If you’ve ever had a truly great boss, you’ll be more than aware of the incredible difference it can make to both your day-to-day working environment and your wider career.
Just as an all-star teacher can transform a disinterested, C-level student into a grade-getting machine, so an inspired and inspiring boss can turn your career from a trudge into a triumph.
The sad fact is though, many if not most employees will rarely have a chance to experience this for themselves.
Here’s 8 classic characteristics of a great boss you should be on the lookout for throughout your career to avoid that sorry fate.
- They never settle for second best
A truly inspiring leader always demands the best; from their employees and – most importantly – themselves. You’ll recognise this instantly when you’re working for one. Standards are set high and stay there and everyone is on board with the fact that quality is job one.
- They embrace the potential of uncertainty
A good manager knows that the road ahead will not always be smooth for them or their team. Experience has taught them to welcome that uncertainty and extract opportunity from it as often as possible. Rather than panicking when a plan starts to veer off course, they’re prepared to tack with the wind and adjust to stay on target. They’re also fully aware that short-term problems usually point the way to low-hanging future performance gains if handled correctly.
- They’re not afraid to show some emotion
Emotion is at the heart of true leadership. It’s virtually impossible to get people on board with your plans unless you show some actual passion along the way. There’s no better illustration I can think of in this regard than Tony Robbins’ extraordinary exchange with Al Gore during his famous TED talk. The whole presentation is worth watching and things with Al kick off around the five minute mark. I won’t spoil the surprise but it’s a mini-masterclass in the power of emotional connection.
- They never throw team members under the bus
When the proverbial hits the fan, it’s all too easy for bosses to take cover behind their teams – sadly shaking their heads at the obvious incompetence that has led to whatever the current sorry state of affairs is. Real leaders know that the buck stops with them, not their team. If something has gone wrong, they are the ones who have to pick up the tab. There is a time and a place for post-mortems of course but that time and place is after the dust has settled and behind closed doors.
- They’ve paid their dues
Few sights are more dispiriting in the modern workplace than watching a freshly-minted, twenty-two year old graduate of a top MBA school telling a software engineer with over twenty years experience how to do his or her job. This isn’t to say that younger workers can’t manage teams of course. Quite the contrary!
An effective leader knows though that dues have to be paid along the way and experience is something that can’t be bought. They’re prepared to work as hard as anyone on the team to earn that experience.
- They lead with authority rather than ruling by fear
A good boss exhibits a calm sense of command that inspires team members to do their best rather than abusing their position to bully out results. Fear-based environments can produce short-term results but the inevitable cost is huge staff turnover and low morale. Good bosses have zero interest in such short-term thinking. They’re in it for the long haul.
- They’re driven by an idea bigger than themselves
A sense of mission is at the heart of truly great leadership across all levels of the management continuum. You should get the sense from your boss that you’re all working towards some kind of greater purpose. Now your firm might not be building a drone army to revolutionise retail or about to save mankind from its own folly with a breakthrough energy solution, but there should still be some kind of bigger picture to aim at in order to inspire the team. A good boss understands that bigger picture, is intrinsically motivated by it and shares that passion with their co-workers.
They’re not afraid to put it all on the line
There will be times in every manager’s career when they have to take chances. Shakespeare summed it all up beautifully hundreds of years ago:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
– Julius Caesar Act 4, Acene 3, 218–224.
Good bosses know when it’s time to speculate to have a chance of catching that wave and aren’t afraid to go all-in if the situation demands it.
The characteristics above aren’t the only ones that define a great boss of course. Nor should you necessarily expect to find them all being exhibited at once.
They’re all marvellous traits to look out for though and if you spot them in your own boss it’s a great sign that you’ve found yourself on a good ship and it’s worth staying on board.