Are you a scary boss?

I once worked in a solicitor’s office as a secretary.  Most of the lawyers were great. We’d chat about life, family and football as we made our morning coffee; they’d go out of their way to talk to the secretaries at Friday night drinks.  Sometimes they might even take some of us out for lunch or throw us a special breakfast.

But there was one lawyer, one of the partners, who locked himself in his room all day every day. He would come out to give his secretary work and then hurry back in to his office. We didn’t know him.

What we did know was that he was intolerant of mistakes, had a very short fuse, that he didn’t seem to have a sense of humour and as a result we were all a bit scared of him.

Sometimes in the lift he would say hello or smile at you if you accidentally established eye contact; but that I don’t recall having many conversations with him.

I was a baby back then, in my early 20s. I was easily intimidated by stern older men with big impressive law degrees.

I truly wanted to do well, but I always made more mistakes when I typed up his documents than anyone else’s because I did every task with sense of dread.

I’m sure he was brilliant. I am sure that he meant no harm and that his work was very important to him. I recognised that he had a lot of responsibility in the firm to ensure that his clients were properly serviced.

But one of the things he seemed to miss was that if he wanted us to do well, to not make mistakes, to bring our best game then he needed to have a relationship with us so that he wasn’t so scary. If he had a better relationship with us then he might have trusted us more and relaxed a little. If we had had a relationship we could have gone to him and asked if he could slow down a bit when he was dictating. But we were too scared to have that conversation.

So it ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. He appeared to doubt our abilities, to care more about his clients than his staff, and he criticised us for making mistakes. We rewarded his lack of trust in us by making lots of mistakes and creating additional work for him.

What’s your relationship with your staff?

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