Characteristics of a Great Boss

Last week I learned a former boss and mentor passed away.  As I thought about my time working with him and read the comments from others I was struck by how most of us said the same things about why we loved working with / for him.  Upon reflection these are characteristics that make great bosses no matter who or where you are. 

Here are the key characteristics that I’ve found in all of the great bosses I’ve had over the years:

  1. Integrity.  Great bosses act with integrity all the time, even the tough times.  You know you can count on them and trust their word.
  2. Support the team.  My favorite bosses have all supported their employees publically, even when they really did not agree with what was done.  They saved the correction for private conversations.
  3. Developed others.  These bosses are more concerned with helping people reach their potential than they are about protecting their turf.  If someone was presented with an opportunity to move elsewhere they were free to go if they wanted to pursue it.
  4. Listened first, then challenge.  When an employee came to them with a problem, great bosses listen to the entire situation before speaking.  When the employee was done explaining a great boss will ask “so what will you do?” or something similar.  They push you to solve your own problems instead of jumping in to fix it.  Advice is offered in lieu of solutions.
  5. Makes connections for the team.  The best bosses help their team see the work they are doing in context of the bigger picture.  This helps people understand why their tasks matter and what is critical to the overall organization.  It creates a sense of belonging and increases engagement.
  6. Firm but fair.  Sometimes people need to hear where they are going wrong and how to improve their performance.  These are tough conversations, but when the manager is fair in his actions and firm in his expectations they get easier to swallow.
  7. Holds everyone accountable.  Along with being fair it is vital that a boss hold everyone accountable for their actions.  This may even mean people outside his direct organization.  Support is needed from others and they need to be accountable along with the team.
  8. Genuinely cares.  Great bosses care about the people they work with on a daily basis and they care about the organization they work in.  This passion will show through in everything they do and inspires those around them to reach higher and dig deeper when needed.

I have been blessed with having had several great bosses over my career.  All of them have shaped who I am today and I hope that I can pass along the lessons I learned from them to others.  This would be the best legacy any of them could ask for. 

What characteristics do you think are required in great bosses?


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Filed under Leadership

4 responses to “Characteristics of a Great Boss

  1. Hi Carol, great list. I had a hard time coming up with something to add to it. Great bosses also take the time to know their team personally. Not too personal, but know there spouse and kids names, what hobbies they like, when their birthday is and such. Being able to take a few minutes a week to shoot the breeze with them about “their life outside of work”. This connection is the icing on the cupcake, it sweetens the relationships.

  2. Carol,

    I’ve also been fortunate to have several wonderful managers. They make work so much better.

    This is a great list! The only other thing that comes to mind is that they lead by example. All of the great managers I’ve had walked the talk and were outstanding employees aside from their ability as a manager.

    • Greg,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this list. You are right about great managers lead by example. It’s part of how they inspire us to dig deep and push through to get things done.


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