10 Things Great Bosses Do

Mar 4, 2014
8 Min Read

We hear a lot about bad bosses because they generate so many complaints … but great bosses don’t get a lot of press. But they’re out there, leading teams effectively, producing results, and delighting their employees.

Looking for a way to identify them? Here’s a list of 10 things great bosses do. See how your own manager stacks up – or, if you’re a manager yourself, check how you measure up to this list.

1. Great bosses give feedback – both praise and criticism. They’re clear with employees about what they do well and where they could do better. Employees shouldn't have to wonder how they’re doing or wait until a formal performance assessment to find out; they should be receiving steady, regular feedback throughout the year. And great bosses know that feedback is specific; it’s not just “great job” or “you need to step up your game.” It’s thoughtful, nuanced input that you can actually act on.

2. Great bosses lay out clear expectations. One of a manager’s most important responsibilities is to communicate clear, concrete goals and make sure that staff members know what success in their jobs looks like. They’re also relentless about identifying the most important results for their teams to achieve and focusing on how to get there, and are rigorous about asking, “Is this the best way for us to be spending our time and resources right now?”

3. Great bosses keep the focus on results. They assess people’s performance based on what they’re actually achieving; they’re not overly swayed by whether someone schmoozes with big names over lunch or just keeps quietly to themselves. And to help keep the focus on results, they work to remove obstacles from their team’s way, whether it’s bringing in more resources or eliminating policies that slow people down.

4. Great bosses are accessible. They check in on work as it unfolds, touching base to make sure that your vision is aligned with theirs and making themselves available as a resource when you need them (within reason; they can’t be available all the time, of course). They don’t delegate and disappear – or swoop in at the last minute to make major changes to work when it’s almost complete. They’re in touch with you enough that any course corrections happen early on and you don’t find out about big surprises at the end of a project.

5. Great bosses care passionately about the makeup of their team. They know that the people on their team will have a huge impact on their ability to get results, so they’re proactive about recruiting, developing, and retaining high performers … and are willing to move assertively when someone on the team isn’t meeting the high bar they need. They put a significant amount of energy into all these things rather than leaving them to chance (or to HR), because they’re directly tied to how much they’ll be able to get done.

6. Great bosses are constantly looking for ways to get better. They’re often almost ruthless about identifying ways their team or organization could perform better, and they apply this same determination to improve themselves as well. (And that last part is key; it’s what gives them credibility when they ask their staff to do the same.) One way they do that is through the next item on our list…

7. Great bosses ask for (and truly welcome) input. They ask for input on everything from how an employee thinks last week’s launch event went to what she thought of a job candidate to what projects aren’t a good use of time. They do this not to get out of making decisions themselves – because they know they need to make the final call on many things – and not just to make employees feel good, but because they know that they will truly reach a better decision when they’re exposed to many different perspectives.

8. Great bosses treat employees like adults. They’re not monitoring your every movement at your desk, or demanding a doctor’s note when you’re out sick, or signing off on every tiny decision you make. They don’t care if you come in late or leave early occasionally, as long as you’re doing good work. They trust you to be a responsible adult and to manage your own time and work – and they trust themselves to spot it if you’re not.

9. Great bosses measure their own performance by their lowest performer. It’s easy for a manager to judge herself based on what her top people achieve. But the real measure of a manager is how she handles her bottom performers. They’re the ones who show what she’s actually willing to accept on her team – and whether she’s willing to take on problems heads-on, have tough conversations, and hold people accountable.

10. Great bosses treat people well. They know that they have people working for them, not automatons, and that those people have options for where they work. They care about their quality of life, they know that people will make mistakes and even sometimes fail, they recognize that employees have lives outside of work (lives that will sometimes get in the way!), and they treat people with dignity and kindness, even in the hardest moments, like letting someone go.

Have a boss who meets all or most of these items? Or worked for one in the past? Let them know how much you appreciate them – because these bosses are a valuable and rare commodity.

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