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What makes a good boss?

May 14, 2014

Question: Steve – Can you let the small business bosses out there know that managing people is as important as managing their business? We employees want to help, but it’s tough when we are not treated well.

Answer: What makes for a good boss? Like any of you, over the years I had good bosses and bad bosses (until I realized that I don’t do well with bosses altogether and went off on my own, but that’s a different story.) When I was a teen, I had a boss who made me work for free for a week as “training.” As a young lawyer, I once had a boss who gave me an assignment that should have taken, literally, a month, and wanted it done in two days.

Other bosses were great. The best ones made me a better employee, and person. They challenged me to step up my game.

One thing I know is that bosses are like that Mother Goose girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When they are good, they are very, very good. But when they are bad, they are horrid.

A ‘Gen Y’ employee I know recently relayed the following story to me: “My new boss recently sat me down and asked me a question no employer had ever asked me before, ‘So where do you want to be in 5 years, and how can I help you get there?’ Say what? It was the first time any employer had asked me about my goals and dreams post-interview. The question actually threw me off.”

This then led to an ongoing conversation about bosses. Most people had had some good bosses over the years:

  • “I had a boss who made constructive criticism sound like encouragement. She was awesome. A good, honest communicator, she really listened, was approachable, but still obviously in charge.”
  • “My best boss taught me how to value myself and personal goals in the workplace in conjunction with (and not at the expense of) institutional goals. She was also open to creative solutions. And she laughed. A lot.”
  • “My favorite boss showed a genuine respect my work. Zero micromanaging.”

And of course there were bad bosses too. Generally speaking, according to employees, bad bosses

  • Make private issues public
  • Take credit for other people’s work
  • Don’t listen well
  • Don’t really know how to manage people
  • Have unrealistic expectations
  • Work their employees too hard
  • Don’t reward a job well done

But here’s the thing: If you are in charge, it is incumbent upon you to rise up to the challenge of the position. Know that not only are you running a business, but how you run it affects your life, and that of your employees.

A quote by Richard Branson highlights what should be the essential goal for a good boss, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Here are a few tips on what it takes to be a good boss:

1. Know your employees. What are they good at? What do they like to do, and what do they not like to do? Where do they want to go and what do they want to learn? Knowing what an employee cares about, what he or she excels in, and where they are headed works to everyone’s advantage.

2. Challenge them. Most employees like to be challenged, so challenge them. Offer advice and criticism, and say congratulations on a job well done.

3. Communicate: Make sure to have one-on-one meetings with your employees. Depending on your business and employee, this can be once a week, once a month, and so on. Check in with them about current projects, what they would like to be working on, and what they need to work on. Knowing a boss cares about an employees job provides the employee incentive to work harder. It’s a win­-win.

4. Be aware of office dynamics. Office politics are a fact, but they need to be managed and kept to a minimum.

5. Listen: Your employees know more than you think they do. What do they have to say about your customer relations, about your products and inventory? What is working, and what is not? Listening not only helps you know your business better, but it makes employees feel appreciated.

Have you had a good boss, or are you a boss? Share your experiences and tips with us.

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