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Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know

Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know

by Jill Geisler


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When Jill Geisler was appointed to news director of her local station at the age of 27, her senior managerial experience was limited to a high school job at a candy shop. Thirty years later, she is one of the leading consultants for managers across the country. WORK HAPPY shares what she's learned over the years, specifically, what makes good bosses


Oftentimes, managers find themselves in the same position as Geisler did 30 years ago; they were good performers, so they were tapped to lead a team. But what made them good at their craft isn't guaranteed to make them good at helping others excel. They have managerial skill gaps, big ones, and their mistakes can hurt employees, businesses and their own careers. In WORK HAPPY, Geisler specifically addresses these skill gaps and provides managers with practical and precise research-based tools they can put to use immediately.

The book is divided into three sections: What Great Bosses Know and Do; How Great Bosses Grow Great Employees; and How Great Bosses Build Great Places to Work. The chapters in each section address the various challenges that managers face in the work place and specific advice for conquering them. Chapters include:

- What Employees Never Forget-and Never Forgive

- Manage Yourself So You Can Lead Others

- Tough Times, Tough Love; Handling Problem People and Tricky Situations

- Why It Pays to be a Coach

- How to Make Collaboration a Way of Life

- Would Your Best People Tell Their Best Friends to Work Here?

Along with the advice in each chapter, Geisler also includes quotes from real employees about great bosses and what they do so well, warnings about misapplying the book's advice, and quizzes and self-assessment tools for manager's to self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses.

In WORK HAPPY, Jill Geisler teaches managers to commiserate with challenges, laugh at absurdities and celebrate success.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455547074
Publisher: Center Street
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,119,335
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jill Geisler heads the leadership and management faculty of the Poynter Institute. She teaches, writes and consults on critical issues for leaders and counts among her clients The Boston Globe, CNN, and the Washington Post. Jill holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin a master's in leadership studies from Duquesne University.

Read an Excerpt

Work Happy

What Great Bosses Know
By Geisler, Jill

Center Street

Copyright © 2012 Geisler, Jill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455507436


All About You

How Bosses Become Great


The Challenges and Joys of Management—a Reality Check

Imagine this: I’ve just handed you a manila folder. You are nervous. You’ve never looked at feedback like this before. It’s a report card, but without numeric or letter grades. Instead, it is page upon page of candid comments about your strengths and weaknesses as a manager, written by those who interact with you regularly. No wonder you’re a little queasy. You truly want to be a great boss—but you know it’s not easy, not with the daily challenges that surface like a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. You can’t please everyone, right? You take a deep breath. You open the folder and begin to read. You see this:

She is a great boss and even people outside our team look to her for advice, motivation, and answers. She praises our smallest of achievements, points out our mistakes without making a big deal of them, and listens and helps if we are struggling with something. Unlike most bosses, she recognizes that the personal affects the professional.

Perhaps you see this:

His enthusiasm is contagious. People enjoy working for him because he isn’t jaded or cynical. He inspires people to work harder. His judgment is respected by both his staff and his supervisors. He is loyal to the company, yet not afraid to speak his mind.

How about this:

He has a fantastic ability to listen to criticism and act positively on that criticism. He is good at selecting the right person for the job, and is genuinely liked by his colleagues. He inspires confidence and brings out the best in people. He is good at working as part of a large team with many conflicting ideas and agendas. It’s fun to be at work when he is the boss.

Wow. What powerful praise. How are you feeling now? Surprised? Perhaps. Delighted? You should be. That’s how the managers who received that very real feedback responded. I was there when they read it in my management development seminar. I saw their relief—and downright joy. But as you might imagine, not every boss gets such glowing reviews. I’ve had to deliver folders bearing candid criticism of managerial shortcomings.

Imagine that your report contains messages like this:

He comes across as combative and abrasive to other departments and staff. There are times he fails to share his wealth of knowledge with his staff and if he is not available for help it can cause problems.

Or this:

He doesn’t share important details with employees in a timely manner. Too many announcements start with, “You’ve probably heard by now that…,” and no, I haven’t heard anything.

Or this:

I understand the pressure she has, but that’s no excuse to treat some people like crap.

Ouch. What a painful wake-up call, right?

I suspect that if this were your feedback, you may have had no idea that some people viewed you this way. That’s often the case. It hurts to discover a perception of you that, accurate or not, exists in your workplace. Your challenge is to take the knowledge from the hard knock and respond with the right plan. Think of it as a bruise—a wound that can heal with no permanent scar, provided you know how to treat it.

While most organizations use some form of performance evaluation for employees, chances are yours doesn’t include such detailed feedback—positive or negative. Don’t worry. You aren’t destined to blindly blunder on. Not at all. In the pages ahead, I’ll help you find ways to assess your performance and potential as a leader, and, most of all, provide concrete tools to help you improve—all toward your goal of being a great boss.

Let’s start with a quick self-assessment—and a request that for now, you just give me your best guess. Take a look at the box titled “Check Yourself: Twelve Core Management Competencies.” Read each one of the twelve and jot down a few words you would use to describe your own performance. It could be anything from “I excel at this” to “I need help with this one” to “Haven’t dealt with this yet”—just some brief, honest thoughts.


  1. Maintaining and raising quality_________________

  2. Developing and improving systems________________

  3. Coaching employee performance___________________

  4. Communicating across the organization___________


  5. Collaborating across the organization___________


  6. Resolving conflicts_____________________________

  7. Building employee motivation____________________

  8. Leading with emotional intelligence_____________

  9. Building teams and team performance_____________


  10. Managing change_________________________________

  11. Managing your time and priorities_______________

  12. Working with ethics and integrity_______________

Next step: Take a second look at the list. Now imagine that you have asked your boss, other managers, and several people you supervise to jot down their thoughts about your work in each of these areas.

  • What are the best comments you might hope for?

  • What are the worst words you might fear?

In truth, this list barely scratches the surface of the many skills managers need and the values leaders can and should bring to their roles. It doesn’t begin to address the nuances of leadership and the many daunting management situations we’ll address in future chapters.

But I have good news for you: To be a great boss, you don’t have to be perfect.

Let me repeat that: To be a great boss, you don’t have to be perfect.

Remember those managers who were delighted by the powerfully positive quotes they read about themselves? Each of them also had some weaknesses they needed to shore up. What about the bosses with the negative notes? They weren’t ogres or losers. In fact, they had other skills and strengths their colleagues truly valued. But the feedback helped them see how some of their behaviors were getting in the way of their success.

You don’t have to be perfect. But you must have a commitment to understanding and leveraging your strengths, as well as recognizing and filling your gaps. I believe your path to becoming a great boss should begin with an honest reckoning of the high degree of difficulty that comes with the role of manager. After all, this supervisory stuff is hard work.

So, it’s time for a reality check about your life, distilled into a Top Five list.


1. Managers disappoint people every day.

It happens in many small ways and a few big ones. You critique and correct people’s work. You give assignments and promotions that many employees want but only a few can get. You enforce rules that people don’t appreciate. You schedule staffers to shifts they don’t prefer. You approve some ideas over others and apportion scarce resources. You pass judgment on conflicts. And those are just the everyday events. You also navigate the less routine but truly tough situations: cutting overtime, salaries, benefits—or staff.

2. Managers push people out of their comfort zones.

In today’s changing organizations, you are requiring that people learn new skills and work across old boundaries. You are pressing them to adapt to fresh tools and frightening technologies. You’re shaking up traditional systems and processes. You’re expecting staff to increase productivity while maintaining quality. You may be asking veteran workers to report to younger managers—or you may be one of those young supervisors tasked with managing older staffers as well as your old friends. And you’re expected to keep morale high while they’re dealing with all this discomfort.

3. Managers are routinely caught in the middle.

There’s pressure on you from all directions. From above, there’s a push for you to meet specific budgetary and production goals and to hold people accountable. Nearby, you have fellow managers pressing you to step up, step in, or step back—depending on the day or the work at hand. From the troops, there’s the expectation that you will defend them and be the advocate for their ideas, issues, and ambitions to the powers-that-be. In that middle spot, you’re a translator, negotiator, and shock absorber as you attempt to satisfy and reconcile those diverse, conflicting demands.

4. Managers can’t always tell people what they want to know.

People look to you for information. They count on you to keep them informed because knowledge is indeed power. But even if you pride yourself on keeping people in the loop, you have a responsibility to handle sensitive business and staff matters with discretion. It leads to frustrating scenarios like this: Staff members are griping to you about an underperformer on the team. They don’t know that you’re already taking action about that person. You’d like to prove that you’re truly on the case—but you can’t broadcast the contents of an employee’s personnel file. So you talk in vague terms, which may not satisfy the complainers. Nor can you delve into details when people ask about sensitive business plans, legal actions, or competitive strategies—even though they affect their workplace. As a boss, you are constantly balancing two conflicting goals: to be as transparent as possible, feeding employees’ reasonable hunger to know what’s going on—and to be trusted steward of a business’s proprietary information.

5. Managers make mistakes.

When your days are filled with decisions, chances are you’ll occasionally stumble—or even truly screw up. The reasons vary, but here are the most common: In the moment, you may be impatient or overly cautious, too trusting or too skeptical. You may be underinformed, underprepared, blindsided, or even biased. You may simply forget something or someone. Your math may be off. Whatever the cause, you mess up. How you manage the fallout of your fallibility will determine whether you keep—and even build—your credibility. Yes, I said build.

I believe it’s healthy to get these challenges on the table. Naming them is the first step to taming them. Your next step is to develop strategies for navigating these challenges and emerging a smarter and stronger boss.

Let’s tackle each one.


1. Disappointing people daily

Don’t: Fall into the trap of thinking that since you can’t please everyone, it doesn’t pay to try. Don’t write off people as whiners or malcontents when they complain to you. Conversely, don’t sidestep this challenge by sugarcoating bad news or dodging tough conversations.

Do: Assume that building trust with staff is paramount. You do it by letting them know the standards and values that drive your decisions. You do that person-to-person, day after day. There’s evidence that even when people don’t like the outcome of a management decision, they will react less negatively and be more accepting if they believe the process by which it happened was fair.

Columbia Business School professor Joel Brockner has studied the concept of “process fairness” in organizations. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, he noted three key factors that influence employees’ perception of whether a decision is made through a fair process:

  • How much input employees feel they have. Are their opinions solicited and considered?

  • How they perceive decisions are made. Are they consistent and driven by facts, not by personal bias? Is the process transparent? Can mistakes be corrected?

  • How managers behave in delivering and carrying out the decision. Do they act with respect? Do they listen, explain, and empathize?

No one likes criticism, but it pays to give a hearing to people who push back responsibly. It can help you understand their perceptions, and give you opportunities not only to address them, but also to build trust.

2. Pushing people out of their comfort zones

Don’t: Bulldoze or bully employees, thinking that shock therapy will change their thinking. You may achieve a little short-term change but create long-term problems. As you’ll learn later in this book, terror is rarely a good motivator. At the same time, don’t back down just because rocking the boat is making everyone a little queasy. Few managers today are hired to keep things completely static. Change is a constant part of management life.

Do: Be smart and persistent. Custom-calibrate your pressure to the individual. Does this person respond best to a shove or a shoulder tap? Researchers who have studied managerial assertiveness say that bosses often come on too strong and get in the way of their own effectiveness. To a lesser degree, some are too wimpy and lose respect. The key is to be moderately assertive most of the time, so even-keeled about it that people barely notice. But you must be prepared and able to power up or down based on the situation and other people involved.

3. Getting caught in the middle

Don’t: Play bosses, fellow managers, and employees off one another. Don’t diss your own managers or distance yourself from their decisions by telling your team that they came from the “powers-that-be”—unless you are struggling in a truly dysfunctional environment. If you find yourself needing to consistently dissociate yourself from the decisions of others, it’s a signal that you are working in the wrong organization.

Do: Serve as the savvy advocate for your staff. Become adept at “managing up”—keeping your bosses in the loop about the progress and potential of your people, along with their big victories and vexing challenges. Build alliances with fellow managers. Set an example of collaboration with them that your team can follow.

4. Being unable to communicate completely

Don’t: Hoard information as a way of building your empire. Don’t develop a reputation for sharing mainly with people you like, for trafficking in rumor and gossip, or for being inconsistent in your communication. Don’t assume people know which types of information managers are ethically and legally bound to protect.

Do: Commit to sharing appropriate information generously. At the same time, educate people about the kind of communication you won’t spread freely: sensitive business strategies or data that could help competitors, employee personnel files or private health issues. Strive to make certain that the people who are most affected by bad news don’t learn it secondhand. Deliver it personally. In the end, if you develop a reputation for being a proactive, forthright, and trustworthy communicator, people are more likely to understand when you say, “I’m sorry, but this is something I can’t discuss,” or “Take my word for it, this situation is being addressed, but I’m not able to say more at this time.”

5. Making mistakes

Don’t: Assume you must always appear smarter than your staff. Don’t think you’ll look weak if you ask for their advice or admit you don’t know something. Don’t cling to a shaky position just to save face. Don’t hold yourself to a different standard of accountability than your staff. Don’t fear that apologizing for a mistake undercuts your standing as a leader.

Do: Recognize that the way you respond to your employees’ mistakes shapes the way they view yours. If you’re a hothead or slow to forgive, your actions will come back to haunt you when you stumble. When you screw up, apologize sincerely and specifically. Use the lessons from your lapses to help you and others grow. It’s easy to teach from your victories; it takes guts and confidence to reveal what you learned from your failures.

Here’s a bonus “do” for you: Do believe that it’s worth the effort to become a great boss.

Permit me to bring in another voice to remind you why it’s worth it. Let’s peek into another one of those feedback folders I told you about. The boss is an editor at a major U.S. newspaper; the feedback is from a reporter on her team. Bear in mind that relationships between reporters and editors can be dicey. Sharp journalists have a habit of challenging authority. They like to wrangle with bosses over creativity and control. Yet this reporter wrote:

What can you say about an editor you trust completely, who you know would do anything for you and your story, who inspires you, and who makes work not seem like work at all? If I could get her to be the editor of my life, I’d be a better person.

I wish you could have seen the way that editor simply beamed, reading those words. She was actually embarrassed to have received such a love note. She had approached her work as a boss very seriously, but didn’t dream she was having that kind of impact—not just with that staffer, but with others who described her high standards and great skills, her contagious optimism and sense of humor. One simply suggested: Clone her.

Keep in mind, that editor faced the same daily challenges that all managers do, but she knew how to navigate them successfully. You too can have that kind of impact. And as they say in TV infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!” Since we’ve examined the top five daily challenges managers face each day, let’s give equal attention to the remarkably positive side of the leadership ledger. Let’s look at why being a boss is a wonderful opportunity and occupation. Here’s another Top Five list:


1. You leverage your expertise and develop new skills.

As a manager, you have the opportunity to take what you’ve already learned—and excelled in—to another level. Your organization looks to you to take that knowledge and talent and share it with others. But you’re not just an in-house expert on the work you once did as an employee. Now you shift from using a narrow focus to a wide-angle lens. You engage in continuous learning about your industry and its future, your people and their needs, plus the fiscal, legal, technical, political, and social aspects of leadership. Simply put, you have the chance to move from smart doer to wise leader.

2. You have the power to build a workplace culture.

Think about that. You may be leading a tiny team or the whole organization, but you have the ability to shape “the way we do things around here”—the workplace culture. It’s about structure and processes, systems and relationships. It’s about the heroes people tell stories about and the villains they want to vanquish. It’s about a happy workplace. It’s about values. As one of my favorite researchers on corporate culture, MIT’s Edgar Schein, teaches, organizational culture is built on assumptions that run so deep the team takes them for granted and they operate accordingly. (If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry, we’ll focus on building cultures later in the book.) As a boss, you can make certain that a mission statement isn’t simply words or wishes—it’s values in action.

3. You help people succeed.

Where once you defined success by your personal achievements, you now measure it through the accomplishments of others. Your coaching, feedback, and mentoring pays off as your employees reach their goals and yours. You set standards, evaluate performance, hire for talent and character, and celebrate victories. Their wins are your joy. And as you help people depend less and less on you for their decisions, you get the satisfaction of watching them do the right thing for the right reasons—on their own.

4. You design strategy and guide execution.

This is the part that puts your brain into high gear. You scout for opportunities, anticipate challenges, and identify needed changes. While you’re keeping an eye on the quality of today’s work, you’re also looking down the road. What’s next? What’s better? How can we work smarter and outperform our competition? What are our customers saying and how do we respond? You turn that intelligence into overall strategy, then turn strategy into ground-level tactics. You take part in building the playbook and positioning your team for wins.

5. You manage meaning and share a vision.

The importance of this is sometimes overlooked or taken for granted, but great bosses understand the power of putting things in perspective. You find the right words to celebrate victories, recover from setbacks, or crank up energy and enthusiasm. You calm fears or sound appropriate alarm bells. You put form to feelings and make it safe for people to talk about things that matter. There are many ways to look at any situation, and some may be counterproductive. That’s why people look to you to frame things credibly, helpfully, and even inspirationally. You are the person who helps people make sense of things, understand the most important goals, and pave the road ahead.

There’s another reward of management—especially if you’re a great boss. Every now and then you discover that someone chooses words like these to describe you:

Integrity. Dedication. Consistency. Maturity. Full understanding of the possibilities of the product. Compassion, both professionally and personally. Vision. An ability to overlook frustrating minutiae and maintain clarity on the big picture. And one big sense of humor.

And that’s one big reminder why learning to become a great boss is well worth the effort. You can be the reason employees are happy at work—and so are you.

Let’s get started on your leadership journey. For every tough reality of management and every joyful opportunity, I promise to share insights and advice you can put to use immediately.


What Employees Never Forget—and Never Forgive (and Why They Don’t Like Your Evil Twin)

Q: If there are no perfect bosses, and even the best have some quirks—what is it that truly sets the great bosses apart?

A: They possess something that overshadows their shortcomings: the trust of people who choose to follow them.

Social scientists who study trust define it as confidence—in the face of risk—that the other party will do what’s right by us. With bosses we trust, we lower our guard and raise our expectations of positive outcomes. We may go the extra mile and let go of irritations or disappointments. We believe good things will happen.

Trust isn’t a gift; it is an earned benefit. Bosses have to work for it and never take it for granted. As a leader, you earn trust when people see a direct, positive connection between the values that matter to them and the things you do.

Let’s illustrate it by comparing the feedback of two managers, let’s just call them “A” and “B.” Both of these bosses were given credit by their employees for their intelligence and their professional knowledge. But as you can see from the feedback, there’s a vast difference in their relationships with their teams:

Manager A:

The atmosphere she creates is not one of trust, encouragement, or collaboration. She is so competitive and condescending that she is completely unable to translate her other skills into any sort of mentoring or leadership… She is tremendously vague about what she wants, not at all open to other people’s ideas, and not at all open to feedback on her own.

Manager B:

His strengths as a supervisor center on the climate of trust and support he has created in the department… He’s extraordinarily candid—even about what he sees as his own faults—and that is disarming. He also works incredibly hard and cares very much. His combination of traits inspires an almost protective feeling—something pretty close to devotion—from his staff. Even in a very self-motivating group, he has a knack of motivating people to work harder, just to please him.

Manager A’s feedback demonstrates why it takes far more than deep knowledge of one’s profession to be effective in managing others. This boss was given credit in her feedback report for being intelligent and energetic. But her actions were so off-putting that she lost the support of her team. More specifically, her behaviors got in the way of building trust.

Manager B’s feedback was the stuff of great bosses. His values mirrored those of his team, and he walked his talk. Colleague after colleague said similar things about him. This great boss valued quality in process, people, and problem-solving. He made a conscious decision to weigh everything he did, every interaction with staff, against those values—and act accordingly. You can, too.

Just know that building trust takes time. You “audition” for the role of “trusted leader” whenever you connect with employees. In addition, there are pivotal moments in which bosses make indelible impressions for better—or worse. So it’s important to identify key trust builders and trust busters, the things employees never forget and never forgive. Let’s look at three of each:


1. My boss apologized to me when he or she was in the wrong.

As I told you in chapter 1, every boss makes mistakes. When it happens, some bosses are tempted to downplay it, make light of it, or acknowledge it without apology. A manager once told me he felt he couldn’t apologize for a bad decision because he’d lose face in front of his team. I counseled him that he was only compounding his error. When a powerful person apologizes, the payback is credibility—provided the mea culpa is specific and sincere. Not a watered-down “If someone believes I was mistaken, or took offense, then I apologize.” (Translation: “I don’t think it’s a big deal, but you do, so I’m paying lip service here.”) Not a passive-voice pass-the-buck “Mistakes were made and I regret that.” (Translation: “I can’t bring myself to say it’s my fault, but I don’t like the mess.”) Your apology should describe the wrong, take personal responsibility for it—and also make clear why it’s unlikely to happen again. Example: “Yesterday I said you dropped the ball on this assignment. I was wrong. I forgot that I had asked you to put it on hold. I apologize for criticizing you for something that was my error. You have my word I’ll keep better project notes from now on.”

For bonus credibility points: Deliver the apology at the scene of the crime—meaning, if you delivered criticism in front of others, deliver your self-criticism in front of the same people.

2. My boss reacted to a truly boneheaded error of mine with remarkable wisdom.

Good employees occasionally do dumb things. Not life-threatening or criminal, just stupid and rare. Great bosses don’t ignore or avenge, they help people learn from them. They investigate the cause, assess the damage, express disappointment, look for the lesson, teach the lesson, and expect better. They’re smart enough to know just how long good staffers need to stew and second-guess themselves—which they inevitably do. They also know when such behaviors become counterproductive. That’s when they apply a boss’s benediction to close the case. (Note that I’m talking about good employees here, not chronic underperformers. That’s another challenge—and gets its own chapter!)

For bonus credibility points: Look back and laugh about it with the employee when the time is right—but only if that employee doesn’t see it as teasing or torment.

3. My boss responded to something personal and important to me—a joy or a tragedy—with empathy and encouragement.

Great bosses understand that when something of great consequence happens in an employee’s life, they have the power to enhance the joy or ameliorate a little of the pain. Weddings, funerals, childbirth—those are the obvious ones. But the right response from the boss when employees win awards or get new certifications, when their children or partners experience success, when their parents get sick or their pets get lost, can make a lasting impression on a staffer. When I conducted an industry survey on work-life balance issues, I was struck by the deep appreciation expressed for bosses who understood this. Witness this comment:

I’m the caretaker for a seriously ill family member. My supervisor is fully supportive in helping me juggle my schedule to meet the needs created by the illness. He lets me know that family is the number one priority and does not make me feel guilty. That relieves me of additional pressures. I make sure I give back in return.

Take special note of that last line. You see more than just appreciation; you see payback.

For bonus credibility points: In tough times as well as celebrations, never underestimate the importance of a message of support from the boss—especially a handwritten note.

Now that we’ve shared three unforgettable things, it’s time for the flip side:


1. My boss lies.

For employees, falsehoods take many forms. There’s the basic, provable untruth. But there are also promises that aren’t kept, apparent inconsistencies in words and actions, and inflated—then dashed—expectations. While it is a fact of life that bosses disappoint people in some way every day, doing so by consciously dissembling shouldn’t be one of them. The temptation to deliver even good news (“Next year’s budget was just approved and you’re set for a 5 percent raise on your anniversary”) must be tempered by the business realities that could make you a liar. (“Raises got cut after the first-quarter results came in lower than projected. I never expected this.”) That’s why it is important for bosses to weigh their words carefully and never underestimate how important communication is as a management skill.

For minus credibility points: Tell a lie that deflects blame from you onto others. It’s a trust killer.

2. My boss takes or gets credit for the staff’s work or ideas.

When a manager gets the spotlight and doesn’t widen it out to include the team, it’s a real problem. Positive feedback is always in short supply in organizations—just ask employees. That’s why great bosses not only give credit to their team members, they make certain their own leaders know who deserves it most. They never miss an opportunity to get their employees’ good work on the radar screen and aren’t intimidated when staff members look like heroes. Further, they’re smart enough to recognize the limits of their own memories—so when writing a report or memo that acknowledges the people behind a big success, they have a second set of eyes double-check it before publication. That protects them from missing even one name, one individual who may forever remember the sting of being forgotten.

For minus credibility points: Assume that good work speaks for itself and the careful distribution of credit is nothing more than office politics, which you disdain.

3. My boss is one person around the troops and another person in the company of his/her own superiors.

You’ll hear me say many times in this book that you are always “on stage” as a boss. People watch you closely and read meaning into your actions, rightly or wrongly. There are two situations in which managers are under extreme scrutiny by staff. One is infrequent: when there’s a crisis. But the other is so commonplace that managers may not be aware of it: when they’re operating around their superiors.

Employees, with acutely sensitive hypocrisy detectors activated, watch you very closely as you interact with the brass. If you’re slightly more diplomatic or dressed a little sharper for an occasion, that’s okay—your people will probably just tease you about that. What really matters to them is your overall authenticity. They want to know you are conveying the same messages upward that you do to the troops. Are you advocating for them? Are you shining a light on things that matter to them? When you’re mingling with the powers-that-be, are you representing the team or just you? If you give your staff reason to think you’re flying solo, they’ll brand you as untrustworthy.

For minus credibility points: Bad-mouth your bosses to the troops, distance yourself from upper management decisions, but fail to speak truth to power when you have the opportunity.


As an aspiring great boss, you’re on your way to racking up some “unforgettables” and making certain to avoid the “unforgivables.” But it’s not as easy as it seems, because while you may be trying your best, you have an Evil Twin who’s working against you—but you don’t even know it.

Where do our Evil Twins come from? They spring to life through the perception of others, who see things through their own lenses, not ours.

Here’s what I mean: Managers know what they believe in, what they aspire to be, and what their intentions are in their everyday interactions with staff. But what they carry in their hearts and minds isn’t necessarily apparent to others.

In the minds of bosses and employees, the qualities of great managers are clear. They’ll name things like:

  • Intelligence

  • High standards

  • Integrity

  • Determination

  • Vision

But when I hear about management flaws and shortcomings—situations in which bosses disappoint their employees—I rarely hear about behaviors or traits that are the opposite of those good qualities.

To illustrate, I’ve listed the opposites on the chart below:



Opposite Quality






High standards


Low standards














The flawed managers I hear about are rarely described by those opposite terms. Instead, I hear Evil Twin terms, which are the flip side of some otherwise wonderful traits. Sometimes it is a good characteristic taken to extremes. Or it’s a good intention that was executed badly.

Here’s what that looks like:

Leadership Characteristic


Evil Twin




Too smart for own good


High standards


Impossible to satisfy














In my work with managers, I’ve seen it time and again. Well-intentioned bosses discover that what they think they are saying and doing isn’t what their team perceives.

Some examples:

  • A manager who cares deeply about quality control and rooting out errors sees herself as “vigilant.” Staffers see her Evil Twin, “relentlessly negative.”

  • A boss with a lot of tasks to accomplish each day and who keeps his conversations brief and brisk sees himself as “efficient and businesslike.” Employees see his Evil Twin, “impatient and unfriendly.”

  • A supervisor who wants staffers to feel they have a voice in daily decision-making and asks for lots of input before acting sees himself as “collaborative.” Staffers see his Evil Twin, “indecisive.”

Not a single one of those bosses woke up each morning, thinking, “How can I make someone’s life really crummy today?” None intended to develop a flawed reputation. In their heads, they were doing the right things, just as I believe most bosses try to do. But their Evil Twins were working against them.

Sometimes, we are introduced to our Evil Twins long after those shady siblings have begun doing harm. During annual reviews, for example, we might be smacked in the gut with a revelation about our shortcomings and about people’s frustrations with the way we’re running the show. How, we wonder, could this be? Why didn’t anyone bring this up before?

It is then that we learn how hard it is for the people who work for us to speak truth to power. If they are seeing your Evil Twin, “dictator,” while you are positive you are “strong leader,” chances are they won’t be comfortable challenging you.


It’s time for me to share my Evil Twin confession. As a television news director, I met my dark doppelgänger in my newsroom early on a snowy Wisconsin morning. This is what happened:

A big winter storm was looming, so I followed my usual custom when rallying the troops for coverage. If I asked them to show up for work at 3 a.m., I would make sure to be in the newsroom at least an hour earlier. I’d park myself in some conspicuous place, ready to lend a hand. In my mind, I was the “News Director Who Wouldn’t Ask You to Do Something I Wouldn’t Do.”

But one day, a news anchor said, “You know, we wouldn’t screw up if you didn’t come for every storm.” As it turns out, my Evil Twin—the “News Director Who Didn’t Really Trust the Crew Even Though They’d Covered Storms a Bazillion Times”—was who they saw.

That anchor was a respected leader in the newsroom with whom I had a trusting relationship, so she felt free to be candid with me, thank goodness. It gave me the chance to explain myself more clearly to her and to others—to change their perception and even some of my own behaviors. In the future, I would be there to lead when it mattered or I’d delegate and let them run the show, and we’d all know why.

I never forgot that lesson—and it’s become a core part of my leadership and management teaching and coaching, because every boss can understand and act on it.

Now let’s shake off the snow and get back to you and your team. We’ll look at an everyday Evil Twin challenge: your reputation as an accessible supervisor. It’s a clear illustration of the gap between your good intentions and the way people may misread you. It’s the perfect opportunity to illustrate the work you need to do to close the gap—and build trust that’s critical to being a great boss.


You probably pride yourself on having an open-door policy. Many managers do. You want people who report to you to feel free to walk right in and share what’s on their minds. Why is it, then, that a recent survey by the training firm Leadership IQ found that 66 percent of employees say they have too little interaction with their supervisors? Why do I hear the identical complaint from employees wherever I teach—not enough feedback from bosses and insufficient opportunities to give them input? Why might it come as a surprise to bosses like you who want your open door to be the gateway to great working relationships?

It’s a matter of focus. Since some staffers stroll right into your workspace to chat, you see it as proof that your policy works. But that logic is built on counting those who show up rather than those who don’t. And it’s easy for you to assume that since your door is “always open,” those who don’t stop by are satisfied with the status quo.

It can be a real surprise when managers discover that to some staff members, the open-door mantra is a myth. Good employees feel shut out. It’s a trust buster you don’t want and it’s your challenge to fix.


1. Your door is open—but people aren’t comfortable making the approach.

It can be hard for managers, especially extroverts, to grasp why employees would pass up a standing offer to visit. But employees have their reasons. They may be introverts who don’t relish initiating the conversations. (We’ll take an in-depth look at these personality types in chapter 7.) Some staffers may assume that a visit to the boss’s turf is reserved for problems or conversations on topics that are remarkable, not routine. Some may fear that stopping by with a concern, comment—or, heaven forbid, a compliment—could brand them as a troublemaker, showboat, or suck-up.

2. Your door is open—but you haven’t been clear about chain of command and communication.

This happens when there’s a layer of managers between you and staff. Employees may want to talk to you, but they fear they’ll be accused of doing an end run around their immediate supervisors. Unless you make your protocol clear to the whole staff, employees may hang back, fearing retribution from their bosses.

3. Your door is open—but you send lots of mixed signals.

Bosses are always on stage. People watch you and read meaning—perhaps accurate, perhaps wildly off-base—into your actions. If you’re away from your desk or home base a lot, people may assume you’re inaccessible. When you’re there, they may scope out who spends time with you and surmise those folks are the “in” group—and they’re “out.” Or when you tell a would-be visitor that you’re busy, but you don’t close the loop—that is, tell them when you can meet—they may feel like offenders or the offended when you intended neither.

4. Your door is open—but visits aren’t worth the effort.

If your employees believe you multitask your way through conversations with them, if you lecture instead of listen, if you listen but don’t follow through, or if you routinely start appointments late and end them early, you’re sending a powerful message: Your open door is an invitation to frustration. Nothing demonstrates that as clearly as this feedback, given to an otherwise respected manager with a habit of answering email while people talked with him:

I fully respect that you say your door is always open, but maybe it would be better if you sometimes ask for some space to do your work. I think most people would understand that. It is very important for me to feel that you are fully present when I walk into your office and have to ask you something.

In the boss’s mind, he was “Mr. Super Busy but Always Here for You,” while others saw his Evil Twin, “Mr. Always Here but Too Super Busy for Me.”

If you want your open door to be real—not a myth—here’s what you can do:

  • Assume it’s your responsibility to reach out to those who don’t approach you. Some people may never knock on your door but still want to connect.

  • Help people know the range of conversations they can bring your way—from major to minor, so they know the “password” to your place.

  • Have a clear understanding with your managers and staff about the definition of an “end run.” Build a culture that encourages people to solve problems at the lowest level and talk with their immediate supervisor before coming to you.

    That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have great conversations with you about ideas and issues; they should know you’ll be transparent with their bosses about those conversations. (The exception: highly sensitive situations in which the immediate supervisor may be the source of a serious problem and confidentiality may be called for.)

  • Close the loop. You can’t say yes to every person who pops in with, “Got a minute?” But “No, not now” doesn’t close the loop. Try my favorite reply: “I have a minute, but I bet your issue deserves more. How about this afternoon at 3:30, when we can really talk?”

Finally, what’s the best way to deal with Evil Twins? How can you discover and disown yours, without waiting for a snowstorm or a not-so-hot annual review? Try transparency.


  • Don’t assume that people can read your mind or that your actions speak for themselves.

  • Explain your intentions. Be clear.

  • Don’t hesitate to share the “why” behind your decisions.

  • Make certain your deputies feel free to warn you when something you’re about to do has the potential to be taken the wrong way.

  • Cultivate your top performers to become your candid advisors. They see how your leadership affects the team, and have more confidence than most to call you out when necessary.

  • Thank anyone who has the courage to warn you that your Evil Twin is in the room.


If you want to be certain you’re on the right track as a manager, be open to feedback on your performance as a boss. You can do this whether or not your organization uses any formal feedback system. You need to seek it out.

But, as a Competent and Caring Boss in Search of Constructive Feedback, how do you make certain people don’t mistakenly see an Evil Twin—a Self-Absorbed, Insecure Supervisor Seeking Compliments or Consolation?

It’s all in how you ask. The best way isn’t to frame it as a request for praise or criticism. You could use my Million-Dollar Question—a query with a great potential payoff.

It’s valuable because it:

  • Is focused on the employee more than you;

  • Is easy for employees to answer without feeling they must provide a major evaluation;

  • Carries with it an assumption that you have the power—and the desire—to help;

  • Can be asked in the course of routine interactions;

  • Is specific and action-oriented.

Here it is:

Is there anything you need more of—or less of—from me?

Try it. You’ll find it can lead to great insights from staff. Some will be about the organization—everything from “I really could use more advance notice on schedule changes” to “I wish we could have fewer meetings that end without a plan.” And some will focus on you: “Honestly, I wish I could get more of your full attention when I’m talking with you,” or “Sometimes you seem angry when someone questions your idea. It would be nice to have less of that.” The personal answers come forward when people believe you are the Truly Interested Boss, not that person’s Evil Twin: the Boss Who Read an Advice Book and Is Just Going Through the Motions.

Most of all listen, really listen to what they say and work like the devil to act on it. That’s something Evil Twins would never do.


Here’s another way to determine the trust you’ve built as a manager and whether you’re already on your way to becoming a great boss. Take this “Great Boss Impact” assessment. I’ll make it easy. No grades on this one. Here’s hoping you can reply to each question with an unqualified yes. But if not, don’t despair. There’s plenty of help in the chapters ahead.


  1. Do people come to you regularly and frequently with ideas or projects they’re developing rather than wait for instructions or permission? If they do, it’s a good sign they don’t feel micromanaged. They feel free to get started on things because you’ve been clear on roles, responsibilities, expectations, and budgets.

  2. Do people offer their opinions freely in conversations and meetings, without waiting to hear what you think? People who feel overly controlled or criticized, or believe their opinions don’t matter, often shut down. It’s safer for them to wait to hear what the boss wants before speaking.

  3. Do your employees tell you about people who’d be great potential employees? One of the best signs that people like their jobs is their willingness to recommend other good people, especially those they know. They’re endorsing the workplace and its leadership.

  4. Do your staff members talk to you in terms of the whole organization, not just their group’s work? If they do, it is a sign that you’ve helped them share a vision for the whole organization, and with your leadership they’re working as a team, not a silo. (More on that in chapter 12.)

  5. Do your people admit mistakes or misgivings to you? When your staff is forthcoming with you about errors, it shows you’ve built a culture of trust and accountability. There’s more FYI than CYA. There’s more “speaking truth to power” because people see you as approachable, even when the news isn’t great.

  6. Do the people you supervise ask you for help AFTER they’ve tried to solve problems or conflicts among themselves? If so, you’ve established a work environment where people don’t succeed by lobbying behind one another’s backs, nor by turning to you to resolve conflicts before they have given it their best effort. You’re a leader, not a parent.

  7. Do you hear your staff talking about values, and if so, do they speak of them as their own, not yours? It might be ego-boosting to hear people say, “What would the boss do in a case like this?” But what you really want is for people to have a shared sense of values. You might actually hear them discussing a tough call and be proud of the process they use to make a decision on their own.

  8. Do you know your staff members as people, not just producers? Do you know what they hold dear outside of work? Great bosses know that leadership is professional and personal.

  9. Can you look at your team and see your potential replacement? The best bosses hire people who are smarter than they are. They aren’t intimidated by the strengths and skills of staffers, and they recognize the importance of grooming others to lead.

  10. Could you ask your staff to answer these questions and be pleased with the results? May I suggest you give it a try? But if you’re an aspiring great boss, you’ve already thought of that.

It takes power to make an impact like this in the workplace. Do you have enough of the right kind? Let’s find out.


How to Tap the Power Grid of Leadership

I looked out at the professional women I was addressing at a luncheon and asked them to help me with an icebreaker exercise. Would they kindly introduce themselves to the others seated at their tables, using the following words:


Excerpted from Work Happy by Geisler, Jill Copyright © 2012 by Geisler, Jill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

Section 1 All About You: How Bosses Become Great 1

Chapter 1 The Challenges and Joys of Management-a Reality Check 3

Chapter 2 What Employees Never Forget-and Never Forgive (and Why They Don't Like Your Evil Twin) 19

Chapter 3 How to Tap the Power Grid of Leadership 41

Chapter 4 Manage Yourself, So You Can Lead Others 61

Chapter 5 You and Your Big Mouth: Communication Tips and Traps 83

Chapter 6 To Win the Battle for Your Time, Talk Back to the Voices in Your Head 105

Section 2 All About Your Staff: How Great Bosses Grow Great Employees 127

Chapter 7 You Should Not Treat Everyone the Same 129

Chapter 8 Work Happy: Motivation That Really Matters, Boss 151

Chapter 9 The Secret to Performance Management: Feedback 171

Chapter 10 You Can't Be Too Nice for a Tough Talk: Negative Feedback Is Necessary 193

Chapter 11 Stop Fixing, Start Coaching 217

Section 3 All About the Workplace: How Great Bosses Build Great Places to Work 237

Chapter 12 Change Is the New Normal: Lead the Way 239

Chapter 13 What's It Really Like to Work Here, Boss? 261

Chapter 14 Management Is a Team Sport: How to Manage Your Boss, Your Deputies (and Even Your Stress) 287

Chapter 15 For Great Bosses, It's Always About the Values 315

Resources 341

About the Author 349

Customer Reviews