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What Makes a Boss Great?

Jan 25, 2021
Author: Collin Stewart

Great leaders play a major role in boosting employee morale and possess the ability to inspire a workforce to achieve amazing results. On the flip side, bad ones can be the most significant barrier to a team’s success. Unfortunately, many of us will have a story or two about a horrible boss that made work life unbearable. A story we would much rather forget and most certainly prefer not to have gone through.

So many people step into managerial roles without realizing the weight of the responsibility and quickly find themselves wondering how to best influence their team. While some people have a natural flair for leadership, the good news for the rest of us is that most of it is learned behavior. 

Senior Vice President of Sales at Zendesk and highly accomplished sales leader, Jaimie Buss, sat down with us last year to impart some of her wisdom on improving team leadership. Across her 20-year sales career, she has held sales and leadership positions at Andreessen Horowitz, VMware, Coverity, Meraki, Coraid, and Inktomi.

Why Do Leaders Matter?

Simply put: “Because your people matter,” states Jaimie. “Yes, you’ve got to hit a number, but you’re not going to hit that number by yourself.” 

More and more people are switching companies to find a ‘better fit’, largely because of one resolvable element – a bad boss. “The number one reason people quit their job is a bad boss or immediate supervisor,” explains Jaimie. 

You don’t want to lose your top performers to more fulfilling positions at other companies. Not only will it cost you months to find and train a suitable replacement, but the remaining staff will have to work harder to achieve the same quota with fewer employees. Effective leadership is an easy way to prevent this from happening. 

Employee Engagement

No one sits there and thinks ‘I’m a bad manager,’” Jaimie states. However, it is vitally important that managers do not get complacent. Even the best leaders consistently reflect on their performance and look for ways to improve. “Regardless of what you’re doing, you can always get better, you can always practice more,” explains Jaimie.

However, it can be difficult to evaluate just how well (or not) you’re doing. Is your leadership style suitable for your team? Are you firm enough without appearing inaccessible? One way to assess your performance is through an anonymous engagement survey.

I would really view employee engagement as being the litmus test for whether or not you’re going to have high attrition,” expounds Jaimie. “The amount of pride that employees have in their work is a direct reflection of how they are being led, and the expectations of what it means to do a particular job well.”

To measure employee engagement, Jaimie utilizes the employee survey from “First, Break All the Rules” by Gallup Press. This great tool asks workers questions such as “Do I know what is expected of me at work?” Asking these questions can provide a clear insight into employee engagement. “These are all things that are outside of people’s day-today job of selling that affects how they feel about their job.

Jaimie explains that it is important to run these surveys as part of a cycle:

Analyze: The initial survey will identify the problem areas. These should then be communicated to the team during meetings for further feedback and prioritization.

Action Plan: Develop team action plans designed to increase engagement.
Implement: Apply the agreed plans in day-to-day practice.

Review: Re-run the survey to assess effectiveness of your interventions.

The Do’s

From running this survey cycle Jamie identified 3 key strategies that good bosses can adopt:

Recognize Team Successes

No one wants to work in a team where they don’t feel appreciated. Luckily for team leaders, praising staff for a job well done is one of the easiest ways to boost confidence, performance and overall job satisfaction.

In running this survey with her own sales force, Jaimie discovered that some of the smaller successes were going uncelebrated. “What if a rep does a great job saving a customer, but there’s no revenue associated with it? Or if a rep gets a great competitive win but the deal size wasn’t large? Probably no-one’s ever going to recognize that,” argues Jaimie. “We needed to find a way to capture and share those things.” 

Accordingly, Jaimie and her fellow managers decided to start sharing these victories over company channels so that everyone’s achievements were being celebrated. Other employees were able to comment and encourage their fellow reps, and Jaimie made it a point to participate. Not only did this boost morale, but it also increased the chances of repeating these successes in the future.

Jaimie further advises sending an email congratulating the employee on their performance, while copying in their manager and their manager’s manager. That lets the employee know you are recognizing and appreciating the smaller wins occurring in the background. 

Engagement Decreases The Further Away From HQ Employees Are

Importantly, Jaimie also discovered that the further away from the company headquarters her employees were, the less engaged they felt. Field reps scored acutely lower than those based at HQ, or even at other office branches. 

What I realized was that we were releasing a lot of great career development programs, but we didn’t really create them in a way that let the remote employees engage effectively. That was problematic.

Once this came to light, Jaimie made every effort to facilitate access to these programs amongst field reps. “I made sure that every single activity was done in a way that encapsulated the remote employees” adds Jaimie. It is important to keep an eye on the remote reps, and ensure you are designing programs that allow them to feel included. After all, these programs will allow them to better execute their roles.

Support Professional Growth 

Another key area for strengthening staff engagement is managers’ interest in their employees’ professional growth. Invest in your employees’ success by taking the time to have a one-to-one about their personal ambitions. This opens the door for building a more supportive and trusting relationship where you can see your reps through career milestones. Learning your rep’s unique strengths will also allow you to leverage those skills for the good of the team. It’s a win-win.

By asking her team questions like “Is there someone at work who encourages my development?”, Jaime learned an unpleasant truth.

These questions scored low because of one main thing: leaders weren’t asking their direct reports about their career objectives” Jaimie asserts. “Even though we had good career paths, people didn’t feel that their manager understood what they were trying to do on an individual level.”

To a certain extent, there is a shared responsibility between employee and manager here. The staff needs to know what their ambitions are, and they need to vocalize these to their supervisors. This becomes increasingly important the more senior a person becomes. Nevertheless, managers need to ensure they’re doing their part to support and facilitate their workers on their career progressions. 

Managers need to make sure that they are starting those conversations with their reps, so that they can understand where they are trying to get to.”

Rising Stars And Rock Stars: Focus On Both! 

Jaimie makes a differentiation between those in her team who are rising stars and those who are rock stars. The former category refers to those who are managing to achieve rapid promotion within the company. The latter refers to employees who achieve high levels of success within their role but aren’t necessarily aiming for promotion.

It is really important to focus on both your rising stars and your rock stars,” posits Jaimie.  “We need to make sure that we’re recognizing, congratulating and supporting our rock stars who love being reps and have no desire to be anything else.” 

In the past, Jaimie made a habit of sending out regular emails celebrating employees who had achieved promotions. However, some of her staff were achieving impressive levels of performance but had no interest in getting promotions. Jaimie learned that these employees were beginning to feel a little unappreciated. 

Accordingly, she published a blog and shared it internally stating that she valued both her “rock stars” and her “rising stars” equally. This ensured her team all knew she was grateful to have every single employee on board, regardless of their titles. 

If you would like to hear more advice on developing leadership skills from Jaimie, listen to the full video below.

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