Updated: May 16, 2020
Most of us have experienced the stress of working for a bad boss... Luckily for me, I've worked for three people who exemplified kindness, building tight-knit, committed and loyal teams as a result. It comes as no surprise that they shared many of the same traits...
Imagine a 'bad boss'. What do they look like? How do they act? How do they speak to their employees?
Perhaps they set unreasonable targets, put unnecessary pressure on their workforce, or neglect to care about the wellness of employees. Maybe they don't recognise when someone is struggling or needs extra support – they may even exacerbate the problem by piling on even more expectations. They could be brash, rude, insensitive – or simply oblivious – to those around them. Often, it seems, this goes hand in hand with an obsession to meet financial targets.
In my (relatively short) working life, I've been employed by three individuals who I would describe as good bosses. Despite managing teams in three very different environments, they all shared the same core characteristics. They were:
Good listeners – listening to, acknowledging, and then acting on employee feedback/conversations. Sensitive and empathetic – trying to genuinely see things from different perspectives. Flexible – recognising and accommodating employee requirements as they changed over time.
Generous – doing things they didn't have to do, e.g., offering schemes or initiatives to improve employees' work-life balance. Trusting – letting employees do their jobs without making them feel unable or incapable.
Another key characteristic that the three people shared was an almost uncomfortable reaction to being called 'boss'. They recognised that the concept of a 'boss' was associated with draconian, hierarchical leadership, and realised that this wasn't how to get the most out of the people around them.
To be clear – this doesn't mean they weren't figures of authority. They simply treated their employees as individuals, with respect. At no point did they bark an order or railroad an initiative through without consulting their team. They led from the bottom up, using the opinions of staff as a key part of the decision-making process. Not only did this make their decisions more diverse; it made employees feel more linked to the organisation because their ideas had been listened to. Teams worked harder, willing to go the extra mile because they felt their efforts were appreciated and that they were cared about.
To give a personal example, after a particularly stressful week, one boss bought a box of chocolates for the office. They had taken the time and care to note that some employees couldn't eat chocolate due to dietary requirements, so they also bought vegan-friendly and gluten free snacks. By thinking about the specific requirements of each person, they build a much closer working relationship with their team. It was a small gesture, but one that had a significant impact.
In short, being a good boss is about being kind. It's about going beyond the monthly pay check and considering small (but vital) ways to make employees feel valued. Starting from a place of genuine human kindness, management teams can create far stronger teams who stay loyal because their work is recognised and rewarded. That's what makes a good boss – it really is that simple.