Often, corporate leaders will try to share their vision of success or the future with the phrase, “Close your eyes and picture this.” As it turns out, employees actually have a similar process when it comes to the way they view their bosses: According to Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin in the Harvard Business Review, employees think of their bosses as mental images rather than individuals or people and draw on emails, tweets, and other information in order to paint these mental pictures. If that’s the case, what kind of image do your employees have of you?
Washburn and Galvin identified several rules that influence how people develop and revise mental images of their bosses. First, they argue, employees tend to make snap judgements based on initial observations; to use Washburn and Galvin’s words, employees “tend to judge a book by its cover.” Second, employees ask questions about their bosses, such as whether or not he or she has high standards, cares about employees on a personal level, and so on, to refine that initial picture. Lastly, employees prefer to learn more about their bosses through anecdotes or stories, and they listen for clues that the boss is trustworthy.
Based on the rules that Washburn and Galvin have pointed out, employees want a boss who cares for them personally and who is committed to hard work and high quality results, which aren’t unreasonable requests. In fact, these values already describe a great many business leaders, so the issue isn’t mismatched values or expectations but the effective expression of those values from bosses to employees.
Thankfully, the authors also have advice for that as well. Washburn and Galvin outline four traits–caring, high standards, vision, and humanness–that leaders can address in order to improve their standing in their employees’ eyes. They suggest writing notes to employees to recognize them for hard work as a way of showing compassion, for example, and expressing humility to show your humanness. These small acts don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated, and your employees will retell stories of your leadership until the “get well soon” note you wrote for your office manager becomes a companywide legend. With a little effort, the mental picture that your employees have of you can become a masterpiece.