10 Signs That You're an Uninspiring Boss

If any of the examples below sound familiar, you've got work to do

This Thursday, Oct. 16, is National Boss's Day. I have to admit it wasn't on my radar screen until a Hallmark ad reminded me about it. I'm my own boss, so it's unlikely I'll send myself a card. I work for myself for a good reason. During my career as a broadcast journalist I had a string of uninspiring bosses. My first boss had a habit of slamming a baseball bat on his desk when he got mad. Fearing my head would be next, I left after four months. My second boss enjoyed playing Solitaire on his computer during work hours—in plain view of everyone. When I hit the big leagues in New York, I worked across the hall from a boss who would express his displeasure by pulling employees into his office and cursing them out for what seemed like hours. Grown men would walk out in tears. I left before he decided my spirit would be next to be crushed. Convinced leadership was in short supply, I committed myself to studying the traits of inspiring leaders and teaching others how to adopt those qualities for themselves.

As confidence in workplaces dims because of turmoil in the financial markets and uncertainty about the economy, now is the time for leaders to step up and communicate more, not less, as mediocre leaders tend to do in periods of uncertainty. Of course, before you can commit yourself to becoming the type of boss people want to follow, you must recognize the qualities of bosses who fail to elicit enthusiasm. What are some signs of an uninspiring leader?

1. You can recite the snack offerings in the vending machine better than the names of your employees' spouses. Inspiring leaders show concern for the personal lives and well-being of their employees.

2. You cannot recall one sentence from the mission statement you helped create. Mission statements are useless if they aren't backed by actions.

3. You give praise only when handing out bonus checks. Praise should be a part of the daily culture in the work environment. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson once said: "Praise people and they will flourish. Criticize and they will shrivel up."

4. You are the last one to arrive to the office, the first to leave, and unavailable after hours. During periods of turmoil, employees will be watching your every move. Lead by example.

5. You walk around the office with a coffee stain on your white shirt and you don't care. Show respect through action, words, and nonverbal signals.

6. You lie low during layoffs. Inspire admiration in your employees by clearly explaining why some people were terminated and what needs to be done to avoid further layoffs. Don't make it your last communication. Talk to your staff daily.

7. You don't respond to employees' e-mail or voice mail quickly. Travelocity founder Michelle Peluso once told me she responds to an employee's e-mail within 24 hours. Replying in a timely fashion shows respect for the employee and offers an example of responsive customer service.

8. You make sure everyone cleans his or her desk for a visit from clients, but you could care less about the filthy bathrooms your employees use every day. Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea told me that a dirty bathroom is the first sign of managers who don't care about their staff.

9. Your body language prompts your employees to express concern about you. Your body language should always exude confidence and steadfast leadership—in good times and in bad.

10. Your idea of employee motivation tools consist of sayings such as: "If you don't like your job, there are 10 people I could call today to replace you." Employees are looking for more than a paycheck. They want to build something great and feel their work has meaning.

Company morale was fragile before the housing meltdown and global economic turmoil. If you fail to inspire when the people around you need it most, you will probably lose talented folks when the economy turns around—and in the meantime, productivity, creativity and loyalty will suffer. Commit yourself to being the type of leader who energizes and inspires everyone in their presence, not only on National Boss's Day but every day.

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