Leadership | How to be a boss, by someone who isn’t one

Disclaimer alert: I am not a CEO, MD or even a proper team LEADER, but I have experience working with a ton of bosses, both good and bad

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What makes a good boss? If you read Fortune, Forbes or Inc, they’ll tell you that it depends on your interpersonal skills, ability to delegate or lead by example. Usually it is, but sometimes it can just be simpler things that matter to the small guy in your organisation.

Here are a few thoughts on what makes a great boss:

1. Don’t embarrass your employees

When I just started working in a small PR agency I didn’t know anything about PR. I still don’t know much, but I’m adept at faking it.

My boss at that time took it upon himself to impart his wisdom on me, by publicly mocking me for simple mistakes I made. Loudly reading out my work in the middle of the office and pointing out my mistakes.

I didn’t learn much working there, but it did teach me how not to lead a team.

2. Take a little time to let your employees know they matter

5 minutes isn’t a huge ask, so take the time to make it part of your week to tell them they are doing OK.

I worked for a director who was always busy. However every now and then he’d rock up to my desk and drag me out for coffee. He’d them proceed to listen to a clueless consultant tell him about their day. Then he’d offer a nugget of wisdom and say good job.

Best part of my week each time he did that. Made me feel important in an office full of people smarter or more ruthless than me.

3. Help

Most of the people I’ve worked for do this. They help people when they are struggling. I’ve seen the regional head of a thousand-person team get down on his knees to staple press kits and pack folders when the team was stretched.

I’ve also seen the opposite, where slightly senior people delegate work recklessly without checking to see if their staff are overworked and distraught. I’ve seen colleagues cry under the pressure, while their director is having a coffee and reading the paper. Do NOT be this person.

4. Don’t be afraid of change

Everything I learnt 8 years ago has changed. We are witnessing the end of the print era and the culture around it is dying. Those who react late will be left behind.

Embrace change and own it. Your team will adapt if you do.

5. Embrace conflict and different ideas

This is the unicorn of leadership in Singapore. At least in my experience. Quite a few of my bosses have been local and the common trend is that since I am the boss, my ideas are right. I’ve also seen bosses squash great ideas (in my opinion) just because it goes against what they have always done.

My last job was a series of small battles with the boss. Little by little I forced change onto a very stubborn person, but credit to her, she gave it a chance and it worked. In fact, conflict became part of our daily interaction, but it never got personal and to this day, I miss it and believe it was the most effective way to be creative.

6. Don’t be afraid to discipline and criticize

This is very tricky. How do we draw the line between constructive and destructive criticism. We can’t really, just take a step back sometime and see whether you were trying to improve your staff or just having a bit of a giggle at someone’s expense. If its the latter, please stop reading this and step in-front of a bus.

From personal experience, I struggled with being able to discipline staff. I was always a bit of a joker, but valued quality work that showed intelligence and thought. Sometimes I needed to stop being the joker and be the tough guy, which was difficult, but ultimately I always tried to have a solution or set a path for my team so that we could get better together.


Anyhow, that’s all I can say right now. Doesn’t mean I don’t have anymore great and insightful thoughts, it just means I am lazy.

On a more serious note, I don’t mean to insinuate I am a great leader. Judging by how little respect I get from my team right now, I probably need to learn more. These are simple characteristics that I value in leaders. Hopefully some will inspire or match what you think a great leader should be.


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