Monday, November 23, 2009

What Makes a Good Boss…and What Doesn’t?

What Makes a Good Boss…and What Doesn’t?

I was joking with a good friend and colleague about bosses the other day and it got me to thinking, what does it take to be a good boss and then again, what doesn’t. We’ve all worked for that boss that we would follow to the ends of the earth (or hopefully have had that experience), but too many times throughout our career we will unfortunately work for that person who makes us hate to get up out of bed and go to work. So, I gave some thought about my bosses over the years and have tried to determine, what made the great ones great and the others not so great.

The Micro-Manager

When you’re right out of school, maybe there is a place for the micro-manager, but for the rest of us, it’s just down right annoying. As a manager, you have to learn to communicate what you need to your employees and give them the leeway to come up with the solution. Isn’t that what managing is all about – getting away from doing and helping others to grow and assume responsibility? If you find you are in your employees’ shorts constantly, then maybe you need to re-think whether you are really management material. Even though you are responsible for what your employees are doing, that does not translate to knowing every detail or being involved in every decision.

The Witchy Woman

Sometimes (not always), women tend to overcompensate their position of power as a manager and can make for a most unpleasant working environment. Leave the evil Witchy Woman thing to the Eagles and embrace your womanhood by showing what we do best – compassion, empathy and organization. If your employees think you are always PMSing, you will be mostly out of the loop because employees, both men and women, will just go out of their way to avoid you. If you do have a hormonal imbalance, find a good gynecologist and leave it out of the workplace!

Know Every Name, Even Those of Significant Others

A long time ago, I worked for someone who was having the entire office to his house for a celebration. Not only was it cool this person thought enough of his employees to open up his house to us, but what was really impressive was that he took the time to learn the name of every spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend or significant other of his employees so he could greet every single person by name when they came. Now, I’m not saying you have to have your employees over for dinner, but it does make employees feel special when your boss knows your name and knows something about you personally. Although some employees are private, take the time to get to know your employees on both a personal and professional level.

Laugh Often and Hard

Work is stressful enough, that good managers find a way to make a pleasant environment for their employees. Make sure your employees know it is OK to laugh and have fun and make sure you laugh right along with them (keeping it respectful of course). The best bosses I remember were those that were fun to work for, despite that I probably worked harder and more hours with less pay than under the others. A good laugh can carry employees through a lot of stressful situations. People generally spend more waking hours at work than with their families, and will work harder and do more quality work if they actually like where they work and who they work for.

Be Visible

Bosses who tend to hide in their office or who are never seen by employees, rarely make it to the good boss list. Some of the most successful companies have bosses who sit in a cubicle right in the middle of the office or who take the time to actually go around in a truck with the delivery person. If you’re an absentee boss, you will be out of touch and you will tend to make bad decisions because you will have no pulse as to what is really going on with your employees who are actually doing the work for you. Your employees will think you have no clue and they’ll probably be right.


Good bosses are generally good communicators - those that can deliver the bad messages just as well as goals for their department. Even if the message is really bad, like there will be no raises or bonuses, the best bosses take the time to explain why and didn’t just say “be happy you have a job”. Unfortunately, more times than not, managers don’t feel the need to communicate an explanation for their actions, which leads to distrust and disloyalty with employees.

Reward and Recognize

Employees know as a manager you have limited or no funds these days for raises, bonuses or monetary rewards, but that does not say, that employees don’t need some recognition for a job well done. The best bosses I’ve had always said thank you, if didn’t find a way to show some small token of appreciation occasionally. Getting flowers from your boss for a job well-done stands out much more than your last raise. I once had a boss who sent me a package of bacon with a personal note that said, “Thanks for bringing home the bacon”. As corny as it was, just that he went out of his way to recognize an achievement in an original manner sent a strong message and made it memorable (not to mention gave me a really good laugh).

Eliminate the Bad Seeds

Being the boss, means sometimes you need to address poor performance. If an employee is not performing, of course you need to provide guidance as to what they need to do to get their performance up to par, but in the event that things haven’t changed despite giving them a chance, the best bosses don’t drag out firing a bad seed. There is nothing worse than people watching others get away with absenteeism, poor quality, or web surfing to take a team down. When the time comes, the best bosses act professionally and with empathy, but address the situation quickly for the good of the whole.

Coach & Mentor

The best bosses I can remember treated everyone respectfully and made you feel like they cared about you. Now, I might never know if they really cared about me or not, but I at least felt like they cared about me as not only a person, but cared about my career. They did not just hand me a bunch of goals and handle my performance review (or have me handle my own), but they actually coached me in how to advance or what I needed to do to reach the next level. They also would touch base outside the formal review process to see how things were progressing or to give me that little push I needed to stay on track. Their door was always open.

Fire Creators

There are enough true emergencies that come up during work that need to be addressed, but there is nothing worse as an employee than when your boss is creating the emergency. You all know what I’m talking about when you get an email from your boss that says “I need this right away” and you see in the email stream that your boss has been sitting on it for weeks. The best bosses are respectful of people’s time and give them reasonable advanced warning of the extra assignments they need to fit into their schedules. Although people will be tolerant when these things pop up once in a while, chances are, you will not get what you want when you need it, if you make a habit of dropping too many last minute assignments on your employees.

Always Respond

If an employee asks you a question, always respond. We all have too much email traffic, but a good manager always takes the time to respond to each and every employee email, phonemail or question. Even if you don’t know the answer, either find out or direct them to the right place and give them some idea when you can get back to them. Nothing is more demotivating than feeling your boss ignores you.

Admit When You’re Wrong

You might be the boss, but that doesn’t mean you are always right. The best bosses I’ve had were willing to listen to what I had to say and were humble enough to admit when they were wrong. Or, at least took the time explain their point of view.

What’s Your Epitaph?

There have been thousands of books written on management and leadership and countless employee surveys administered. At the top of the list of why employees like their job or not, want to leave their job or not, are motivated to perform well or not, consistently centers around whether they like their boss and think they are a good manager. It has always surprised me that companies do not do more to help their managers be better managers.

One way I like to think about being a boss is what would your employees put on your epitaph when you’re gone? Will it say “Worst Boss Ever” or will it say something you actually want to be remembered as?

OK, I’ve gotten the conversation started, what else makes a good or bad boss?

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