You’re not the boss of me!

By Mike Novakoski – March 8, 2017

Over the years, I have had times when I questioned the titles chosen to label people in specific roles.

A couple of years ago, our construction company discovered the value of referring to the external firms we hire as “trade contractors” or “trade partners,” not as “subcontractors” as the industry has long labeled them. We see it as an acknowledgement of the respect and value we have for them; and as a result, attitudes and relationships have significantly changed for the better.

Lately, I’ve been fixating on what word a person chooses to describe the individual to whom they report. With a lengthy list of synonyms available, we do not have to stick with traditional labels like “boss.”

The word selected can take on a serious tone of disrespect or sarcasm and speak volumes to the working relationship and underlying corporate subculture. I believe references such as “boss, superior and bigwig all carry a negative connotation. I personally don’t like when someone calls me their boss. I think of a character in my mind that I don’t particularly care for; one that shouts orders and doesn’t care about me as a person. It can get much worse, however. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people talk about their day and reference “that jackass I work for!”

More playful, casual references often are used as well, such as “our fearless leader.” I envision this person is more likely to be humble, appreciated and respected. One who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. I see myself working much more favorably under this person.

Today, society seems to be favoring more generic terms in reference to leadership, using “director, manager or supervisor” as labels. These are safe titles, but also make it hard to tell if the person is respected, feared, admired or disliked. Others are using more revered titles such as “team leader,” “coach” or perhaps even “shepherd” if you take a page from the Bible.

How do the people you work with label the person to whom they directly report?

To the “people with responsibility to oversee others” out there, here’s my challenge for you to contemplate. How do team members refer to you at work, and more importantly, how do they refer to you on the weekend when they talk about you with a neighbor? Are you an admired team leader or a jackass boss?

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