Leaders and good bosses are both made and born. Although we have been told for quite some time now that they are made, research demonstrates what we all kind of suspected: the answer is both. They are born and made.
A Leader or Boss Is Born.
I sometimes think that being a boss is a bit like a developing a great golf swing. There are those for whom it comes more naturally, those for whom it comes less so, and others who shouldn’t be trusted with a club. The first group still needs to work on their craft, but it comes instinctively. The second group always feels like it is a struggle. They want to play scratch golf so they spend loads of money on lessons, gadgets, balls, innovative clubs (technical change), and seemingly know every aspect of their swing. But in spite of their desire and effort, they can’t bring their handicap down. The final group, well, enough said. Perhaps hiking might be a better activity.
What does this have to do with being a good boss? Those belonging to the third group—if for some reason they are promoted into a position of responsibility—will never become good bosses.
The second group will always struggle with something that doesn’t come naturally to them, regardless of how many books on leadership/management they read and courses they take. Their leadership/management style will always remain somewhat awkward and unnatural despite occasional moments when they lead or manage well.
The first group consists of those who are the new type of boss/leader/manager—the one for whom we all want to work. She is one who can balance both the financial/strategic management of the organization and also the people side, what the uninformed still call the “soft” side. The good boss is the person in whom nature and nurture intersect—in whom innate abilities are augmented, honed and perfected.
A Leader or Boss Is Made.
So what makes a good boss then? Most of us have worked for at least one and we know it when we see it. Here are the necessary traits and behaviors I’ve come up with that make a good boss. What would you add?
1. Character Counts.
I am decidedly on the side that says new techniques will not solve many human problems within organizations. They haven’t helped much with golf swings and they won’t fix bad bosses. The one element that remains consistent is the need for character. This is often lost in today’s branded world in which a new suit, a haircut and a lot of attitude are the primary qualities often sought after. The reality is that character matters.
Manager/leaders need to be able to govern their part of the world with consistency, justice, humility, honesty, faithfulness, and transparency in a way that builds trust among their followers. But sadly, character can’t be learned in a classroom, a weekend seminar or a corporate training event. Character is formed in the everyday experiences of life. People aren’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect them to be. People of character make mistakes, learn from them, take responsibility for their mess, and grow as people. Perhaps it is time to open the discussion about how organizational leaders/managers are formed.
What Else Counts?
In addition to quality character, what makes a good boss? Here are a few ideas gleaned over the years through observation, conversations, and research.
2. Good bosses are competent.
They know their area of business well and have the capacity to manage/lead. They have worked hard at their craft, excel at management and leadership and continue to learn and develop their knowledge and skills.
3. They understand and use power carefully with humility.
Power is like money: few want to talk openly about it. But its accumulation and use is a reality, and it is a clear window into the character of the one wielding it. And like money, few handle it well.
4. Good bosses are authentic and self-aware.
They are comfortable in their own skin. What this means practically is that they will not be insecure; they will be non-defensive, empathic, willing to admit mistakes, open and authentic (meaning their stated values are the same as their practiced values). They relate upwards and downwards well. You encounter the same person that they are with their boss.
5. They are respectful of the gender and sexuality of others.
They do not exploit them for either personal or corporate gain.
6. Good bosses have high expectations.
They have them for each employee, the team and the organization. This pursuit of excellence, with the necessary supporting resources, is what provides the context for you to continue to grow into your full capacity.
7. They understand that it really isn’t about them.
It is increasingly difficult to find people like this in a culture that is increasingly narcissistic. They run their team in such a way as to advance the mission of the organization and the development of their people.
8. Good bosses can build and lead culturally diverse teams.
A good boss today needs to see diversity as a strength, not simply as a quota system. This very challenging skill becomes part of their DNA.
9. They understand the powerful force of interdependence.
Simply put we all need each other to succeed, whether in a small team, a larger organization or nation. Globalization has changed the way we work.
10. Good bosses communicate clearly.
They are transparent and honor what they have said.
11. They create a culture of advocacy, trust and fairness.
Each boss strikes an implicit deal with their employee that goes beyond just money for labor.
12. Good bosses are able to see systems and read culture.
This is an essential capacity that will increasingly be needed in future leader/managers.
Bosses, of course, have bosses, and they have their own deadlines, goals and stresses. They are part of an organizational culture that shapes them and those who work for them. Great organizations promote people of character that have the capacity and potential to become very good manager/leaders within their organizations. They then optimize this capacity through experiences, further education and regularly scheduled performance reviews. Merely good and poor organizations do the opposite. Good bosses create an environment in which their team can do good work and produce great results.
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