What makes a great boss – GREAT?

Donn Carr

Great bosses are hard to come by as most companies today are spending so little time grooming them in the art of leadership. Instead they are busy creating task managers. I don’t know about you, but I have had far too many task managers in my lifetime and I don’t care to ever see another. If you are lucky, at least once in your lifetime you have had a great boss. You know the one, the one you just loved working for. The one who constantly challenged you to do more than you thought you could. The one who would let you try your own ideas and even fail, then coach you through what you could have done differently. The one who made you feel important.

Check your own style against these talents of proven great and successful bosses and see how you stack up.

Are you a GREAT boss, or just a so-so one?

They trust their employees. Great bosses hire for intelligence, integrity, and for an “I can do it attitude” over experience. A skill can be taught. The character of a person cannot. Great bosses seek to surround themselves with people who can be counted on time and time again.

They are clear communicators. Great bosses understand the value of communicating their goals and ideas while seeking input of the employees. Great bosses are not ambiguous and you will always know where you stand with them. Great bosses never assume you understood what was said, they check for clarity of understanding because they want you to succeed. Great bosses take responsibility for their ability to communicate clearly their needs, and never place the fault on the employee.

They are consistent. I cannot speak enough about the importance of consistency on the part of a boss. A great boss is consistent. You always know how they will respond and what you can count on from them. They are not moody, wishy-washy, emotionally up today but depressed tomorrow.

They let employees make mistakes, but not fail.  Mistakes will always happen at any level; that is how we grow. It is important for employees to know it is not the end of the world if they make a mistake or if an idea doesn’t work out. Once they understand that making a mistake is not career ending, their confidence and willingness to contribute increases immediately. The employee must never be afraid to tell you when they make a mistake out of fear of reprisal. It only drives them underground and will make the situation worse once it is discovered. The great boss reviews what happened and helps the employee find out what they did wrong and what they should do next time.

They understand the work.  It is much easier to be a great boss if you understand the work your employees are doing. Take the time to really know the workload and demands of each position. If you understand the pitfalls of each, you can better manage them as they occur or prevent them altogether. There is a reason so many companies require their managers to first work at the lowest profile roles and work their way up. Only then can a boss really guide others to success.

They are self-aware. The best bosses are in tune with what it feels like to work for them. Great bosses are aware of the environment they create for their workers and have a good idea of their own weaknesses and strengths and as a result, are better able to mitigate stress and other workplace issues. They frequently ask their team how they feel they are being managed, or if there were a different way they would like to be managed.

They manage bottom up - NOT top down. Great managers understand the most effective way to manage is from the bottom up and not from the top down. Just because you happen to be the boss, the owner, etc., it does not mean you have all of the right answers. Chances are you are clueless on a great many issues because you are no longer where the action and interaction with others takes place. You are in your office. Learn to listen. Learn to invite ideas from the lowest level and find ways to put them to use. Stop being "The Boss". There is a reason the word 'boss" is full of negative emotions. No one I know wants to be "bossed" around. Stop and listen - you just may learn something.

They believe in development. A great boss will spend as much time and energy as possible to train the team members in all facets of the business. They understand the value of a well-trained employee. The employee in turn appreciates that you, as the boss, think highly enough of them to provide the additional training.

I hear it far too often, a boss will complain that he doesn't want to provide additional training for members of the team due to fear that once they are trained they will leave for another company. The wise boss is not afraid of losing an employee to competition. Your employees are your most valuable assets in your company. Treat them that way and losing them to competition will never become a reality.

They stand up for their employees. A great leader will often take the shot for their employees rather than throw them under the bus when things go badly. Employees know that the boss will always advocate for them. They know you will be honest and will provide meaningful work for them, and a safe environment.  They understand that you subscribe to the motto “The buck stops here” and will take responsibility of issues rather than point a finger down line.

The great boss understands clearly that “People work for people. People do not work for businesses.” – Donn Carr

Reprinted with the permission of Donn Carr, Principal Partner and founder of the Carr Management Group. A well-respected, international authority in retail, the shopping center industry, and customer service. He has been teaching business owners of all walks of life for over 24 years and is a much sought after speaker.


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