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  • Writer's picturejoel

I Wonder What It's Like to Be the Head Honcho

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

What does it mean to be the head honcho? What does that even look like?

I think there is a popular generalization about what it means to be the person in charge. The person with the power to make decisions and direct other people. I also think that there is a false allure that is attractive to many people about being the boss. Most of us all know what it is like to work under a person who has all the power and uses it to “incentivize” their subjects to accomplish something they are charged with.

I remember thinking to myself when I was a kid, “Someday, I am going to be the one with all the power. Then I won’t have to be bossed around any longer!” I suspect this may be the motive behind many children that can’t wait to be grown-up so they can inherit the dominant role. Unfortunately, I think we see this played out when a person experiences abuse of any kind of power. Later, they often become the abuser when they inherit the power as an adult. Our perspective of what it means to be a leader can get distorted when we experience a bad version of it.

Rob Thomas illustrates this well in the Matchbox 20 song Real World from years ago:

“Well, I wonder what it's like to be the head honcho I wonder what I'd do if they all did just what I said (just what I said) Well, I'd shout out an order "I think we're out of this, man, get me some" Boy, don't make me wanna change my tone, My tone”

Songwriters: Nellee Hooper / Rob Thomas / Matt Serletic

Fortunately, there is a better way to be the head honcho.

The Upside-Down Triangle:

There are two most popular authority models in business, one being more prevalent than the other. I call them the “Authority Model” also known as the “Boss Model” and the “Empowerment Model”. Some call this model “Servant Leadership”. I like to use a triangle illustration to describe the difference.

The Authority Model:

The Authority Model is represented by a triangle pointing upward. The boss is at the top of the triangle with all the little people at the bottom and middle management in between. The flow is from the bottom up regarding service. It’s the “job” of everyone in the company to serve the leaders above them on the totem pole as well as those further up. The higher on the ladder the more people they have serving their cause. The flow regarding authority, however, is from the top down. Authority is typically the backbone of the boss model and used to keep things and people in proper order primarily through sticks and carrots (accountability and reward).

The Empowerment Model:

The Empowerment Leadership Model is represented by an upside-down triangle. The leader is at the bottom of the triangle with the customers being represented by the broad base at the top. The entry level employees are just below the customers with middle management leaders filling in the rest. The idea is that rather than leading through authority as the driving factor, the servant leaders’ job is to serve their tribe. The leader’s primary objective is to provide their immediate tribe with everything they need to be successful. This will always require meeting the basic needs of their team members, but also the less obvious but often most important needs.

As the leader in my organization, it is my duty to provide my Senior Leaders and my other Store Managers the support they need to not only perform their duties to the best of their abilities, but to become the best leaders they can be to serve their team. It’s about upholding the company framework while at the same time helping my leaders prosper in an environment designed for their growth and success. When my leaders succeed, their team succeeds. When the team succeeds, the customers succeed. This is how I succeed.

The Boss

“First of all, I will say I hate the word “boss”. At least when it is applied to me. I don’t want to be a boss, I try very hard not to be a boss, look like a boss or sound like a boss. I have had bosses before, and it was not very fun. They were very bossy.

Back in the day the workplace looked a little different than it does now. The Boss model was everywhere. The chain of command was very important. Having control and being the PIC “person in charge” of your people was the primary responsibility of a person in management. Make the boss happy and you are “doing your job”. This is the boss model.

What is a Boss?

  • A Boss is someone who believes their responsibility is to "get" people to behave or work in a way that makes the boss or company successful.

  • A Boss believes they are on a higher plane than the people they work for. They are more important and have a sense of entitlement that others are not subject to.

  • A Boss relies on their title to give them credibility. They need to remind people who’s "in charge". Titles are like a badge of honor that gives them their power.

  • A Boss is much more likely to use anger, intimidation, and manipulation to get the results that they are looking for.

  • A Boss is more interested in looking good to their boss than to their subordinates. They are quick to point out how much they have accomplished or how valuable they are to the company.

  • A Boss uses their power and authority to serve. They often arrange their job priorities and tasks to work around their own personal lives. That is theoperks to being the boss, after all.

  • A Boss takes credit for success and casts blame for failures.

  • A Boss has a history (or will have) of broken employee relationships in their wake; these are relationships that didn’t need to end the way they did if they would have had better relational skills.

  • A Boss is in search of more power and authority and will step on others if necessary to get it.

  • A Boss manages according to what feels "natural". They do what their parents did. They do what their previous Bosses did.

  • Some Bosses don’t mean any intentional harm; they just don’t know any other way.

How Do Bosses Maintain Control?

  • Carrots: Bosses rely on bribing, using flattery, or talking people into things to get them to do something for them. When a boss chases their employees away, they must resort to this to get their remaining employees to pitch in and take on extra work. Incentives are good, but not when they replace true appreciation.

  • Sticks: Bosses need a club. This would be a way to implement discomfort to redirect behavior. Sometimes this is yelling, anger, passive aggression, write-ups, guilt, self-pity, or anything that will make someone behave in the manner you want.

  • Social bonding: Some managers with boss-like tendencies (BLTs) will use words strategically to win over their subordinates. They give the impression of connecting with people, when really they are just using social bonding to gain a false sense of favor. Some managers with BLTs try to become besties with people right off the bat. Many people-pleasing leaders fall into this trap.

  • Dog-house management: This is when, at first, you are on the right side of the manager; they seem to really like you; all seems well until you let your guard down and cross them somehow. A manipulative boss can change their tune in a split second and toss your butt in the doghouse quickly.

  • Controlling with Extremes: Bouncing back and forth between extremes is a form of dog-house management. Some doghouse managers may allow you to make it up to them and get out of the doghouse by proving yourself to them by kissing up or making extra effort. Sometimes a sincere apology is enough. When they really need something, they may let you out and pretend nothing is wrong. You may come and go in and out of the doghouse over time. This is their way of keeping control of you. The message they make is very clear: "I am the boss, and if you don’t want to be in the doghouse, don’t cross me!"

  • Expendable People: Some dog-house managers have the perspective that people become corrupt or lose their mojo and are not recoverable. When an employee crosses them, they can no longer trust them and have no use for them. They are very quick to fire and toss on the scrap heap. This type of dog-house management leaves no room for second chances or working out problems constructively.

  • They take things personally. Bosses can be quick to be hurt or offended. They can take an underachieving employee’s actions personally. They have the perspective that "If you aren’t going to do anything for me, I am not doing anything for you". If you watch Shark Tank, you may have heard Mr. Wonderful say, "You're dead to me!" when he gets his feelings hurt. I love that show!

  • My way or the highway! Bosses must put up a big front so everyone knows who is in charge. Everything is on their terms. They also need to know that there is little margin for error. Donald Trump: "You're Fired!". They must overcompensate for poor interpersonal skills.

  • It’s your job! – Bosses are not quick to hand out compliments to people just doing their job. I have heard managers say things to me like "I’m not going to hold their hand and clap for them for simply doing what is expected of them". There is some truth to this, but people who focus on this tend to have trouble connecting with their people.

  • I am not here to be your friend! Bosses use this excuse for not wanting or needing to connect with people. In their eyes, trust comes from outward behavior, not inward connection.

To be sure, people who have multiple boss-like tendencies (BLTs) have an uphill battle ahead of them. Some of these tactics can have the appearance of success in the short term but lack the interpersonal value to build the kind of relational resume needed for long term and large-scale success.

The Empowered Leader

What is an Empowered Leader?

  • An Empowered Leader believes they are on the same level of importance as everyone else. They believe they have a responsibility to serve the people in their care.

  • An Empowered Leader doesn’t need authority or a title to gain influence. Their influence comes from their character and credibility. Consider Andy Taylor vs. Barney Fife (the Andy Griffith show). Barney points to his badge and gun to gain respect from others. Andy doesn’t even wear a gun. People listen to him. A Servant Leader has all the authority they need but seldom needs to use it.

  • An Empowered Leader doesn’t try to change people from the outside in (behavior). They do not try to "get" people to do something. They get people to "want" to do something. They work from the inside out by connecting.

  • An Empowered Leader takes responsibility for their blunders and the team's blunders. They resist the urge to blame others.

  • An Empowered Leader is more interested in upholding a reputation of good character and integrity than looking impressive or pointing to their success to determine their value. They are transparent and approachable.

  • An Empowered Leader doesn’t use flattery or false humility to put on a mask. They are less interested in telling people what they want to hear and more interested in telling people what they need to hear to grow.

  • An Empowered Leader understands that you must earn the right to be heard. "People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care." I know this is very overused, but it is so true.

  • When an Empowered Leader sees aberrant or irresponsible behavior, they don’t automatically jump to discipline, criticism, or removal. They seek out the reason for their behavior. They try to connect with the person to discover the cause rather than just address the symptoms or behavior. They save many relationships and avoid costly turnover by doing so.

  • An Empowered Leader resists the urge to manage according to what feels natural and seeks out proven methods. They look outside the box to learn what great leaders have done. Then they do that.

How does an Empowered Leader maintain control?

  • They don’t. Empowered Leaders do not control others; they empower others. Each person is fully in control of their own choices and actions. Unless you live in a communist country, you have the right to work for whomever you want. We need to remember that our employees choose to work with us and have needs that need to be met for them to want to continue to work with us. They can leave at any time.

  • Outcomes: Empowered Leaders have a much greater effect on outcomes than bosses because they influence the people around them to own their actions. When you own your actions, outcomes naturally follow. Influence always trumps control.

  • Influence: Empowered Leaders understand a few basic principles about the nature of all people.

  • People need to know that they are appreciated.

  • They need to know that their ideas and opinions matter.

  • They need to know exactly what is expected of them.

  • They need someone to take the time and help prepare them for what they need to be successful.

  • They need to feel needed and that their hard work matters and makes a difference.

People will run through walls for you if they know it counts for something bigger than the task.

Leading with Trust:

Empowered Leaders understand that their first responsibility is to show people that they can be trusted. Until you gain the trust of your team you will have very little influence on their lives.

  • Trust means not making promises they don’t intend to keep.

  • Trust comes when your co-workers know that you have their best interest in mind, and you are not going to toss them into the doghouse when they make a blunder.

  • Trust comes from doing the right thing, in the right manner, for the right reasons.

  • Trust comes from giving someone the opportunity to show their trustworthiness.

  • Empowered Leaders expect the best out of people. Many Bosses expect their employees to fall to the ground like a turkey, Leaders expect them to fly like an eagle. They set the bar high and believe in them.

  • ·Empowered Leaders treat people with respect, even when they are disappointed. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, they keep the value of the sinner separate from the value of the sin. They toss out the bathwater without losing the baby.

What Type of Leader are YOU?

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