Lump. Growth. Boil.

That’s one of the definitions of “boss” from that century of movers and shakers, the 1200’s. But for many employees, this definition couldn’t be more accurate 800 years later. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that 75% of American workers identify their boss as the worst and most stressful part of their job, and 60% of US workers would take a new boss over a pay raise.

Here’s my advice from the creative trenches and marketing mediocrity battlefields on how to be a better boss.

C’ing is believing.

  • Candor.
  • Clarity.
  • Collaboration.

Without these 3, it’s hard to win.

Candor. It has a wonderful definition: whiteness, brilliance; fairness; unreserved, honest, sincere expression (it’s a favorite word of GE’s former boss, Jack Welch). Candor cuts through the bullshit. It gets to the heart of the matter. Candor gets things done and gets things better (of course, it must be used with discretion). Try to encourage other bosses to not hold back—or worse—conduct private “backroom” meetings: they hurt your team’s strategies for creating good work.

Clarity. Does your team know your role, duties, and why you’re making the decisions you’re making? See, when you’re a good boss, everyone knows it. It’s also helpful to tell your team what the important role is for the key stakeholder on your project—it’ll help to complete the picture of where/why your team’s contributions matter.

Collaboration. When it comes to getting other managers on board, “silo-ing” sucks. In other words, holing up in an office is a conscious choice by a boss who’s chosen to stay isolated, disengage, or yikes, keep team members in the dark (maybe it’s a power thing, maybe it’s a clueless/shy thing, not sure—but it sucks when these “back room” meetings occur). Please don’t silo: it’s not fair to your team.

Candor leads to Clarity which leads to Collaboration. And collaboration can change the world.

Fill in the blank.

Remember Mad Libs? This is way more powerful. Sometimes clients or team members hold back or can’t articulate what they’re really thinking (see the section on “Candor”). So force their hand by posing the concern as a fill-in-the-blank. It gets to the heart of the matter quickly. Try “I can see you’re hesitating because _________” or “If we skip this step then our customers will __________.” Encouraging your client to fill in the blank helps your team better understand—and do better work.

Endorse the course.

Don’t have company money for employee training? Big wigs not taking training seriously? Education is VITAL—it’s the fuel of your team. Growing your team’s skillsets is one of your most important (and often underplayed) responsibilities as a good Boss. So check out local community college courses. They offer non-credit/adult learning courses that are of great value—both in terms of content and cost. From one-nighters to two-month courses, the boost to your team’s confidence and productivity is priceless. May the course be with you!

Read ‘em and reap.

If your team doesn’t have time to collectively read a great, industry-worthy book, then try this quick fix so all team members benefit: just scan the index of a book (not the table of contents) and review a particular topic for a quick brain infusion. Now you’ll be on the same page as your team. For creative folks, I recommend Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan or The Art of Writing Advertising (written during Mad Men era but still relevant for copywriters) by Denis Higgins.

Remember: eyes, ears, fears

When talking to your team, look at them. Listen to them. And assuage them. This helps you gauge the situation. Looking (don’t be creepy) means you’re engaging. Listening means you’re asking more questions than talking. And assuaging means answering their fears. Depending on the situation, ask your team frankly what they’re afraid of. The revealing answers will show you what makes your team disappointed, excited, hopeful. Or all of the above.

Encourage the Part B

Part B is the “what-if” scenario. Anyone can offer a solution—but is it thought through? Ask your team what the “Part B” of the solution means: the next steps or possible roadblocks/changes that could creep in. For example, on our creative team we’re building a revised creative brief, so it would go something like <Part A: solution>: “We’re going to make our process better with these new questions in the creative brief. <Part B> But what if the brief isn’t adhered to/enforced—then what (does that derail our process)?Stay on top of the Part B. It’ll help your team think forward and expect contingencies.

The most important tip of all

Listen to Aretha: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Seriously, in every sense of the word, respect women colleagues. A-L-W-A-Y-S.