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Updated Oct 23, 2023

6 Signs You’ve Got a Good Boss

Appreciate your good boss, and learn the skills you should develop to become an excellent leader.

Linda Pophal portrait
Linda Pophal, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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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.  

Did You Know?Did you know
Good bosses hire employees who will be team assets, ensuring everyone shares the same work ethic and outlook.

What are the traits of a good boss?

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.  

1. A good boss is intellectually honest.

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.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Good leaders evaluate and track employee performance and provide quality feedback about employees' growth.

2. A good boss is self-aware.

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. 

3. A good boss is open-minded.

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.

Open-minded bosses surround themselves with team members who have their own creative thoughts and ideas. They have no problem apologizing at work and listening to employees when making decisions. 

4. A good boss is adept at talent development.

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

5. A good boss is an effective delegator. 

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.  

The best online project management software makes it easier to delegate and track deadlines without micromanaging your employees.

6. A good boss recognizes their own limitations.

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. 

What are the signs of a bad boss?

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. 

  • Bad bosses are dishonest and untrustworthy. Bad bosses withhold information that may significantly affect employees’ jobs. They’re evasive and even outright dishonest when responding to their team’s needs and questions. They aren’t clear about their expectations and don’t provide honest feedback, so employees never know where they stand.
  • Bad bosses lack self-awareness. Bad bosses have no clue that their inadequacies foster poor performance among their team members. For example, they don’t realize that their quick temper and dismissiveness stop employees from sharing their opinions and ideas. They view the organization’s failures as everyone’s fault but their own. 
  • Bad bosses are closed-minded. Bad bosses aren’t interested in others’ opinions, especially when they differ from their own. They don’t seek input and new information; when faced with data contrary to their beliefs, they dismiss it.
  • Bad bosses fail to develop talent. Bad bosses don’t develop the talent around them because they tend to be jealous of people with traits and abilities they don’t possess. They don’t provide employees with development feedback or opportunities. In some cases, they may even sabotage their team’s success. 
  • Bad bosses don’t delegate. Bad bosses believe they’re the only ones capable of performing specific tasks. They may also fear that giving up responsibilities will reveal their shortcomings. They keep their team members busy with less-creative tasks. With no opportunity to learn new skills and gain new responsibilities, their team may experience employee burnout
  • Bad bosses don’t recognize their limitations. Ultimately, bad bosses don’t acknowledge their shortcomings or the impact of those limitations on their team and the overall organization, but their employees will notice those weaknesses.
Did You Know?Did you know
Signs that you're a bad boss include overworking your best employees, not rewarding good work and taking all the credit for your team's accomplishments.

Commit to being a good 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. 

Linda Pophal portrait
Linda Pophal, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Linda Pophal is a small business owner and human resources expert with SHRM-SCP and SPHR credentials. Pophal began her career in communications, helping businesses with internal and external communication objectives, marketing initiatives, branding needs, PR and crisis management. She went on to spend nearly two decades teaching business-related topics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before founding her own strategic communications firm. In addition to her HR accreditations, Pophal was named a Professional Certified Marketer by the American Marketing Association and an Accredited Business Communicator by the International Association of Business Communicators. She has published multiple books, including "The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Strategic Planning." Her work is regularly featured on the SHRM blog, HR Daily Advisor, SAP Viewpoints, CRM Magazine and other outlets.
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