Buddy to boss: A new approach

Redesigning what it means to be a boss


Perhaps the thought of making the buddy-to-boss transition has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, as it did mine. The term “buddy to boss” implies that when you become a boss, you must change who you are and the relationships you have formed also must change. This is a misunderstanding that new supervisors have as a result of an inherently flawed thought process.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in what it means to be an effective boss

In resuscitation science, we had outdated ways of thinking and acting, such as a focus on ventilations, frequent pauses and stacked-shock defibrillation as the way to resuscitate a cardiac arrest. These old models of thinking resulted in some pulses returned, but very few neurologically intact survivors walking out of the hospital.

The term “buddy to boss” implies that when you become a boss, you must change who you are and the relationships you have formed also must change. This is a misunderstanding that new supervisors have as a result of an inherently flawed thought process.
The term “buddy to boss” implies that when you become a boss, you must change who you are and the relationships you have formed also must change. This is a misunderstanding that new supervisors have as a result of an inherently flawed thought process. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

We realized that all the ventilations are not resulting in getting oxygen to the brain, or that shocking a hypoxic myocardium consecutively is not the solution. This new understanding caused a paradigm shift in resuscitation, changing the focus to compressions and the end goal: circulating blood flow to the brain. 

What does this have to do with being an effective boss? 

We have all inherited outdated ways of thinking about what it means to be an effective boss. The old accepted norms of command and control, being a disciplinarian or being “above” your employees have been shown through extensive research to be ineffective at increasing morale, creating engagement and high-performing teams. Additionally, these outdated ways of being are detrimental to long-term organizational success. Research shows that people don’t leave a bad job; they leave a bad boss.

The Gallup organization researches engagement in the workplace and has shown, “one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career,” according to its “State of the American Manager report. "Having a bad manager is often a one-two punch: Employees feel miserable while at work, and that misery follows them home, compounding their stress and putting their wellbeing in peril."

If you are not happy with the current results of your organization, a paradigm shift in leadership is necessary for different results.

The solution isn’t in changing from buddy to boss, it’s about being a great boss

When you are promoted to boss, the misunderstanding is that you have to become a different person because you won’t be able to hold people accountable as their buddy, only as their boss. What if instead, you make accountability about helping others be a better version of themselves. The belief that a boss has to use discipline to get better results or “hold your feet to the fire” for change to occur is also outdated.

As a new boss, you may hear well-meaning advice such as: 

  • “You need to be tough and get thicker skin.”
  • “You can’t trust people and people can’t change.” 
  • “You need to harp on people and remind them what they’re doing wrong.” 
  • “You can’t show people that you care about them and be soft.” 
  • “If you’re nice and caring, people will think you’re playing favorites or walk all over you.” 

It is ironic that we expect caring and compassion from our providers and yet, as leaders, we are often unlikely to bring that same level of support to them. This is due to soft-skills being undervalued and seen as a weakness for leaders. In this new paradigm, I invite you to think of caring and compassion as essential skills that you must develop in yourself and others. 

The resonant vs. dissonant styles of leadership

Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor at Case Western Reserve University, professor of organizational behavior, psychology and cognitive science at the Weatherhead School of Management, has authored over 150 books and published research papers on emotional intelligence, behavior change and leadership. In one book, "Primal Leadership," Boyatzis noted organizations whose leaders used dissonant styles of management (e.g., authoritarian, command and control, etc.) could only drive short-term results, and that over time, it would burn out the organization’s people and increase turnover, and what is often left in their path is moral deflation and destruction. 

On the other hand, resonant leadership styles, such as visionary, coaching, affiliative and democratic styles, provided leaders with more tools in their leadership toolbox. These methods can create emotional contagion and resonance with a group, and have a positive lasting effect on organizational culture.

A new context of what it means to be a boss

Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” —  Simon Sinek, author and inspirational speaker

Simple approaches to becoming a more resonant leader:

  • Recognize that your No. 1 job as a boss is to look out for your people, build relationships and trust. Effective work relationships in emergency services are about trust and mutual respect. 
  • Assume the best in others and avoid jumping to conclusions. There is always more to the story than we know. We can often be blindsided when our minds jump to conclusions and shifting to a learning mindset can be a helpful strategy.
  • Respond or reflect, just don't react. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychologist, and Holocaust survivor said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
  • Bring authentic listening to your interactions with others. Set aside the distractions and focus intently on your conversations. Emails, phone calls and to-do lists can often wait. You’ll be surprised by the power of listening and how it can transform your conversations with others.
  • Praise publicly and correct privately. Acknowledgement and appreciation cost you nothing and can mean a world of difference to others. Corrective feedback, if delivered in front of others, is a sign of insecurity. It should only be reserved for moments of imminent safety concerns. 
  • Commit to always learning and growing yourself and your team. It's about progress, not perfection. 

A call to action for organizational leaders:

Organizations have dedicated budget lines for vehicle maintenance, stretcher repairs and monitor replacement, but where is the "people maintenance" budget? Often, we overlook our most important asset to invest in and protect – our people. Take a look at your organization’s training and budget. Do they reflect a commitment to the development of your people?

In order to have a sustainable organization, it is necessary to build a bench of future leaders, and not to wait until someone has been promoted before the organization invests in their growth and development.


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