Sunday, January 29, 2023

Reinforce success, redirect the failures

by Harvey Mackay
| June 6, 2010 9:00 PM

Feedback is a gift. Every now and then, one of my columns gets a response that tells me that I have really hit a nerve. In this case, I wrote about managing your boss. The feedback I received was that bosses need plenty of managing, and readers weren't skimping with their advice!

So this week I'll sit on the other side of the desk and send some pointers to the bosses out there. If you asked employees what they would do if they ran the zoo, their answers would sound like these.

• Adapt to individuals. Each employee you supervise has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different work styles. The "my way or the highway" approach rarely works. If you can't quite figure out how to accomplish this, think back to the best boss you ever had and follow that example.

• Check your attitude. What example are you setting? Are you enthusiastic about the work you do, or do you view it as a burden? Eliminate stereotypes,

both positive and negative. Recognize that talent may be hiding where you least expect it.

• Don't be a know-it-all. Admit when you are wrong. Allow employees to offer ideas and input and acknowledge their contributions. Ask your staff how you could be a better boss, but be prepared for the raw truth.

• Offer feedback. As I said earlier, feedback is a gift. It is also a timesaver, a clarifier, a compliment, a motivator and a course correction. Constant, immediate, unfiltered feedback keeps projects moving in the right direction and prevents misunderstandings.

• Do your homework. Know what your expectations are and communicate them clearly. Be prepared to give employees as much information as they need to succeed. Make sure you understand what is being asked of you by your own boss before you foist a project on your staff.

• Follow through. If you aren't getting results, work through the reasons with the employees involved. Make sure they know you support their efforts and will be available at all stages of the project.

• Stay available. An open-door policy is the best way to let employees know they can approach you any time to discuss issues that affect them. Don't just pay lip service to this idea, pay attention! The people who work for you are as instrumental to your success as you are to theirs. They would like to be part of a winning team.

• Delegate. When you can successfully delegate some responsibilities, you accomplish three things: You save time; you encourage teamwork; and you prepare employees for more and more responsibility. Employees who take ownership of projects have real motivation for doing their best work.

• Help employees reach their goals. First, you must know what their goals are, then mentor them if you can. Assign them to projects that will help them develop professionally. Remember that you had cheerleaders along the way who encouraged you.

• Trust your employees. Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca said it best: "I have found that being honest is the best technique I can use. Right up front, tell people what you're trying to accomplish and what you're willing to sacrifice to accomplish it."

All these suggestions remind me of a book coauthored by my good friend Ken Blanchard, entitled "Whale Done." The book has been out for several years, but the central concept about managing people is timeless. Positive reinforcement rules the day.

The story is based on the methods used to train killer whales to do tricks. It focuses on how to improve human relations by looking for things people do "right" and not for things they do "wrong." The authors say this is how the huge whales, which can weigh up to 10,000 pounds, are trained to do all kinds of acrobatics. When the whales do something "right" that the trainer has requested, they are rewarded by pats and affectionate rubs to signify approval.

When the whales do not perform as they are instructed, they are quietly redirected until they do something "right" for which they are rewarded.

The authors maintain that bosses who look for mistakes and swoop in with a "gotcha" response will not be successful. Even though it sounds simplistic, Blanchard and friends say that much better results come from finding the good.

Mackay's Moral: Even the best boss can be a better boss.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times' No. 1 best seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by e-mailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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