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How to Be a Good Boss

This article was written by in Career and Work. 18 comments.


Bad bosses come in many flavors, and they’re usually easy to identify. There was the workaholic who worked in the office until 3:00 AM every night, falling asleep as his desk, and expects everyone else to stay, as well. There was the micro-manager who didn’t communicate with his employees. There was the director who delegated responsibility without delegating authority. There was the manager who always had inappropriate comments ready to go.

Joe Goltz, an owner of five small businesses in Chicago, offers ten suggestions for assessing whether a boss is good:

1. Are you a screamer? Some good bosses are “passionate,” but screaming does not automatically make someone a good boss. Leadership through fear may work for a short time, but listening is a much better trait for effective communication.

2. Do you provide a respectful environment? Mutual respect is important for a good working environment. There have been times I felt like I was not respected, and at times, it was difficult for me to respect in return the superiors who didn’t respect me.

3. Do you provide adequate training and tools? I understand, especially in large companies, that any individual’s particular boss may have her hands tied by the corporation. I’ve worked in divisions where there was no money for training and tools. I don’t think that’s an excuse though. Training doesn’t have to come from an expensive seminar.

4. Do you provide positive reinforcement? Some bosses don’t want to give positive reinforcement because it provides their opportunities with proof that they deserve a higher salary or a larger bonus.

5. Do you have pay scales and raise reviews? More often, an employee’s pay is dictated by none other than their negotiating ability. It pays to practice and become an expert at negotiation. Without some kind of pay scale, employees might feel there is more inequity in salaries. That’s possible even with a pay scale if it isn’t specific enough. Raise reviews should be separate from performance reviews, but most bosses combine these feedback meetings.

6. Are you good at motivation? Motivation is tricky because, according to business psychologists, every individual has different motivating factors. This leads to compensation in forms other than money, like the employee recognition program at a former employer that allowed a monthly winner, chosen at random from a list of recognized employees that month, choose a gift from a catalog. This perceived choice might have come recommended by business psychologists, but every individual would have rather received money or a day off. Motivation comes in forms other than rewards, and motivation through communication is a key to being a good leader.

7. Do you offer support during a difficult time? Do be a good boss, you should care about your employees on a personal level. It may be impossible to know every detail about a person’s life, but since people spend almost all their waking life in the office, employees are much more willing to perform their best if they believe someone in the office cares about them.

8. Do you provide opportunity for people who have accepted responsibility, have done an excellent job and have shown the desire to move up? There’s nothing more frustrating than doing great work expected of someone in a position or two higher, and watching all recognition go to the individual who is a better buddy with the boss.

9. Do you offer leadership? This is a bit vague; all of the suggestions above exemplify leadership to an extent. Be a good example of the type of employee you would like others to be.

10. Are you effective? Your effectiveness as a boss is measured by how your employees perform for and with you. It may be hard to measure; some employees will be successful regardless of who is in charge. If you’re the boss in a small company, the company’s performance is partly a result of your effectiveness, but that might not be as true for bosses within larger corporations.

CNN highlights more differences between good bosses and bad bosses. A good boss accepts that he might not be right all the time and expects the job to be difficult, while a bad boss exudes confidence in his performance at all times, expecting the job to be easy and for his decisions to be right at all times. A bad boss gives orders, while a good boss brings order to what the employees do.

Are you a good boss? What makes you good? Have you ever had a bad boss, and what were his or her worst traits?

New York Times, CNN

Published or updated February 15, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Cindy Dyer

“Some bosses don’t want to give positive reinforcement because it provides their opportunities with proof that they deserve a higher salary or a larger bonus.”

Those bosses are silly. Positive reinforcement, if done in a meaningful way, can make employees just as satisfied as a raise. If you’re paying your employees anything near what they’re worth, they’ll just work harder for you knowing you appreciate them.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

I had a boss who was so inappropriate and would flirt with a male employee openly. This boss was also very incompetent in reinforcing the workplace rules and this allowed a couple of my co-workers doing a half ass job most of the time with no consequences.

I recently had a boss who was very supportive, knowledgeable, and positive. What a different it makes to your job morale when you have a boss that is actually a good boss.

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avatar tmgbooks

Something, I think, missing off your list is: Know Yourself!

In every job I had, I was promoted to a supervisory position. I never felt comfortable “bossing” people around, even though I knew it came with the job and I worked hard to be “good” at it.

But people often get promoted into boss jobs for all the wrong reasons and accept those jobs, mostly, for the money. But very few of us, I think, have the complete skill set or temperament to be the boss. And it is usually fairly apparent in the workplace.

Once I achieved financial independence, I left my last job as the Director of Administrative Services at a government agency. I supervised the heads of IT, Contracting, Logistics, Industrial Hygiene, and I was the HR Director, myself.

Then I quit and the next day it was just me in my home office marketing books and building my coaching practice; no employees, no meetings, no schedule, no alarm clock! It is hard to describe, really, it was like a weight I had borne well, but that was a weight nonetheless, had been lifted!

I think those who I supervised would say I had been an OK boss but they could sense my heart wasn’t in it; some would probably judge me more harshly; which I understand because some of us will always judge our supervisor like that.

And being the boss is like being a cop, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it; sometimes, though, it seems like the wrong people step up to the plate and for all the wrong reasons!

Anyway, what I’m saying is that wanting to be the boss is not enough, money might be a reason to take the job, but it is not the best reason — not for the people you supervise and not for yourself.

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avatar Shellye

The positive reinforcement comment made me chuckle; my boss doesn’t give any positive reinforcement to anyone for the very reason you state – because then we actually might think we are good enough to deserve a raise. What convoluted thinking…but very true!

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avatar Ridwan ♦295 (Nickel)

Amen on #3. Nothing riles me more than a manager who gets mad at employees for not doing things the exact way he wants, but provides no training or support to help you understand what that way even is.

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avatar Apex ♦478 (Nickel)

Rule #1 sounds strange to me.

“Some good bosses are “passionate,” but screaming does not automatically make someone a good boss.”

so is this to be read that screaming usually makes one a good boss but not always? Cause that’s the way it sounds to me.

I have been around screaming bosses and usually its an indication of a bad boss. The only positive instances of screaming I can think of is when someone (especially a third party vendor or something like that), is being totally unreasonable, doing a really bad job, or treating employees unfairly and the boss yells at the vendor to make it clear that behavior will not be tolerated and they better get their act together. Other than that, I would say screaming is a sign of a boss child.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

my current boss could not be better, and i can not tell you the difference in makes even on a day to day basis. my only complaint is more with the structure of the company than my boss. (your #5). we are to have regular performance reviews, but they seem to always occur at a later date than stated.

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avatar Jenna

Why isn’t: Do you listen? on this list? Seems like the best bosses make themselves accessible and are willing to take feedback from their employees, both on a personal level to hearing about issues, disputes or praise or suggestions.

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avatar The Passive Income Earner

A good boss is someone that can get the employees to perform at their best regularly and to do so, you need to handle all employees in their unique way. There is no one glove fit all. I will echo what Jenna said that you need to and understand what motivates them.

I am not a regular watcher of the show ‘Undercover Boss’ but the few times I caught it, I found that the bosses were listening to complaints and came out better in the need. These are really the top bosses as opposed to manager but still, if you listen and put the concern into context, usually you get better results.

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

The reason I am still at my job is because my boss is so amazing. I only work part time but am paid extremely well, am highly valued & respected at my job. It is nice to work at a place that does motivate & reinforce positive affirmation. I think if you treat your employees the way a good boss should, it is easily reflected to the customers and the business reputation spreads quickly. I know I like to participate in businesses that treat their employees well.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦95 (Newbie)

As a single mom I had a boss who gave me extra work, more than any of the other clerks were expected to do. I can’t prove it but I swear it was because he knew I was desperate to keep the job. (I was supporting a baby with no help from anybody.)
When I came back in from lunch, he would turn and look at the clock — and I always flinched, even though I never stretched past the 30-minute allotment. I wonder if he did that to all the clerks, or just to me?
What it did was make me even more anxious to please. I knew that any time he wanted he could cut me to 15 hours a week and give more hours to someone else. He had total freedom over scheduling.

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avatar tmgbooks

Donna, your comments speaks to the need we all have to diversify our income.

Diversification is widely touted as a sound financial INVESTMENT strategy but I think it is even more important as an INCOME strategy!

When 100% of your income comes from a single source, your financial viability is definitely not as secure as it would be if you had more than one source.

Ideally, your total income would be comprised of five income streams no single stream representing more than 20% of your total income.

If that had been the case in the situation you describe, you would not have had to put up with what you had to put up with — no one should be treated like that!

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦95 (Newbie)

@TMGBooks: I agree! But this was 1979, before income diversification was widely known. And I was a naive 21-year-old with no college degree who was grateful for ANY job.
Live and learn.

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avatar rewards ♦31 (Newbie)

“Bad boss”ing also includes giving too much responsibility to someone before they’re ready. I’ve seen that happen with well intentioned bosses.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

My manager is intimidating but he’s incredibly knowledgeable. He answers a lot of my questions extremely well.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

At my new job, my bosses are pretty understanding. They’ve already told us, “someday, you will get burnt out and we’ll do our best to help from getting you that way and we’ll try to help you get over that part.” My managers have been extremely patient when I ask a question about something relatively simple that just needs a clarification and will listen patiently while I have something more complex. I’ve had some bad bosses who have ridiculous expectations.

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avatar dawgette ♦199 (Cent)

I have been blessed to have a “Good Boss” that I learned alot from and was my mentor.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

My boss is secretative. Everything is kept like a big secret. When we were expressing concern since we had not heard from a coworker on a particular day we later discovered that he was in the hospital and boss knew but told no one. He also gives no direction or reinforcements to anyone. Concerning the personal aspect I believe that my business is my business and I am not going to put it out there at work. Only time I tell my coworkers, who love to gossip, anything is in the event of a death or something they cannot fail to notice. I have came to believe that the less that anyone knows of my personal life the better it is.

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