadership. Even if you’re not positioned over teams or other companies, you can still take charge and drive progress in your everyday workplace.
This is a big one. In fact, we believe in taking responsibility so much, it’s one of the core values we have at Obsessed Academy. From a leadership perspective, responsibility is key to successfully guiding the people you work with to a deeper place of productivity, profitability, and professional potential. (Who said you wouldn’t use alliteration after high school?) Want to know the difference between a person in a leadership role who takes responsibility, and one who doesn’t? Leaders who take personal responsibility accept fault when things go wrong, and share credit when things go right.
One of the first signs of a “bad boss” who’s killing a culture of growth is someone who does the exact opposite: pointing the finger when things go wrong, but hoarding all the responsibility when things go well. If the due date is missed, it’s the fault of the data department, or the design team. But, if every deadline is hit and profits soar by 12% this quarter, why, that would never have been possible without their exemplary leadership! Steak dinners all around! (Or not. Since we’re talking about bad bosses here, perhaps it’s more like grocery-store deli wraps with a 2015 expiration date.)
One of the first rules I implemented in Obsessed Academy was the combination of singular faults plus shared successes. If things go wrong? It’s my fault. Plain and simple. Sales quotas missed by my sales team? That’s my fault—I need to have the backbone to take responsibility for keeping my team sharp, focused, and trained, and for releasing those who are not an ideal fit for the position. Clients feeling unloved by our “client care” department? That’s my fault—I need to courageously be responsible for ensuring that our core accountability of “loving the person in front of you” is lived through every single interaction, and build a training structure to help employees who may struggle to work through tough conversations with customers. You get the idea.
Yet in this same narrative, it’s made extremely clear that we rise and fall as a unified team; therefore, we share one another’s successes. The designers, AV experts, content creators, sales staff, data department, analysts, developers, are all crucial—success takes a village! It’s clear to everyone that our winning moments are a byproduct of our collective efforts, and that no single person is solely responsible for carrying the company’s legacy or even for sinking our ship. This rule creates an atmosphere of collaboration instead of competition—another of our core values, “collaborate without ego”—and allows our company to grow through the combined strengths of many unique individuals. As Aristotle once said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Back in 2013 when I launched my real estate journey, I ran my company according to a thick employee handbook I developed by using “standards” in business that seemed important to me at the time. It was the Bible for our operating procedures and corporate culture (which I had very little of at the time, but nonetheless it was an attempt), and it outlined the consequences of actions that were deemed inappropriate. What would happen if you weren’t in dress code, if you missed KPIs, if clients weren’t satisfied with your work? It was a desperate effort to control the environment I was creating, because I had yet to see how important it was for people to freely just be. Set standards? Yes. Clearly outline consequences for actions that don’t mesh with the company’s values or processes? Absolutely. But, when you’re leading a company you must be principled and not controlling. Here is what I mean.
Let’s take the dress code, for example. I had a long list of do’s and don’ts, of what to wear on casual days and on work days. Our dress code now at Obsessed Academy? Dress appropriately. That’s it. If I need to explain to you what “appropriate” looks like, we’re probably not a good fit as an employer.
The principles we adhere to at Obsessed Academy are clearly stated through our core values and core accountability. We believe in precision, or moving swiftly and with accuracy. This core value reinforces the principle of eliminating time from the equation without sacrificing quality in the process. As you read earlier, we believe in always taking full responsibility. This core value illustrates the importance of being solutions-driven and owning every issue that arises for OA, regardless of who might actually be at fault. We believe in the importance of unity, reinforced in the phrase, “collaborate without ego.” Unity to us means that every individual is uniquely gifted, and we should use these innate gifts to create meaningful, sustainable, positive impact for others. And finally, we believe in growth, in that “great isn’t good enough.” If you work at Obsessed Academy, you know that every day starts back at zero, with each morning renewing our goal of being better today than we were yesterday.
The reason I bring our core values into this conversation is that an organization’s core values should mold every decision the leadership and employees make. If you worked at OA, and you didn’t take full responsibility, didn’t move swiftly in your work, believed you deserve special treatment for some reason, and relied on last year’s achievements to be relevant today, don’t you believe you would feel uncomfortable here? Let me reassure you: you would. It has nothing to do with you or us being right or wrong, and everything to do with us being right or wrong for each other.
When you’re a leader who’s principled, you have no need to be controlling. If you’re hiring and firing by your core values, the culture you’ve created will stand on its own, apart from your voice. When you’ve established clear standards, accountability measures for adhering to those standards, and predefined actions that will occur should those standards not be met, your need for tight control dissipates. However, if you feel that your employees need to be strictly regulated in the minutiae of their work, I would encourage you to first examine your company’s values and principles. That issue typically highlights a culture problem, not a people problem.
Last, I encourage you to redefine your criteria for determining the success or failure of a specific product or service. Here’s a hint: it’s not just profits. Now before you think I’ve completely lost my mind, allow me to make one thing clear: profits are important. I believe revenue is the most important focus of an organization, as a business cannot thrive or serve its customers without a healthy revenue flow. My recommendation, however, is not to stop at revenue, as several other factors come into play as well.
If you’re working to establish a culture of growth, you must have other targets than “X amount in sales.” This can be a target, but should not be the sole target. I recommend developing a series of measurable goals that follow principles such as these:
Having additional targets allows your team to expand their thinking beyond the “we hit our number” or “we missed our number” mentality. For example, if you had a project that missed profit targets but had a monumental and positive impact on your customer base and drove many customers from lukewarm to advocate-level (see what I mean in the latest OA course, Bulletproof Databases), I would encourage you to consider that project a win.
The OA example I stated above is a perfect representation of this fact. Have you been to an Obsessed Conference yet? It’s a world-class event focused on driving personal and professional growth through entertaining yet value-centric approaches to deeply meaningful and educational content. We’re known for spending what is needed to make the event perfect for attendees, instead of trying to milk every dollar to make it as profitable as possible. According to the Revenue target, this conference would be considered a large expense as it relates to money in versus money out. But according to the Mission and Impact targets, the Obsessed Conference is wildly successful: an annual not-to-be-missed event for which many people travel from all over the world to network and learn. Simply put, if our target had only been profitability and margins, we wouldn’t be able to leave the impact we do today through experiences such as the Obsessed Conference.
As stated by law, Obsessed Academy cannot and does not make any guarantees about your individual or company’s ability to get results or earn any money with Obsessed Academy’s ideas, information, programs or strategies. Nothing on this page or in any of Obsessed Academy’s workshops, courses, groups, websites or emails is a promise or guarantee of future earnings. Any financial numbers referenced here, or on any of Obsessed Academy’s sites, emails, or social media are simply estimates or projections or past results, and should not be considered exact, actual, or a promise of potential earnings. All numbers are illustrative only.