Communication Leadership skills People skills

Am I A Nice Boss?

Let’s be honest, 40% of the average person’s time is spent working. More than you spend (awake) with your partner or your children, for example. Or on your favorite hobby. If you don’t have a nice boss, you’re not going to be that happy. And if you take that not-so-nice-boss home with you, you suffer.

High time, then, for you to test if you’re a nice boss for your coworkers. Because if you are, you’re helping them be happy—and as you know, happy people perform better, and that’s also good for you and your organization! 

Is he getting married? What’s her name again?

To begin, you should show a genuine interest in your coworker. What motivates her? What’s going on in his personal life? Is she getting married soon? What’s his favorite hobby? Has someone recently passed away in their personal circle? What are the specific qualities which make a coworker good in what they do?

Of course, it’s difficult to remember everything, especially if your span of control is 25 or more—let alone if you also want to remember things about all the coworkers your direct colleagues guide in the everyday operation of your organization. You could use an aid such as a handy little app in which you keep the name, photo, and some highlights about each coworker directly and indirectly serving under your lead. I once heard about a director who learned by heart the names and faces of all 250 coworkers before he started working for a new organization. On his first day at work he knew everyone by name, from the front desk clerk to the cleaning staff and to every manager. The amount of goodwill this gave him was incredible, not to mention the pleasant working environment it provided.

A genuine conversation

As a leader, you will need to conduct annual ambition and assessment interviews; you will be in meetings and speak to people at the coffee machine. Will you really know what your coworker needs for their well-being and if those needs are being met? Especially when it comes to the three basic needs for connection, mastery, and autonomy? Are you able to engage in a sympathetic dialog? Do you command the necessary listening skills in such a way that you really uncover the emotions underlying your coworker’s motivation? If your answer is yes to all of these questions, you are already well underway to being a nice boss!

Be generous

Everyone likes to get something extra so now and then. Where the one would like to enjoy an extra education or follow a course, the other would prefer a raise, and yet another would like to be celebrated. It’s good to pay attention to such rewards, yet be sure it remains fair: everyone deserves a comparable slice of the cake. If your rewards aren’t perceived as fair, your generosity will work counterproductively and raise a negative form of competitivity—exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. The same goes for giving credit and attention: be generous with your attention and give compliments when something goes well. Also, ensure all receive this generosity—a coworker isn’t going to like being left out.

Keep your promises

As a manager, boss, or leader, you are primarily a facilitator. You facilitate a conducive environment so that your coworkers can function optimally. This means more than an eye for hygienic factors such as a comfortable and healthy workplace, adequate pay (let’s face it: people also work to earn a salary!), and sufficient opportunities for further development. It also means providing the resources they need to fulfil the task at hand, as well as bearing, room, and backup. So check regularly that you are keeping your promises!

Support your coworker

As a boss, you are the buffer between your coworker and the outside world—especially as regards the rest of the organization. You are their safety barrier, so cover their back, especially when they make a mistake. Dressing them down (even more so when doing this openly) immediately creates an unsafe environment. By all means, privately give appropriate feedback (preferably with a focus on mastery)—but in public, support your coworker without fail. Remember, trust is hard to gain but easy to lose!

And never forget…

At home, you are just you. As soon as you cross the threshold of your organization, you are the manager, boss, or leader. Yet don’t let that distract you! You are still the same person who is also nice to others at home. Take your sympathetic qualities to work with you! Being kind elicits kind reactions, making your work more pleasant and fun to do. And who wouldn’t want that?

A word of thanks to Ellen Sebregts for her inspiration and input for this blog!

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on the 6th of March, 2020.

Communication Leadership skills Organization

Four Factors for the 21st Century

Experts in the Netherlands predict that, on average, a child born today will pursue 7 professions during their working career. Wow! That’s an entirely different paradigm than in the 1950’s of pursuing one profession during a lifetime, probably for only one organization!

So, what does this mean for you as leader?

What’s good for the organization

If coworkers will change profession that often, what then is good for the organization? How do you attract excellent personnel—and more importantly, how do you keep your best colleagues on board? The answer lies partially in sustainability, and then sustainability in the broadest sense of the word, including concepts such as corporate social responsibility, sustainability in terms of the planet, and most importantly, sustainability regarding your personnel. Next to ethical and morally proper treatment, that means ensuring you are constantly helping your team members focus on where they should be at in 3 to 5 years in the future.

Why is this good for the organization? Primarily, because the world keeps changing—and change seems to be ever more rapid. So, the organization will continuously need to adapt to an ever-changing environment and need personnel who operate well in this (ever new) environment. And all of this with a low staff turnover when it comes to your excellent coworkers.

What your coworker needs

A volatile environment requires some very specific qualities from the coworker who wants to be sustainably employed. In contradistinction to how things used to be, knowledge is no longer the most important criterion. Not only because knowledge on any subject is much easier to come by (think of using your favorite search-engine on the internet, for example), but also because the knowledge base is ever expanding and changing. Things you learned 20 years ago may have changed in the meantime or been superseded by new research and insights. Your coworker of the future needs the following four qualities for sustainability:

  • Analytical capacities
  • Creative capacities
  • Organizing and planning skills
  • Influential capacities

Analytical capacities are necessary to judge and work out what a situation requires to transform it into something successful. They are also necessary to be able to judge information on its merit and its usability in dealing with a current or future challenge.

Because everything is changing ever more rapidly, chances are that new situations will require new approaches. This is why creativity is a sustainable quality. The coworker of the future needs to think beyond the comfort zone of the known, use divergent and convergent thinking, and approach challenges and opportunities in an iterative and innovative way.

Organizing and planning skills are more than managing your own time, they also concern collaboration and identifying and the effective use of the appropriate resources needed to address whatever the issue at hand may be.

Probably the most important sustainability quality is the capacity to influence. Traditional command-and-control structures are gradually being replaced by collaborative ways of working, including concepts such as matrix organizations and network organizations. Influence means getting things done. This means influencing skills are gaining in importance and the call to pay more attention to the relationship is just one of the many ways in which to better influence both people and process. Interpersonal skills and realizing the importance of communication in all its aspects are an integral part of influential capacities. The basic premise remains: without communication, no organization!

What does this mean for the leader?

To begin with, how sustainable are you? To what degree do you implement a sustainable view on your organization? Do you consider how you will ensure your organization still has a raison d’ être in the future? Do you know the why of your organization—and more importantly, to what extent personally are your four sustainable qualities developed?

Then, as regards your team members: to what extent do you have attention for the continued development of their sustainable qualities? How are you ensuring your team members are equipped for the future? You always run the risk that an excellent coworker will leave your organization. Yet funnily enough, you limit that risk immensely by also meeting their need for mastery—by offering opportunities to broaden their sustainable qualities, for example.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on the 7th of February, 2020.

Communication Leadership skills Organization

Four Kinds of Feedback in an Excellent Organization

Why does an organization exist? In essence, to produce something, whether that is a product or a service. And in order to exist in the future, this production needs to be sustainable. It means providing high quality products and services at a reasonable cost (to the organization, the employee, the environment, and society). Two of the most important aspects in the organizational equation are the cost and the productivity of your personnel. As an organization, you want everyone to perform and produce optimally. You limit the cost side of the equation by ensuring a low staff turnover, low absenteeism, and stimulating (organizationally) proactive behaviors. And you improve performance by focusing on motivation, especially intrinsic motivation.

Sustainability is the key

When it comes to personnel, an emphasis on sustainability and sustainable employability is necessary. The sustainable qualities a team member brings to the table in a 21st century organization boil down to:

  • Analytic qualities
  • Creative qualities
  • The ability to organize
  • The ability to influence, including relationship-building skills

Challenge, facilitate, support

Analytic and creative qualities have both a general and an expertise-specific part to them, whereas the remaining two qualities are more general in nature. Part of a leader’s task is to challenge a team member to broaden the boundaries beyond the comfort zone they work in, and simultaneously, to facilitate and support the team member in this endeavor.

How does feedback fit into the sustainability picture?

The general problem with peer feedback is that it often feels like (or is) an excuse to lecture a colleague. When a leader stimulates team members to give each other feedback, what is he or she really asking? And why? When a team member isn’t functioning, for example, whose responsibility is it to address this issue? Feedback becomes interesting when it helps broaden a team member’s four sustainability qualities. The feedback team members really require is the knowledge that what they produce meets expectations, and that the way they produce their results is sustainable—for themselves, for team resources, and for organizational resources.

This means four different kinds of feedback are necessary.

Meeting end-user expectations

The obvious persons to ask for feedback regarding end-user expectations are the end-users themselves, perhaps using interviews or questionnaires with standardized questions regarding quality, service, and support, for example. Ideally, the organization’s quality controller should give feedback, too, or an expert who is able to assess the delivered product or service and suggest improvements. The focus should be on mastery, as discussed in a previous blog.


This region is about stimulating the four sustainability aspects above (analysis, creativity, organizing, and influence) and is a task for both the team leader and the human resources department. An ideal strategy is transformational leadership, supported by good career development, via coaching by the HR-department. Under organizing skills, you should also help the team member consider their own personal resources in terms of time and energy: does the energy expended balance the energy their work gives them (burn-out prevention)?

Team resources

These days, products and services are seldom the result of individual endeavors—they are the result of collaboration. In the first instance, it occurs with the own team members; but intra-organizational and sometimes even extra-organizational collaboration may be involved as well. Feedback gathered from collaborators is the ideal source, yet the way it is collected should preferably be via anonymous questionnaires. Subjects questioned could include relationship skills, how they rate the team member’s expertise, accuracy and timeliness, for example. The main reason to use anonymous data is to prevent feedback from either being a pat-on-the-back on one extreme, to a dressing-down on the other end of the scale. Anonymity increases the chance for honest answers, which provides an accurate form of feedback. Who should discuss the results with the team member? Probably an independent coach from the HR department, or the transformational leader who is able to keep the focus of the conversation on mastery and sustainability.

Organizational resources

In terms of organizational resources, feedback may be as simple as statements of actual costs versus budget, or some other way of determining whether the expended organizational resources match with the delivered product or service. The team or project leader is probably the person to give this kind of feedback.

Needless to say, none of these forms of feedback are one-offs. Rather, they are a continuous stream of information to aid the team member in being excellent, developing themselves, and remaining sustainably employable. The trick is to find the balance between too little and too much, and that it isn’t a chore or something needing to be ticked off the to-do-list.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on the 9th of December, 2019.

Communication Leadership skills Organization People skills

The Two Myths of Change

What makes a leader successful? In essence, it’s all about influence. Whatever your leadership style, the nature of your organization, etc., you as leader want to influence your team members to do the things that are good for your organization and the things that are (even) better for the organization, thereby making it an excellent organization.

Having influence means the ability to actually change the behavior of your team members. So if it’s all about change, what makes change so tricky to effectuate? I believe there are two myths that block many an attempt to influence team members.

Leadership skills

Lead by Providing Bearing, Room & Backup

How do you lead your team in today’s organization? The basic premise is: intrinsically motivated team members perform better because they come to work because they want to, not because they have to. So how does your function as leader change as you shift your focus towards this intrinsic motivation? Theunissen and Stubbé (2011) provide an excellent strategy: Leading by providing bearing, room, and backup.

Leadership skills Organization

Leading Towards a Network Organization

In a previous blog, I wrote about why you should transform your organization into a network organization and promised to write about how to lead that transformation.

Leadership skills Organization People skills

Community Management

A network organization is resilient and sustainable.

One of the largest barriers in several organizations is that many managers still tend to think using hierarchical paradigms. Targets, management on result, and control remain the magic words. Let alone the traditionalists with their “I am the boss and I know what needs to be done” attitude.

Leadership skills Organization Psychology

Choose Change!

Common mistakes when wanting to change organizational culture are: thinking that publishing a code of conduct is enough; explaining and coercing; only doing a communication campaign with posters, etc.; and giving employees a (communication) training or a team-building session.

Leadership skills Organization People skills Psychology

Who Changes?

One of the challenges you as leader are faced with is getting changes done in your organization. Especially influencing organizational culture, which is an arduous task, and many an attempt fails to bring about the desired cultural change. So why is that? And more importantly: how can you influence your coworkers in such a way that you increase the probability the desired changes are actually effectuated?

Leadership skills Organization People skills

Long Live the Chief Happiness Officer

Written in collaboration with Ellen Sebregts

At long last, focused attention for Mastery, Autonomy and Connection!

Do you know what’s so great? For years we’ve been writing about the three needs which when fulfilled make a person happy – at home and even more so at work: Mastery, Autonomy, and Connection. It’s so simple. Yet not easy. That’s why many organizations who have understood this message realize how difficult it is to truly live up to this challenge and appoint a Chief Happiness Officer.

A hype? Rubbish? We think not.