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Praising the Boss on Boss’s Day? Not So Fast.

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Image: Aubrey DanielsPatricia Bays Haroski who worked for her father in a State Farm Insurance Agency in Deerfield, Ill., registered October 16 as Boss’s Day with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1958. She chose October 16 because it was her father’s birthday and the story goes that she forgot his birthday and that by making it a holiday, she would not only recover from her oversight, but would never forget again. Of course, retailers have since capitalized on the holiday as an additional way to sell greeting cards, candy, mugs, and balloons.

Wikipedia defines Boss’s Day as a day when employees thank their boss for being kind, fair, honest, and awesome throughout the year. While I have nothing against thanking the boss, the National holiday celebration does put pressure on everyone, even those who don’t have an awesome boss. The social pressure probably causes more than a few people to do something to thank him/her even though their hearts are not in it…

Googling “bad boss” gets 166,000 hits (’good boss’ yields only slightly less – 164,000). I am aware that people are more likely to talk and write about bad bosses more than good ones but it is clear that even after 40 years of teaching managers, executives and supervisors to use positive methods to get superior results I still have a lot of work to do.

One of the problems with this holiday is that if a bad boss is rewarded in even some small way, it will not make him/her a better boss but will actually make him/her a worse one. So we can expect that next week there will be many bosses who will be worse than they are this week because of boss’s day.

That problem aside, most bosses are good and do deserve more recognition for what they do to create a positive workplace than they get. I have often said that if you think that you get too little recognition or positive reinforcement for what you do at work, think of your boss because he/she gets less. So if you are one of the lucky ones who has a good or awesome boss here are some suggestions of how to positively reinforce the boss without coming off as buttering her up or brown-nosing.

  1. Make recognition of the boss a frequent event. Remember that if the only time you think about recognizing your boss is on Boss’ Day, you have a problem. Think what it would be like if the only time you told you mother that you love or appreciate what she does for you was on Mother’s Day. How do you think she would respond to that? While Boss’s Day is a day to pause and do something out of the ordinary, there are about two hundred days that the boss may be doing things to make your life at work better. Recognition is as important on those days as it is on Boss’ Day.
  2. Thank the boss for helping you. I think that praising the boss on Boss’ Day is highly suspect anytime. However, I believe that thanking the boss for something that she has done that is helpful to you in some way is always appropriate, never suspect and almost always appreciated by the boss. I can recount many cases where bosses have done things that were later abandoned because all the boss heard was from those who had a problem with the boss’s decisions or actions. The president of one of our customers told me that he gauged whether employees liked his decisions by the number of complaints he received. The fewer complaints he received the better he assumed that employees liked what he did. There is an old saying that goes, “if people are not told clearly and overtly that they are appreciated, they will assume the opposite.”
  3. Keep the boss informed. This is a positive reinforcer for almost every boss I know. Keeping the boss informed about things that are not going well is as important as keeping him informed about things that are going well.
  4. Help your boss be successful. Helping your boss be successful by responding positively to her initiatives, priorities and decisions always puts you in a favored place by every boss. This assumes, of course, that you think these things are good. In the current economic environment a positive response to the boss’s initiatives, actions and decisions are positively reinforcing as most bosses are struggling to keep the company afloat. Pessimism is not appreciated anytime but especially now. A “Can Do” attitude in today’s economy is priceless.
  5. Helping others. Go out of your way to help others who are working to implement and address the boss’s initiatives and priorities. This causes most bosses these days to relax as they are able to see that the total burden of creating results does not fall on their shoulders. Employees who help peers solve problems before they get to the boss are particularly prized today.

All people need positive reinforcement in order to do their best – bosses included. Position on an organization chart neither increases nor decreases that need. You have the ability to strengthen your boss’s good habits and improve other behaviors by how you respond to the boss’s behavior. Positive reinforcement will do the trick. Do it often and you and your boss will be the better for it.

About the Author: Dr. Aubrey C. Daniels has devoted more than 30 years to working with organizations of all types and sizes to apply the science of human behavior in their workplace. His latest book “Oops: 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money” examines time-honored management practices – such as layoffs, year-end bonuses, and automatic pay raises – that actually reward bad habits and punish good behavior. Daniels is also the author of four best-selling books widely recognized as international management classics: Bringing out the Best in People, Performance Management, Other People’s Habits, and Measure of a Leader (with James E. Daniels).

This post originally appeared in Aubrey Daniels blog on October 14th, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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