After speaking to thousands of people about their careers over the years, I’ve come to realise I’ve been pretty lucky in mine.

I’ve worked for some great companies, but it’s been the people - and especially the leaders - that have made the real difference.  My bosses have had a massive impact on my attitude to work, what I’ve learnt, how I treat people - and even my general approach to life.

I speak to people every day who are leaving their company because of the environment their direct manager has been part of creating.

Often these people seem to be almost in fear of their manager and are way more focused on the ‘process’ part of their job and avoiding their boss’ disapproval, than they are on their overall results, their impact on the business, and their career development. It’s as though a poor boss has the effect of narrowing their focus – they lose sight of the bigger picture.  

Having a good boss is especially important for your first jobs.  Good leaders at this stage can really define how you relate to people for the rest of your career.  Do you generally view your colleagues as trustworthy, and so act with integrity and decency in return?  Or do you distrust their motives and treat them cynically?

A good boss can also accelerate your development, and help to set you on the right path.

I was talking with an awesome manager the other day who really crystallised this for me. He’s part of a smaller specialist accounting team in a larger organisation. One of the challenges he’s got is defining a career path for his young team - generally unless someone leaves, there isn’t anywhere for anyone to go. So he tells those people he feels are ready to take the next step that he’ll support them if they do want to look for jobs outside of the organisation.

He goes so far as to help them with applications, and gives them his view on the opportunity and time off for interviews if they need it. That’s a very gracious thing to do, as when they leave he has to go through the pain of finding someone else and training them. But on the flip-side, he’s developed an incredible culture that means his team give their absolute best for him.

So how do you figure out if a potential boss is going to help or hinder your career?

  • Social media can often give you big clues as to what the company and manager will be like to work for. Check out both the company and the manager’s profiles. 
  • In the UK, employer review sites like Glassdoor are massive. They’re not used as much here, but are getting more popular.
  • See if you have any old friends or colleagues working there (or who have left recently) and get some intel.
  • Ask the manager questions during the interview to find out about their management style, team development approach, why the last person left and who they admire as a leader.
  • Ask if you can meet with the team (or one of the staff) and have a tour around the office.
  • Probably the most important thing to do is to use your gut: Do you ‘click’ with them? Do they treat you courteously and with respect during the hiring process? How do they talk about the others in their team – do they acknowledge everyone’s contribution and strengths?

Often you won’t have much choice in your first role. You’ll need to be pragmatic – better to be working for a so-so boss than not working at all. But I do firmly believe that some opportunities are worth walking away from - even if it is with an awesome ‘brand’.

And as you progress in your career, you’ll have more options.

Your bosses have a huge impact on your career success and happiness.  Choose them wisely. 

 

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