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The First Cut is the Deepest – Especially When It’s From Your Boss

“The first cut is the deepest” is a lyric from a popular Sheryl Crowe song – but it could also easily be the mantra for any employee struggling with an abusive boss.

Many bosses (not mine, thankfully) like to employ the fear tactic to inspire their employees to work harder and stay on task. But fear-inducing bosses who cut down their employees are actually hurting productivity and morale.

If you’ve ever sat down with a bowl of popcorn to watch “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Office Space,” you know what fear-inducing bosses look like. As a government leader, you also know you don’t want to be that type of boss. You want your staff to respect you. But that can be a difficult task, because you also don’t want to be seen a pushover. How can you walk that line?

Alesia Latson is a speaker, trainer, coach and founder of Latson Leadership Group. She told me during GovLoop’s State and Local Spotlight interview about four ways leaders can stop triggering fear in their employees.

“Most leaders don’t realize the authority that comes with their role,” said Latson. “As human beings we have a fundamental response to people we perceive as being at a different status than us.If a teacher calls on you in class, there is a quickening of the pulse. There are things you can do, as a leader, to have that authority work in your favor. If you are not mindful of that power you can inadvertently scare people.”

Latson’s Four Ways To Overcome a Fear Response

  1. Avoid the ‘Please come to my office” moment

If a manager wants to avoid scaring an employee, don’t say, “Please come to my office for a moment.” Use a sentence like, please come to my office, because I want to discuss XXX. “Say, ‘I am just looking over the budget and I have a couple of questions. I wanted to get your insights.’ Framing your request lessens the fear response,” said Latson. “If a request is open ended, ‘Can you come to my office?’ –trust me, they are going to think the worst. They are not thinking, ‘Oh, this is my lucky day. I am getting a raise.’”

  1. Be curious

It may sound odd, but managers that ask a lot of questions are less scary to employees. “There is a skill to asking questions. It is very important that you ask open-ended questions. With open-ended questions you are inviting people to the conversation,” said Latson.

  1. Set ground rules

In general, workplaces should be routine. You need to set expectations for your employees. “People find routines and rules comforting. People want to do a good job; they want to please their boss. When the leader can be really clear about what success looks like it takes the guess work out and increases the likelihood that a leader will get what they want from their employees,” said Latson.

  1. Better to be feared than ignored?

You’ve heard it before: it is better to be feared than ignored. Well, that simply isn’t true, says Latson. “What you miss when you are feared, that you get in an abundance when you are respected is people’s discretionary effort,” said Latson. “People will go the extra mile for you. They will anticipate what makes you happy. They want to contribute. When you are feared, they won’t do that.”

What do you think makes a good leader? Are there traits specific to government leaders that should be included? Let us know in the comment section!

If you enjoyed our GovLoop’s State and and Local Spotlight interview, you can read more interviews under keyword “emily’s corner.

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