Traditionally, you could get away with being a bad boss, provided you delivered exceptional results. For better or for worse (definitely worse), temper tantrums, power plays, and expletive-laced shouting were all fair game to "motivate" employees to perform, and if they didn't like it, well, they could toughen up.
But times have changed, thank goodness. Toxic bosses don't have the longevity they used to, and performance or power is no longer a shield for being a jerk. With the ongoing war for talent, which continues even during the pandemic, employees simply won't tolerate bad bosses anymore.
Now, surely you're not a jerk boss. Me either! But likely every leader has picked up a few unsavory habits in today's high-pressure environment--and unless you want to spend all your time recruiting, you just might have to become a better boss. Here's where to start.
Figure Out Your Flaws, and Then Invest in Fixing Them
Change of any kind is hard but not impossible, and it can be worth it -- professionally and personally. It takes self-awareness to admit your leadership style could stand some improvement or to acknowledge a failing. While incredibly difficult, admitting a weakness is the first step to addressing it.
If you can't control your temper, try an anger-management course. If you have issues in your life affecting your professional demeanor, find a therapist. If you need practical skills to learn how to go from micromanaging to empowering, find leadership training or a coach to help you. Your investment could save your career.
Own Your Past Behavior
If you've identified jerk-like tendencies in your leadership style, odds are good that your team is already painfully aware of them. You may have a reputation, and it may not be pleasant.
A sincere, authentic apology is in order--likely more than one. Don't be afraid to acknowledge that you've been part of the problem and be transparent about your efforts to change.
This process can be uncomfortable, but a heartfelt apology--accompanied by the appropriate change--can go a long way.
That said, not every apology is going to be accepted. If you think apologizing will brush your past behavior under the rug, you'd better brace yourself. There are some things you can't undo. There are some people who aren't going to forgive you. Still, you may be pleasantly surprised at how often apologizing can reset a professional journey.
Learn the Skill of Empathy
As a leader, you have to model the behavior you expect to see from people. This is especially true for leaders working to rebuild their reputations. If you want your team to exhibit empathy and understanding toward you, you have to do the same for them.
People are struggling with pandemic fatigue, economic pressures, political unrest, schooling arrangements, concerns for family members--the list goes on and on. Speak with your team members one on one, listen while suspending your own opinion and agenda, and communicate back to them what you heard. Let your team know you're actively seeking to understand their circumstances, worries, and challenges, especially now when so many of us are struggling in invisible ways and cut off from the support of our colleagues.
Empathy is the overlooked secret to building loyalty, and both are too rare in the professional world. And in my experience, empathetic and emotionally healthy workplaces can do more for employee retention than money or prestige.