The Problem with Bosses

In a recent HBS working paper, Linda Hill, Harvard business school professor and author of the widely read, Becoming a Manager, discusses her latest book, Being the Boss. She outlines three imperatives for managers including self management, team management and network management. Hill also critiques relying on formal authority as a management technique. I look forward to reading her new book and in the meantime, give some thought to what it means to be a boss versus a manager versus or leader.

The word "boss" has always bothered me. It isn't encouraging and seems somewhat dismissive. Perhaps this is because I've heard too many "bosses" use phrases like "because I'm the boss" or ask "who is the boss" rhetorically when their authority is questioned.

It takes only a title to be a boss. To be a manager, you must have a philosophy of team building and development, and work to create an environment that breeds success. To be a leader, you must additionally have a compelling vision and a glowing energy or attractive force made possible by your love of and respect for the "game" and your "players". In the latter two cases, formal authority is rarely, if ever used.

In addition to a compelling vision and motivational style, a strong leader engages his team in creating goals and expectations. When these are co-created versus handed down, "buy in", or true commitment is possible. Once there is a clear game plan, a leader creates a measurement and rewards system, and processes for providing and receiving regular constructive feedback. A strong leader encourages and models integrity, open communication, respect and commitment. She celebrates successes and seeks to gain knowledge from failure versus judge or over react. She works with humility, understanding and empathy, but balances these humanist values with strong business focus. And most of all, she is always learning, seeking to improve her understanding, skill and knowledge base.


A Winery Leader's Primary Role

Wineries operate with many different structures. Smaller ventures tend to have the "mom and pop" (or just mom or pop) doing everything from vinifying to selling to books. Medium-sized wineries typically either have a President, GM or shared management team, and larger corporations employ officers with ranks of reporting teams and divisions. In every structure type, there is a primary role for the leader or leadership team -- creating and helping implement the vision.

I often write about the importance of operating with a strategic business plan. At the heart of these plans is the leader's vision for success and his or her plan for achieving it. In a recent Silicon Valley Bank blog, Raymond Nasr, Director of Wine Programs, discusses "What Makes Entrepreneurs and Winemakers Tick". He identifies three common elements -- Tradition, Absolute Trust and Struggle, and compares cites examples of best practices in the tech and wine industries.

Wineries are typically pretty good at developing Tradition given the annual celebration of harvest and natural inclination to share great meals with beautiful wines. It's a fun, passionate industry so tradition is almost a given. The only structure type where I've witnessed struggle with meaningful traditions is the corporate winery given the constant M&A activity, role changing and other factors.

Wineries are also naturals at incorporating the Struggle element. Any time Mother Nature is a key player in an industry, there is challenge. Add vineyard maturity, the relative high cost of goods sold and slow inventory turn, and incredible competition necessitating investment in brand marketing and sales, to the equation and the industry is ripe with struggle.

What I find lacking in many wine businesses, especially in small to medium-sized organizations, is the Absolute Trust part of Nasr's equation. To have absolute trust among people, there must be a compelling vision and plan to achieve it. Many operators in the industry are most concerned with the art of producing wine -- not the equally important art and business of selling it. This tendency can create additional financial strain and risk, and human resource issues, further adding to the Struggle and eroding Tradition.

In my practice, I help wineries improve Absolute Trust in three steps: 1)by creating or helping to create a vision and strategic plan; 2) then developing specific goals and performance incentives tied to the plan, which helps focus and align teams; 3) and finally, designing processes to track progress, celebrate successes and swiftly and professionally deal with challenges.

When you have a fully engaged, high performing team, beyond expectations results are both possible and common! And that this starts with the vision and plan should be inspiring to owners and operators -- it's very doable, just a matter of whether you are willing to commit to the process.