Are you a horrible boss like Henry VIII?

Last week, I went for my first visit to Hampton Court and realized what a poor leader Henry VIII was.

He was self-serving and at times uncommunicative and out of touch with his people. In his later life, he became increasingly paranoid.I was thinking about him as I’m preparing for one of my Leadership Labs in Toronto. I certainly could have coached him to be a better leader.

Granted Henry was the king and everyone had to do his bidding. However, he is remembered more for his wives and their deaths or divorces than being a great leader. We can all learn from Henry’s mistakes.

One of the biggest challenges for any leader is developing the trust of their employees.

Unlike Henry’s court, we don’t literally have the prospect of the guillotine hanging over our heads. But most of us (nearly half according to one survey) do have the experience of working for an unreasonable manager. Among those, most (59%) stayed in their jobs and resolved to live with the situation, much like the people in Henry’s court.

So here are four ways I would have coached Henry.

Speak and act with consistency

Employees look for management inconsistencies. So do what you tell employees you will do. Inconsistent words and actions create an impression of unpredictability. Henry was a devout Catholic until it no longer served his purposes to the great distress of all the religious people in the wake of his decision.

Share your vision

It’s not enough to just be optimistic. It’s better to give your team something to be optimistic about. Share with employees your big-picture goals for them and the department. And constantly reiterate what it will take for both to be successful. Henry shared his vision of wanting an heir, no matter what the costs.

Involve employees in decision-making

Employees tend to trust managers who value input from subordinates. Create an environment in which employees feel free to voice their opinions. Listen patiently to employees and implement suggestions that increase efficiency and productivity. Henry had trusted advisors, Wolsey and Cromwell. Again they were part of Henry’s inner circle until they disagreed with him and met their demise.

Criticize privately

Allow employees to make mistakes without being humiliated. Offer constructive criticism in one-on-one meetings, not in front of others. Otherwise, employees may feel vulnerable to receiving criticism any time in any setting. And we all know the endings of many of Henry’s criticisms!

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