Why women can make the best – and the worst – bosses

20 Dec

I agree with Amanda Platell’s observation in The Apprentice The Final and You’re Hired that a good woman boss can be the best boss ever, and a bad woman boss can be the worst boss ever.

She was referring specifically to how Stella English led her team to help her win the coveted £100k job with Lord Sugar. Stella asked the former contestants to put any bad feelings aside so they could concentrate on the job in hand. Stella proved to be a dynamic and inspiring team leader with excellent and convincing communication skills who had the 100 industry experts “eating out of her hand” during her winning presentation of the new alcoholic drink Urbon.

This behaviour compares starkly with the unflattering clip they showed of the female candidates squabbling in the boardroom, which Amanda said played into the negative stereotypes of women. No man would exhibit such frenzied behaviour in front of anyone else, as it would give their game away, she said.

Here’s how Stella exhibited what, for me, are the qualities of a great female boss (and where, in my opinion, bad female bosses get it wrong…)

Nerves of steel: Stella demonstrated her steely determination from the beginning to the end. She wasn’t in there to make friends (and her detractors found her “corporate and cold” behaviour rather unfriendly at times); she was in it to win it. Going into the final, she said: “Anything I want I always get, and I won’t let go of it. I don’t sit around worrying about the competition; as far as I’m concerned, I’m the winner.” A good boss keeps her eye on the prize, and motivates her team to help get them there.

Bad bosses can lack spine, and look to others for direction and focus.

Stays cool and calm in a crisis: Stella never lost her nerve, even when she was described as “a very, very good PA” in the interview episode; and when she still hadn’t decided on a brand name for the alcoholic drink when she was two minutes away from meeting the bottle designer. A great boss doesn’t flap or fuss; but she can level-headedly pull something magical out of the hat at the last moment.

Bad bosses are known to stomp around the office shrieking when someone hasn’t done something they should have done, leaving everyone cowering and running for cover. Everything becomes ‘urgent’, and employees begin to lose respect for someone who can’t manage her time or her reactions.

Leaves emotions out of it: Even when in the toughest moments in the boardroom, Stella didn’t dissolve into an tearful mess. She was emotionally resilient, learned from her mistakes, was assertive and confident at all times, and made her decisions based on the needs of the task and the resources at her disposal, rather than on whether she liked working with someone or not. A great boss doesn’t gush or apologise profusely; she merely acknowledges what’s been said, offers her own opinion, and explains her point of view calmly and assertively.

Bad bosses often make decisions with their hearts not their heads, which can lead to arbitrary and subjective decisions that don’t make sense to the team. Who they like and dislike, and who has sucked up to them, is at the heart of their decision-making rather than who’s the most qualified person to take on a new project.

Attention to detail: Lord Sugar said he chose Stella because she is “meticulous, and that’s what’s needed in this competitive market”. Great bosses are supremely organised: their consummate planning helps defeat any procrastination on the team, and while they can see the big picture, the tiniest detail always matters to them – which makes team members pay attention to those details that matter.

Bad bosses are forever cancelling and rescheduling meetings, often at the last minute, and will overlook details that really matter to the employee.

Knows how and when to delegate: Stella chose the team members with the most appropriate skills, experience and enthusiasm for the task of selecting the right taste and colour of the Urbon bourbon, because it wasn’t her strength (she doesn’t drink bourbon). That part of the task wasn’t the most successful, but she trusted her team to make the decision.

The worst female bosses, in my experience, are micro managers. They want to know where you’re going and why; how you spend every second of your day; they pick over your work, or will come along to meetings because they don’t trust you to manage it yourself. I remember spending two weeks filling out a Gantt chart for a female boss who loved her projects to be planned out to the second – and then she wanted an update every week, rather than letting me get on with the job. That lack of trust destroys an employee’s motivation and creativity.

Rolls her sleeves up: She is not too imperious as to think that, as the boss, she is above getting down onto the shop floor and help out with what is needed to win a task. Stella did this in the sing-song on the tour bus episode – and showed a human side to her corporate nature.

Bad bosses can be reluctant to let their human side show, and will often keep up the veneer of an exterior that will never chip – and will regard certain duties as ‘beneath them’.

Makes decisions: Stella showed right from episode two, when she was moved to sort out the boys team, that she is a collaborative leader in that she will ask for and listen to the input of others – but when she has made the decision, that’s it. There’s no wringing of hands and wondering if she’s done the right thing; she may take her time to come to that decision, but will then stand by it and be responsible for the outcome.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about bad bosses is that they just won’t make decisions. They will cancel meetings when you expect a decision from them, or they will procrastinate and leave you hanging for weeks and sometimes months. Or they will agree something with you that they will deny all knowledge of in a meeting with their boss a week later – leaving you looking flaky and unprepared.

Is an excellent communicator: Not just in the presentation scene in the final when Stella’s ability to charm and hold an audience was apparent, but in the day-to day way information is communicated to team members. Great bosses share with their staff as much information as they need to know, thus empowering them to make informed decisions.

Bad bosses withhold information, and let rumour and gossip run riot in the workplace. Worse, they will tell one member of staff a piece of information about another that creates unease and discontent in the ranks.

Praises appropriately: Stella thanked her team for their help, knowing she couldn’t have done it without them. Employees want recognition for their input, and great bosses will acknowledge their staff’s contribution publicly and vocally.

Bad bosses are terrified to praise anyone, for fear the other person will be seen to overshadow or outperform them.

Good bosses, however, know that their own success is reflected in the individual successes of motivated and committed members of their team.


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