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OWNER'S MANUAL

5 Things Remarkable Bosses Never Do

What you don't do can sometimes make a bigger impact than what you do.
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I recently described what remarkable bosses do. A number of people emailed and asked, "That's a great list, but flip it around: What things should I not do?"

Glad you asked.

As a leader what you don't do can sometimes make as much or even more impact than what you do. Here are five things remarkable bosses never do:

Say, "I've been meaning to apologize for a while..."

You should never need to apologize for not having apologized sooner.

When you mess up, 'fess up. Right away. You certainly want employees to immediately tell you when they make a mistake, so model the same behavior.

If love means never having to say you're sorry, leadership means always having to say you're sorry.

Deliver annual performance reviews.

Annual or semi-annual performance appraisals are largely a waste of time.

Years ago my review was late so I mentioned it to my boss. He said, "I'll get to it... but you should know you won't hear anything new. You've already heard everything I will say, good or bad. If anything on your review comes as a surprise to you I haven't done my job."

He was right. The best feedback isn't scheduled. The best feedback happens on the spot when it makes the most impact, either as praise and encouragement or as training and suggestions for improvement. Waiting for a scheduled review is the lazy way out.

Your job is to coach and mentor and develop--every day.

Hold formal meetings to solicit ideas.

Many companies hold brainstorming sessions to solicit ideas for improvement, especially when times get tough.

Sounds great; after all you're "engaging employees" and "valuing their contributions," right? But you don't need a meeting to get input. When employees know you listen they bring ideas to you.

And if you must ask, the better way to ask for ideas is to talk to people individually and to be more specific. Say, "I wish we could find a way to get orders through our system faster. What would you change if you were me?"

Trust me: Employees picture themselves doing your job--and doing your job better than you--all the time. They have ideas. Sometimes they have great ideas. Be open, act on good ideas, explain why less than good ideas aren't feasible... and you'll get all the input you can handle without a formal meeting.

Create development plans.

Formal development plans are, like annual performance reviews, largely a corporate construct. You should know what each of your employees hopes to achieve: Skills and experience they want to gain, career paths they hope to take, etc.

So talk about it--informally. Then assign projects that fit. Provide training that fits. Create opportunities that fit.

Then give feedback on the spot. "Develop" is a verb. To develop requires action. "Development" is a noun that sits in a file cabinet.

Call in favors.

I know lots of bosses who play the guilt game, like saying, "Mark, I was really flexible with your schedule while your son was sick... now I really need you to come through for me and work this weekend."

Generosity should always be a one-way street. Be flexible when being flexible is the right thing to do. Be accommodating when being accommodating is the right thing to do.

Never lend money to friends unless you don't care if you are repaid, and never do "favors" for employees in anticipation of return.

Remarkable leaders only give. They never take.

Last updated: Apr 5, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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