‘What Great Bosses Know’

Last updated on May 18th, 2022 at 07:14 pm

Jill Geisler draws on her 20 years of experience as a Milwaukee news director in her new book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know.”

Geisler, who lives in Bayside, joined WITI Channel 6 News in 1973 and was appointed news director in 1978 — an unheard of leadership position for a 27-year-old woman in the 1970s.

“The lessons of the news industry can be very helpful in learning to manage change,” she said.

Like many leaders, Geisler was promoted on the basis of her skills, but did not have any formal management training.

“I teach from my mistakes because I believe that really helps,” she said. “Without a good mentor, without some decent training, you’re bound to make some mistakes.”

She left the station in 1998 to serve on the faculty at the Poynter Institute, a journalism education organization in St. Petersburg, Fla. She has since earned a master’s degree in leadership studies and has been providing guidance to bosses for 14 years through seminars, classes and podcasts.

Geisler’s podcast series, “What Great Bosses Know,” has more than 8 million downloads on iTunes U, which inspired her to write a book of tips for leaders.

In the book, Geisler describes how bosses can become great, how great bosses grow great employees and how great bosses build great places to work.

In the leadership development section, she discusses employee behavior, particularly how employees perceive certain actions by the leader.

A good boss brings humanity, integrity and levity to the workplace, so people are happy to come to work in the morning, Geisler says.

Genuine feedback is an important tool for any boss, so employees feel recognized when they have succeeded and know where they can improve when they have not, she said.

She encourages bosses to be confident in their decisions and prepared for any outcome, especially when having difficult conversations with employees.

Leaders at Geisler’s seminars often ask for more help role-playing difficult conversation scenarios with each other, since they can become heated.

“The more irrational someone else gets, the more rational you have to be,” Geisler said. “We don’t think well when our emotions are highly engaged.”

While money is a motivating factor for employees, allowing them to have competence, autonomy, a sense of purpose and a sense of growth are just as important to long-term loyalty.

A somewhat controversial point that Geisler makes in her book is that bosses can play favorites — as long as other employees know exactly what it takes to become a favorite.

She gives an example from her time in Milwaukee as a way to display humanity and create harmony in the workplace. Reporter Charles Benson was due to receive several awards from the Milwaukee Press Club. The awards ceremony was held on the same night as his wedding, so Geisler found a way for him to experience both special moments.

“We rented a limousine from a Limo Rental Solutions provider and worked it out with the Press Club so that we could zip them from their event at the very moment they were calling the award winners,” she said. “For the price of a rented limousine for an hour, he got to know how much we cared about him.”

One of the other lessons Geisler offers in the book is “Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss.” They are:

  • Workplace problems fester as you postpone dealing with them.
  • Mediocrity (and worse) flourished because you don’t challenge underperformers.
  • Needed change is delayed as you hesitate to push people out of their comfort zones.
  • Good employees who crave constructive criticism don’t get it.
  • Good employees are unfairly saddled with extra duties as you work around the weaknesses of others.
  • Bullies, bigmouths and malcontents roam free.
  • You lose respect.

The book is available for $24.99 at www.poynter.org.

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