With so much of our time spent at work, leadership matters. Good bosses improve employee morale, boost productivity, and create a work environment that minimizes workplace stress, fosters positive workplace attitudes and reduces employee turnover.
Unfortunately, not all bosses are good bosses. But even subpar bosses can improve their leadership skills and work toward becoming excellent managers. We’ll examine six traits of good bosses, as well as the bad-boss qualities you should recognize and address.
You may know you’re in the presence of an excellent leader without understanding precisely what makes them so good at their job. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor of management at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, has studied outstanding leadership and understands its underlying factors.
“Some things are kind of obvious when it comes to leadership,” Finkelstein said. “You have to be a great communicator, have very high integrity, and have tremendous perseverance and stamina.”
While communication, integrity and perseverance are foundational elements of good bosses, Finkelstein said truly transformative leaders have additional, intangible qualities. Here are the six signs you’re dealing with a great boss.
Good bosses are honest leaders. They don’t try to sugarcoat the reality of the situations they face, internally or externally. They confront challenges and barriers openly and are straightforward with the people around them.
This approach isn’t easy, and many leaders have failed to act with intellectual honesty. For example, Kodak didn’t recognize the reality of a changing business environment, including technology’s impact and shifting consumer demands.
Intellectually honest leaders also are transparent with their teams. They don’t cover up impending issues that could affect employees, such as new competitors, sliding sales and impending layoffs. They set clear expectations and don’t let poor performance go unnoticed or unaddressed.
When leaders make decisions, they must understand their implicit biases and preferences. Self-awareness is the ability to see your own motives, behaviors and actions clearly. Self-aware leaders are less likely to be impaired by clouded judgment. They can be more objective and make the best decisions for the entire organization.
Self-aware bosses understand their strengths and weaknesses. They recognize how their actions, words and behaviors affect others positively and negatively, and they move forward carefully and thoughtfully.
The “my way or the highway” approach to leadership damages employees and organizations. Good bosses prioritize diversity and inclusion and know that their success – and that of the organization – depends on input from diverse employees with varied experiences, insights and perspectives.
Effective bosses encourage employee professional development to prepare their team for senior roles. They’re not afraid to hire people who may be seen as smarter than they are. In fact, they want to surround themselves with the brightest and most creative talent possible.
Good bosses recognize their employees’ strengths and find ways to develop their talents through stretch assignments and additional responsibilities. They provide frequent positive feedback and effective constructive criticism.
Great bosses understand the elements of delegation. Delegation frees bosses to deal with tasks and issues requiring their unique expertise while helping staff members learn, grow, and feel trusted and capable.
Delegation requires assigning tasks to the right team members, coaching and supporting them, and holding them accountable for their results.
No matter who you are or what your job is, you can only do so much. We can accomplish more when we don’t assume we’re the only capable ones. Great bosses realize they need others to help with a wide range of tasks and responsibilities.
Great bosses have no problem letting go of assignments others can do better, faster or more effectively. They show enormous respect for their team’s talents, thus fostering dedicated, engaged and loyal employees.
Bad bosses demonstrate various leadership weaknesses that can derail an organization’s performance. Here are some telltale signs you’re dealing with a bad boss.
Becoming a good leader isn’t a goal you achieve overnight. Rather, it’s an ongoing process. “Being a leader takes a lot of work and a lot of effort,” Finkelstein said. “[The] higher up you go, the more work you will have.”
Although there are various leadership types, all good bosses consciously hone key attributes that contribute to a flourishing workplace and happy employees. Fortunately, any boss who develops the self-awareness to seek improvement can develop and strengthen the qualities of an excellent leader.
David Mielach contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.