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The Secrets of Skippers

Want to be a good boss?
Talk to your
employees.

Bosses who run the company from their desks may be good coordinators--but they're bad leaders. A good boss interacts directly with employees, giving them constant feedback, both positive and negative.

The key word is monitoring, says psychologist Judith Komaki, Ph.D., of New York City's Baruch College who's been studying leadership skills for years. Effective leaders monitor employees' work conscientiously and evaluate it upon completion. The majority of bosses don't do enough of either, though they pass judgment a lot more than they monitor.

Employees don't hate It when bosses breathe down their necks, Komaki insists. Rather, most workers feel ignored by their supervisors; they crave attention, praise, guidance, even criticism--anything which lets them know how they are performing in their bosses' eyes.

"A major complaint of employees is that bosses make judgments without adequate Information about what the employees are doing," Komaki says. Bosses tend to pay a lot of attention to people who think quickly on their feet and don't take the appropriate time out to gauge employee accomplishments carefully.

Komaki is the first to pinpoint the significance of monitoring and communicating, because her studies focus on leaders' ability to maintain high-quality worker output. Most others focus on the ability to motivate people to do good work. She has looked at theater, bank, newspaper, and insurance managers, and, most recently, sailboat skippers.

Regardless of setting, managers average five percent of their time communicating consequences (evaluating), and less time monitoring. Skippers and theater managers monitor the most--a great deal is visibly at stake--insurance managers the least. When superiors rated all bosses and managers below them according to their leadership skills, the most highly rated managers were the ones who monitored their employees most consistently.

"Bosses often think that they spend much more time overseeing workers than they actually do," Komaki says. "They overestimate what they think is important and underestimate what they don't think is important."