This Is How the Definition of a Good Boss Has Changed

A new study argues against ruling with an iron fist.

study finds being a "servant leader" as a manger leads to the most productivity in the workplace.
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It's no secret that the workplace has changed enormously in the last two decades. Technological advances are freeing people up to work from anywhere, but also making the 9-5 workday increasingly obsolete. But there have also been some interpersonal shifts around power in the workplace and what it means to be a good boss. Now, we finally have some scientific data to back up what makes a successful manager. According to a new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, those bosses who focus on their employees' needs tend to yield higher levels of productivity.

For the new study, researchers examined 130 independent studies and found that bosses who exhibited empathy and integrity and put their employees first fostered a sense of community, trust, and loyalty that was very beneficial to their company's overall workflow and output.

Back in the day, people expected a boss to be strict and authoritarian, and to constantly remind employees that they were there to serve. But in today's day and age, our concept of what it means to be a good manager is more in keeping with what it means to be a good parent. Yes, there should be rules, but the manager's primary goal should be to serve the interests of his or her employees and ensure they actually enjoy coming into work instead of dreading every Monday.

"A 'servant leader' style of management, which is ethical, trustworthy, and has a real interest in the wellbeing and development of staff, brings about real positives within the workplace," the study's lead author, Dr. Allan Lee, a senior lecturer in Organization Studies and Management at the University of Exeter Business School, said in a university newsletter. "Employees are more positive about their work and therefore also often feel empowered to become more creative. The result is a rise in productivity."

The findings contradict the previously long-held belief that being ruthless is the key to success. And the study corroborates other recent research that shows that some of the personality traits that were once regarded as too "soft" for someone in a position of power actually get the best results. Research firm Development Dimensions International, Inc (DDI) found that "empathy tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance" among managers. It's followed by being clear with instructions, encouraging involvement, enhancing self-esteem, helping people develop their ideas, and supporting employees without removing responsibility.

While these skills might seem obvious for a manager, the DDI research found that only 40 percent of business leaders seemed to actually exhibit them. Change may not happen overnight, but it's a worthy goal to strive toward. And for more business advice for the modern age, check out This Is the Single Worst Thing You Can Do When Negotiating.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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