What Does It Mean to Be a Cool Boss?

I’m constantly reading about and interacting with business leaders who’ve installed arcade games in their office spaces, host happy hours every Friday and have gone out of their way to encourage team members to be the best they can be through continuing education. The feedback from clients and employees alike is always the same: “Wow, what a cool boss!”

So I set out to identify what it means to be cool. How can leaders become cool? What is being a cool boss about, and how can these special skills apply in the workplace?

When I was first introduced to the concept of “cool,” it was as a kid watching primetime TV in the late 1970s. There was one character in particular who was the embodiment of cool.

In case you missed out, the show was Happy Days and the coolest guy on TV was Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli or “Fonzie,” played by the great Henry Winkler. From a 6-year-old boy’s perspective, he had it all. Fonzie commanded respect, was seemingly invincible and got immediate results when he snapped his fingers (it also helped that he rode a motorcycle). The thumbs up emoji was derived from The Fonz’s signature salutation.

For research’s sake (of course), I was watching Happy Days and noticed some different things about my touchstone of cool that I didn’t really pick up on as a kid:

  • It wasn’t just that Fonzie was strong or tough-minded, but that he always used that strength to stand up for folks who needed help. If a rival gang was threatening his friend Ralph or Potsie, The Fonz would show up just in time to intervene and squash the drama. If Joanie was upset, he wouldn’t let it go unrecognized without a hug and some kind words of encouragement. The Fonz cared deeply about his friends and family, and they knew it.
  • It wasn’t just that he was a result-oriented leader; he also mentored Richie to be the same. Sure, he could have lived out behind the Cunningham house and stayed out of Richie’s life, but for some reason he derived real satisfaction from seeing him grow and become more assertive in his own right.
  • And it wasn’t just that he was the coolest guy in Milwaukee, but he also shared love and emotion with every elder on the show: Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham, Al at the diner and more than anyone else, his mom. Could such a powerful figure also be vulnerable and humble?

So here’s the challenge: What can you do as a leader to emulate Arthur Fonzarelli and enhance your level of leadership cool?

1. Stop talking and do something.

It’s as simple as looking for ways to engage your team. Ask questions to find out who needs help or feedback, and then do something with that info. Write a note. Schedule a lunch. Give a damn. Your team wants to follow a leader worth following.

2. Select someone to mentor.

A popular image features a CFO asking a CEO, “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?” The CEO responds, “What happens if we don’t and they stay?” There’s a lesson to be learned there. Trust that your investment will breed loyalty and know that it will ignite your recruiting. Once the word gets out that you are changing the lives of team members, your bench will fill up quickly.

3. Open up.

As a coach, I intentionally look for ways that leaders can demonstrate their own vulnerability and let their employees see behind the curtain. Invariably, it lets the team know that behind that CEO or owner title, there is an actual person who is subject to the same pressures and stresses that they feel, only magnified 10 times. It’s a huge bonding opportunity.

4. Get a motorcycle.

OK, fine. This one was selfishly for my wife’s consideration. Forgive me.

If you choose to implement one (or all) of these ideas into your everyday routine, you will boost morale, increase productivity and yield higher profits. The Fonz would be proud. And what could be cooler than that?

“Aaaaayyyyyyyyy” (Thumbs up!)

-JT Terrell

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