A Four-Letter Word to Describe Bad Leaders
It’s time to retire a four-letter word that is all too common in most workplaces. This word has an insidious effect on how we orient to leaders. Yet, we don’t instantly find it offensive or out of bounds. In fact, this four-letter word is so common as to be synonymous with leadership, even though it stands for the opposite of how we expect leaders to act. We propose you wipe this word from the lexicon of leadership within your organization. The word is BOSS.
Think about the label of “boss” and what it means to someone learning to lead or to follow. The idea of bossing someone around, acting as a boss, or being the boss should set off alarm bells for anyone who values consensus, inclusion, openness, and engagement as foundational to leadership. Yet, we use the word boss to refer to ourselves and others, failing to recognize the absurdity of what the idea of a boss represents. Leaders and managers, if they are any good, are never bosses.
Outdated metaphors and expressions about leaders and leadership, such as boss, unconsciously influence much of our thinking. Words, idioms, and metaphors seep into the mind and create our orientation for how to see the world. Becoming more conscious of the words we use to describe leaders and leadership can have a profound effect on how we act and react to others. The time to retire the word “boss” is long overdue. As your boss, I require you to forget it.
This has been intuitive for me but I’ve always struggled with a good replacement to suggest to team members who call me boss.
In the service industry, men will call their male customers boss, but it is secretly not flattering. I have a friend who is a barber who let me in on this little secret. I will politely ask my direct reports not to call me this.