"My management mantra," Jill Geisler says, "is 'Life's too short to work with jerks.' "
She brings that briskly humane attitude to her new book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. A great boss, she says, is "someone whose priority is helping others succeed, and who actively demonstrates it."
Geisler heads the leadership and management programs of the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times. She will be a featured author at the Times Festival of Reading on Saturday.
Work Happy grew out of a column called "10 Things Great Bosses Know" that she wrote for Poynter's website about three years ago. It went viral, she says, and in order to broaden her audience, she began doing a series of podcasts in January 2010.
"It's a totally unsophisticated system. I record it on my laptop and upload it," she says. The library of podcasts now totals 122 and has had "a mind-boggling 8 million downloads" from iTunes, where it usually ranks in the Top 10 for education podcasts.
Geisler's management background is in journalism. She was named news director of a Milwaukee television station in 1978, when she was 27 — a groundbreaking job for a woman in those days — and held that job for more than two decades. But the podcasts appeal to audiences beyond the news industry, she says. "We've gotten responses from physicians, project managers, IT people, ministers."
At the management seminars she leads, she recommends many books on the subject. But people often asked her for a single book that gathered all those concepts — and so Work Happy was born. Structured in a workshop format, it's aimed both at managers and at those who aspire to move up to that position.
"In tough economic times, training can be the first victim of budgets," Geisler says. "A lot of managers are promoted because they're good at their craft, but managing people is a different skill set. Sometimes it's assumed you will just develop those skills on your own." Work Happy is designed to help readers do that.
Its chapters offer guidance on analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, relating to employees through feedback and coaching, and building a positive, productive workplace. It even touches on "managing up" — how to manage your managers.
One chapter addresses motivating employees, which can be difficult in a down economy. Tight budgets may limit what Geisler calls "extrinsic motivation" such as pay raises, bonuses and perks.
But not finding other ways to motivate may be "the biggest mistake you can make in a tough economy." She discusses four "intrinsic motivations" in Work Happy:
• Competence: "Let people do more of what they're good at, and give them feedback."
• Autonomy: "Many things are taken away from us in the workplace. It's not a democracy. But to the degree that you can, give people control over what they do."
• Sense of purpose: "People may think it's corny or hokey to talk about the meaning of what they do. But if you talk to someone with a job other than your own, I find people really talk about the purpose of their job."
• Progress: "We all want to feel that we're making headway, that we grew and learned something."
There's one more thing managers should remember to motivate workers, Geisler says. "The definition of loyalty has changed. Companies used to want lifers. But when companies fired their lifers, the contract changed.
"Instead of being a paternalistic manager, think of yourself as an agent. Say to that employee, 'I'm going to help you develop a portfolio that will stand you in good stead while you work here or when you go elsewhere. As a boss, I have to accept that you have one eye on the door.' "
It may seem paradoxical, she says, but accepting that lifelong loyalty to an employer is a thing of the past can be the way to create loyal employees — by being the "great boss" whose success is based on helping others succeed.
Geisler has read many thousands of evaluations of managers by their employees, and how a boss rates has little to do with personalities. "The one thing that comes up most often is 'He has my best interests at heart.' "