Shirley's Articles / Teamwork and Collaboration

The Three Bears Of Bosses

Connecting with your employees

We all know the story of Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Each had specific traits and characteristics – both good and bad. Similarly, we could look at bosses as one of these three types:

The Buddy. This is the boss who is everyone’s friend. He goes out for drinks with the crowd after work. He plays golf with team members on the weekend. He goes overboard when making a connection. Those who he doesn’t hang out with feel like second best.

The Cold Fish. This is the boss who doesn’t remember your name unless you do something wrong. She stays in her office and doesn’t mingle. She frowns when she sees you on break. It feels like she’s in charge of a prison, not an office – all work, no fun, and no personalities allowed. She doesn’t make any connection with her staff.

The Hero. Here we have the boss who understands. He’s there when you need him, and he stays out of the way when you don’t. He knows who you are and supports you and your goals. He works with you instead of just giving orders and instructions. He makes a connection without crossing the boss/employee line.

Needless to say, the third type of boss, the Hero, is very hard to find. Few employees would describe their boss in this way. But really, while no one can be perfect, all bosses could certainly work toward improving communication with their staff so that they make a much better connection without going too far.

How to make connections with your staff

Making that kind of connection with your employees can be one of the most difficult jobs you undertake. You must keep a line drawn that separates you and your employees, but you also need to care about them as individuals in both their professional and personal lives. You need to inspire their best performance while keeping time for your own tasks and responsibilities.

The key to developing professional relationships that provide that connection is communication. What you communicate and how you communicate can help you develop Hero characteristics and make stable connections with your staff. Here are some guidelines for developing a Hero style of communication:

  1. Be interested. Don’t just act interested; be interested in your employees’ personal lives. Ask them how they spent their weekend. Comment on photographs or novelties on their desks. Keep note cards on each employee, if necessary, and review them before a meeting.
  2. Be professional. Even though you need to be interested in your employees’ personally, you need to keep the relationship professional. You need to know when an employee is having trouble at home, but you don’t need to let your employees know about your problems unless you know it is going to affect your performance. Remember, you’re a boss, not a friend.
  3. Know the jobs. Become familiar with your employees’ job responsibilities. You can’t connect with them if you don’t know what they do.
  4. Determine goals. Work with your employees to determine their professional goals. Knowing where they are headed lets you connect on a mentoring level. Many bosses forget that they aren’t just policing employees for timeliness or absences. A good boss teaches employees how to grow and advance toward their goals.
  5. Motivate. Support your employees in their professional growth. Delegate, challenge and empower them with new duties and responsibilities. Explaining that these duties are a reward for a job well done can go a long way toward connecting with your staff.
  6. Be loyal. You want your employees to be loyal to you and to the company. Be sure to show loyalty for them as well. Take responsibility for the operation of the department ,and don’t throw them to the wolves if an issue arises.
  7. Listen. Remember that listening is half of communicating. Don’t read email or jot notes in your calendar while an employee is speaking. Give them your full attention. Show them the same respect that you expect when you speak.
  8. Sandwich comments. If you need to reprimand an employee, start and end with a good point about their performance. Sandwich the reprimand between the two good statements. Employees appreciate knowing that you see the good as well as the bad in their performance.
  9. Communicate clearly. Remember the question words: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Each employee has a different personality and a different way of learning. One might be interested in why there is a change coming, but another might want to know how it will affect them. Clarify the answers to all of the question words so that you provide complete information.
  10. Communicate effectively. This is one of the most important points you need to remember: Understand that employees don’t always hear what you think you are saying. If you say, “Profits were down last quarter,” they might hear “Lay-offs are coming.” If you say, “Sue, I’d like to talk with you after the meeting,” Sue might hear “You’ve done something wrong.”

What you say and how you say it can help you make connections with your staff – connections that will lead to trust, creativity, innovation and enhanced performance. Your staff will be comfortable communicating with you and their co-workers, and you will end up with the reputation of a Hero boss.

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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