A former Google exec has some counterintuitive advice for anyone who wants to be a good boss

Lexi Reese

  • A boss should
    warn employees that, at some point, they’ll mess something up —
    and it’s the employees’ job to call them out on it.
  • That’s according to Gusto COO Lexi Reese.
  • Reese also encourages managers to cut themselves some
    slack, letting their team know when they’re under a lot of pressure
    and may not be the best version of themselves.

We hear a lot about “authentic” leadership and about the
importance of establishing trust in the workplace.

Yet these concepts can easily seem vague, and fluffy, and
somewhat irrelevant to the day-to-day responsibilities of a

Lexi Reese has found a way to make them more actionable. Reese
is the COO of Gusto, which makes
human-resources software for small businesses; she previously held
management roles at Google and American Express.

The best thing a boss can do, according to Reese, is communicate
to their reports the type of leader they aspire to be and then say,
“But I also am human and I’ll probably f—k it up.” Most
importantly, the boss should encourage their reports to let them
know when they’re falling short.

That’s instead of being the kind of boss who pretends they’re
superhuman and never, ever slips up or needs guidance.

Some other execs agree. As Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of
Red Hat, wrote in the Harvard
Business Review
, “I’ve found that leaders who show their
vulnerability, and admit that they are human, foster greater
engagement among their associates.”

Whitehurst offered a personal example: the time when he acquired
a company and marketed their product before it was ready, which
resulted in missing a deadline by more than a year. Whitehurst
admitted to the company and its board of directors that he had been
wrong. He wrote, “Many Red Hatters told me how much they
appreciated that I admitted my mistake. They also appreciated that
I explained how I came to make the decision in the first place.
That earned me their trust.”

Read more:
A former Facebook HR exec says many bosses are too uncomfortable to
ask people a hugely important question

As for Reese, she also encourages bosses to cut themselves some
slack, by telling their team when they’re going to be under
(temporary) pressure and may fall short of the lofty managerial
goals they’ve set for themselves: “I’m not going to be the best
person I can be right now, but could you just go with it?”

Reese said, “If you’ve established enough trust with people, I
think generally speaking, they can handle that. If you haven’t,
then you’re not going to have a great team for very long.”

She added, “As long as you’re consistently trying to do the
right thing and you don’t cover up when you’ve not done it as well,
then people want to help you fix it.”

expert says there’s only one good time to give your employees
feedback, and it’s not during a performance review

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A former Google exec has some counterintuitive advice for anyone who wants to be a good boss