10 Traits of the Greatest Boss You Never Had

by Martin Zwilling, Founder & CEO, Startup Professionals

Everyone can recognize a great boss a mile away. So why is it so hard to find one?

We all know a few bosses who are “legends in their own minds,” but that doesn’t do it. In fact, the clue here is that the view in your mind is not the one that matters — rather, it’s the other way around.

Almost everyone in business can remember that one special manager or executive in their career who exemplified the norm, who commanded our respect and who treated us like a friend, even in the toughest of personal or business crises. In commemoration of Boss’s Day on October 16, let’s all tip our hats to that unique and rare businessperson we wish everyone would emulate.

How to Be a Good Boss

I’ve asked many peers for the traits or attributes they saw in that person, and most will list the following positive functional traits of a good boss:

1. Leadership: Shows outstanding skills in guiding team members towards attaining the organization’s goals and the right decisions at the right point of time. As Peter Drucker said, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."

2. Planning and Delegation: Possesses foresight and skills to understand the relevant capabilities of team members, and then schedules tasks and delegates to the right people to get assignments done within deadlines. You are a guide, not a commander.

3. Domain Expert: Demonstrates complete knowledge of his field and is confident about that knowledge, with the common sense to make quick, productive decisions and an ability to think outside the box.

4. Sets Clear Expectations: Employees should always know what is expected of them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to set deliverable milestones for each employee over a set period of time. Then review the performance vs. the roadmap or deliverable at least six months prior to a performance review and discuss ways to improve.

5. Positive Recognition: Immediately recognize team members, publicly or privately, when they complete something successfully or show initiative. Congratulates them on a job well done. Most employees are not motivated by money alone. Good managers know that employees want regular recognition that their job is being done well.

How to Be a Great Boss

In my view, these are all necessary attributes, but they are not sufficient to put you in that great boss category. Most people recognize that it takes more to be great, but the attributes are a bit more esoteric and harder to quantify. Here are a few:

6. Active Listener: Shows traits such as listening with feedback, an optimistic attitude, motivating ability and a concern for people. Listening to what is said — as well as what is not said — is of the utmost importance. It is demoralizing to an employee to be speaking to a supervisor and be interrupted for a phone call. All interruptions should be avoided.

7. Shows Empathy: This refers to the ability to walk in another person's shoes, and to have insight into the thoughts and emotional reactions of individuals faced with change. Empathy requires that you suspend judgment of another's actions or reactions, while you try to understand them and treat them with sensitivity, respect and kindness.

8. Always Honest: Simply put, today’s managers live in glass houses. Everything that a manager does is seen by his employees. If a manager says one thing and does another, employees see it. Managers must be straightforward in all words and actions. A manager must “walk the talk.” That also means recognizing weaknesses, and admitting mistakes.

9. Sense of Humor: People of all ages and cultures respond to humor. The majority of people are able to be amused at something funny and see irony. One of the most frequently cited attractions in great personal relationships is a sense of humor.

10. Keep Their Cool: A great manager is an effective communicator and a composed individual, with a proven tolerance for ambiguity. Great bosses never lose their cool and are able to correct team members without emotional body language or statements.

Whole books are written on this subject, but hopefully you get the picture. Great managers and bosses must do the technical job well — and they also must do the people job very well.

Now that you understand these things, I’m not sure why it is so hard to find a great boss. I guess an even harder question I should ask is: Why is it so hard to be one.

Martin Zwilling is the founder and chief executive officer of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to start-up founders and small business owners. Check out his daily blog or email him.

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