Would you call yourself a great boss? Of course in a world post COVID-19 we all have been examining our relationship with our work differently. Whether you are noticing that you 1) don’t like your work, 2) are accepting that you can work differently and it’ll all be okay, 3) setting new boundaries with how work intersects with your life, or 4) have “lost” work and now are redefining your contributions in the world.
That lost part: Work is a place that we often find ourselves.. Many an acquaintance has introduced themselves to me, not by declaring their life’s purpose and mission, but by simply offering what they do for work. “Hi, I’m Jenae. I’m an accountant / executive assistant / artist, community organizer / HR strategist.” Are you Jenae? Or is that just where you find yourself?
The American corporate work machine does a good job of allowing us to conflate our jobs with our identities. And I know this isn’t the first time that you have heard me say that YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB. And yet, the inclination is to find yourself in your work, immersed in it, breathing it as though it were your daily sustenance.
People use their work to find their passions, accept their fate, meet the loves of their lives, and start the longest of friendships. It holds a big place/space in our minds and hearts and lives.
I think that’s why losing a job can be so devastating.
It can be why starting a new job can be so terrifying. We expect a lot from our work.
Through it all though, there is always an opportunity to reclaim the story we are telling ourselves about our jobs. About who is in control of it all. Who is the boss and do we like the job they are doing managing our work? On one hand a job is not our identity and on the other, our job expresses so many facets of who we are.
As an entrepreneur I have the great fortune to be my own boss. I set the rules of, not just my job, but my work hours, the lines where work bumps into life, the spaces that each holds and also how I choose to honor my labor. Both as boss and as employee.
And I would assert that anyone who has labor to offer, is also boss and worker all at the same time. Try on those identities.
So how do you get to show up as the best boss in a world where work means so much?
Whether you are a team of one or leading a team of hundreds, taking time out to acknowledge the contributions of the team is critical to your success. Even the most humble of workers likes to know they are rowing in the right direction. Find out what type of acknowledgement your workers enjoy and then give it to them when it’s due. If you are a team of one, this means rewarding yourself for your good works, and celebrating your wins. From a fist pump in the air, to ordering that indulgent take out or taking a trip can do wonders for the psyche. **Fancy tip: give your workers/yourself a raise or extra perks like a gift card if you can.
Dish it out and take it in. Great leaders are amazing at providing their team with honest and constructive feedback. It’s our gift to others when we take the time to invest in their development. It’s probably one of the most accessible job perks and yet it’s still so underutilized. Take time out of your week to tell people what’s working and how they can make the work/team/experience of working with you better for all parties. And then, ask them to tell you the same. For self employed folks this still applies. Ask your clients how you are doing and ask often. And then (gasp) make changes to make the experience you provide better.
3.Trust and transparency
This may seem obvious. but tell the truth. I know the worst bosses that have littered my career were those who were too afraid to tell me when they didn’t have it figured out. The only thing worse than someone not knowing what they are doing, is someone refusing to admit they don’t know what they are doing. Gaslighting much? Tell the truth about what you know and what you don’t know. It creates space for collaborative problem solving (the key to every great team building exercise, btw). Undoing a lie is harder than breaking out of an escape room with 20 people – just be honest and watch the magic happen.
**Fancy tip: If you are a solopreneur, finding out what you don’t know is the key to getting more help and building capacity. Be honest about your gaps so you can get on with filling them already.
4. Stay Curious
This one may not be so obvious but it definitely builds off of that trust piece. Being a fake know-it-all isn’t just bad for morale, it actually limits innovation. The reason why diversity of thought works in the workplace is because our peers can see things we can’t see. From perspectives that we don’t know to solve problems we haven’t even begun to solve. But you never pull any of that out if you don’t get curious, ask more questions and lead with “what if?” “why?” and “tell me more?”
So as you contemplate your work and your contributions, consider where you find yourself. Are you acting like you own your work or more like your work owns you? Consumes you? Usurps your identity? Because when you take full control and ownership of your labor, you can find yourself living out your most passionate purpose and dreams. And that’s way better than just finding a job.