We write a lot about toxic leadership here at ClearanceJobs – and there is good reason for that. When you consider the reasons individuals leave positions, a boss they hate is often toward the top of the list. In today’s market – where candidates are incredibly hard to find – that’s important. Investing in the right management is an investment in your talent acquisition and retention. We’ve written frequently about how to spot a bad leader. But how do you catch a good one?
I know a lot about amazing bosses, because I have the world’s best boss. I talk a lot about how much I enjoy my work, and that inevitably leads to questions about how I can work full-time from home with four kids eight and under. One of first responses is always ‘because I have an amazing boss.’ That’s true. When I think about my ability to do my job well, one of the first things that comes to mind is how my boss is an enabler for my success. Talk to someone unhappy with their work, and their response will likely hinge around how their leadership is stifling them or creating roadblocks.
So, straight out of the playbook of the great Eric P., my boss, here are a few thoughts on what makes a great leader.
1. They Trust You.
How often do you interact with your boss? If you’re working in the same office, probably every day. But if you’re a remote worker or a contractor working on site, you may interact with your boss only occasionally. It’s possible your only interaction is during a 1-1, which may occur weekly, or less often. In these cases, trust is critically important. They say trust has to be earned. That’s true, but if your boss hoards trust like a commodity that will only be given when you have reached a certain tenure or accomplished a specific objective, you may never rise to the occasion. A good boss will scale trust with your role and capacity, but not roadblock you from operating independently.
2. They Allow You to Fill Gaps.
Some bosses like to act like they could do your job better than you. Sometimes that’s true. But a great boss finds where you offer strengths they don’t, recognizes it, and allows you to build it. When I first started I knew my boss was managing the tasks that I was now responsible for. But he quickly acknowledged that he hated to write, and was glad I was here to fill that gap. Out the gate, I knew that if I did nothing else but write well, I was filling a gap in our organization. Obviously I had to do more than that, but here was a place and space where I could take on something my boss couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to do. A great boss will help you differentiate your skills from the pack, and then leverage those skills in the organization.
3. They take your screw-ups in stride.
When I first started, and for years to follow, every time I screwed something up I offered to quit. In hindsight, it’s not the most professional move. (And okay, I may have offered to quit again last month). But because my boss is a patient listener, he would take those offers in stride by completely ignoring them. Screw-ups are generally met with acknowledgment, but never accusation. That’s a subtle difference, but if you’re groaning at your desk because you’ve once again found yourself unable to count the right number in a bulleted list, it’s wonderful to know your boss won’t be wagging a finger at you during your next 1-1. And it gives you the freedom to take risks – knowing screw-ups are inevitable. A good boss will work with you to figure out what’s behind a screw-up, address it, and move on.
4. They’re collaborators.
In today’s workplace, a top-down, authoritarian structure is not a great way to attract talent. Great workplaces are collaborative workplaces, and great leaders are collaborative leaders. Some of our best content ideas and marketing initiatives have been born out of stream of consciousness conversations with our team. My boss has the great capacity to take ideas and make them better. (Which is the definition of leadership). He doesn’t feel the need to be responsible for every idea within the organization, but he also doesn’t let hairbrained schemes move forward without his managerial lense.
5. They Don’t Waste Your Time.
Do you have the sinking suspicion your boss is filling your days with busy work or giving you tasks to keep you out of the way or away from the ‘good’ projects? Run. Run away. A great boss will not waste your time inviting you to useless meetings, giving you useless tasks, or allowing you to squander your days on projects that don’t add value.
A final thought on great bosses – they’re contagious. I talk a lot about my current boss, but I spent a stint working for another person in the same organization and she was equally amazing – a world’s best boss. That’s not an accident. That’s leadership by design. If you hire the right people, invest in them, and follow these five attributes – your bench of great leaders will grow. And the only thing better than having the world’s best boss is an entire organization of them.