To be completely honest, I haven’t used the term “boss” in a professional context in a long time. I most probably used it in my first one or two years of working an office job, and once I had a mindset shift, I never looked back. I despise the use of the “boss” word. There, I’ve said it. I dislike the word itself and the connotations it comes with. So let me walk you through why I stopped using the word boss and you should too.
Why I can’t stand the word boss
Growing up, all of us are exposed to the word “boss” through pop culture. I would say specifically North American pop culture. TV series and movies raise us to believe that at some point you will get to have a boss of your own, either great or terrible. You also acquire an expectation that this “boss” person will have the ultimate say in what and how things are done. Having spent a few years in the workforce, I quickly realised this is not the way that leads to success.
With “boss” persona conditioning us since childhood, this type of workplace relationship encourages an unhealthy dynamic between managers and their reports. With the relationship type of “you do what I tell you” engrained in so many people, I believe it is absolutely detrimental to a strong company culture but also to a healthy day-to-day work mindset, long-term career mindset, and growth. I also believe a large chunk of managers should not be managers in the first place; a topic for a separate blog post though. Entrusting some of the individuals with the absolute “boss” power, and this includes calling them one, tends to immediately corrode everything below and around them on the org chart.
If one starts their career reporting into “bad bosses” they are likely to end up being one “bad boss” themselves. I have a slew of stories of mine and my peers’ stories of managers who call themselves “bosses”. People who at the end of the day are simply micromanagers. Those who demand that certain things are done and not only that but done a certain way. People who think it’s okay to call you at 4 am on a Sunday morning so you can send them that report that they urgently need. And the list can go on and on. These traits are not compatible with a healthy work environment, and nor can they bring productivity gains beyond the short-term horizon.
How to change your mindset
I, for one, think it’s time to break this cycle and start to hold people accountable for their actions. Workplace culture has been shifting and every direct report has much more control than they think they do. Especially when as a report, you already represent 50% of the relationship. To me, it starts with having the most important relationship in the workplace run in a healthy way. The way we think, speak and behave dictates a lot in how these relationships are built. And one simple and easy step to start this journey is to stop using the word “boss” and to also stop seeing them as one. Mindset first, action second.
First things first, they’re the same employees as anybody else, but with the responsibilities of a manager. They are not all-knowing ever-right commanders – even though some like to assert themselves through this leadership style at all times. Now, I don’t say to disrespect or to go past your manager. But don’t give them more power than they actually have. Keep the power and control over your work life on your side. Ultimately, you are the one who has to be on the constant lookout for your day-to-day work life and long-term career growth. I stick to the term “manager”/”team lead” in my day-to-day and I would advise you to do the same too. However most importantly, regardless of how you call the next person above you in the reporting line, make sure you don’t see them as more than what they are.
The way I like to think about it is that I don’t work for someone. I am employed by a company and I work for that company. I don’t have undying loyalty for one person. Nor do I have any interest in pleasing one person over bringing results. This will go against what most people say. However, I truly believe that your goal is not to make your manager look good – that will come naturally if you do your job and they do theirs – but to deliver great results and shape your next step/promotion yourself. The manager’s job is to empower/enable you on this journey to the best of their ability. The moment you start thinking this way, everything will fall into place. You won’t need to play petty games with people up the chain of command.
With that said, this is why I stopped using the word boss and you should too. While it’s a small thing to change, I do think it contributes to the mindset shift. Which is the most important part when it comes to feeling in control of your own work life. I personally would as far as banning the word “boss” in the workplace. And I am quite disappointed that well-respected business publications still use the term “boss”. I can get behind terms like “manager”, “leader” or “coach”. That’s because I truly believe that they are much more fitting to the job description reflecting today’s workplaces.
If you resonate with these thoughts, I’d love to hear how you approach it and learn more.