The working world’s best and worst bosses have certain traits that define their leadership. From micromanaging compulsively to communicating poorly, a bad boss can drive you nuts and make you hate your job. On the other hand, a boss that knows how to properly motivate their staff leads a productive and satisfied team. The lessons you learn from these and other behaviors will eventually help you make the transition to manager yourself.
Here are some good and bad behaviors to look out for in your boss. As you look for them, keep in mind what they could mean for your professional future as you look to grow into a leader:
Good: Sticks around at crunch time
When a deadline is looming, the best bosses recognize that their team will need to go fully heads down, take shorter lunch breaks, and work hard to get to the finish line. And when this happens, they don’t go into hiding or work at their normal pace. They stay along for the ride to help, provide guidance, and ultimately keep an eye on their employees’ health and well-being. They even force them to go home and rest rather than burn themselves out. They work as hard as anyone else, but when it comes time to rest, they’re the first to tell everyone to go home and refresh.
If your boss sticks around, works hard, and provides moral support during a deadline, you end up learning two important things for your career. First, you learn that the manager’s responsibility to their team is to set a smart and healthy example so that everyone’s at their best. And second, you learn that a healthy and stress-free team performs better. This understanding will help you become a great people manager yourself when you make that career leap. In the short run, it will also discourage you from harming yourself by constantly burning the midnight oil.
Bad: Doesn’t take the heat from higher-ups
Ever go to a meeting with your boss and your boss’s boss having to explain why a project fell apart? In these cases, it’s often one individual that gets singled out and is given grief. This type of situation can seed resentment and stress, especially when the problem is a result of systemic failure across an entire team rather than the mistake of a single person.
The best bosses understand that part of their job is to take the heat when things go wrong. They act as a shield around their staff, assigning punishment and giving hard talks themselves. Meanwhile, they show explicitly to the people they report to that the buck stops with them. If your boss is more than happy to expose you and your colleagues to anger from higher management, they’re showing that they’d rather save their own skin than lead and teach by example. In the end, this results in frustration and anger at work, which can lead to high turnover and a lack of job satisfaction.
Good: Lets others lead
Does your boss always open and lead every meeting or do they pick someone else to run it in their stead? Do they insist on closing every sale or being in on every conversation or do they give you and your colleagues autonomy? If your answer to either of these is the latter, you have a good boss who understand that they can’t simply take point on everything. They instead help their employees to develop into confident workers and leaders by providing leadership opportunities.
A boss who gives you and your team leadership opportunities regularly recognizes that they’re in part responsible for your career progression. They’ve learned from their mentors and bosses in the past about how to let others take charge. Now they're passing that knowledge down to you. As a result, you’re gaining crucial leadership experience that will enable you become a manager yourself. You’re also learning how to build and manage a team of employees that consider you a mentor.
Bad: Promotes divisive competition
Some of the worst bosses in the world lead by dividing rather than enabling collaboration. Whether by driving cutthroat competition between colleagues or by pitting an entire team against one individual, the end result is a lack of trust and severe inefficiency.
Find yourself constantly angry at another teammate? Struggling to compete and cut corners rather than get things done the right way? This kind of behavior can get really frustrating really quickly, and it’s likely enforced from the top down. Your boss is creating a culture that values a divided team over a solid unit.
For your own development as a leader, understand that healthy competition should be fun and collaborative. You don’t need to ignore competition altogether, but it should be done as a way to lift the output of the team as a whole rather than reward one or two top performers. A good way to do this is to have top performers help and train those who are lagging behind. That way, everyone learns and no one is left behind.
Good: Keeps everyone in the loop
A great boss understands that their team can only work as efficiently as possible if they understand the implications, potential outcomes, and motivations behind a project. They know that sharing in the strategy and logic behind the work they assign results in better output and fewer mistakes. They also understand that a project can’t fully succeed if competing ideas aren’t brought to light. That’s why they ask for opinions and implement ideas from their staff.
This is a great behavior to model your own future leadership skills after. It focuses on the idea that a team is full of equals who don't just deserve to know the intricacies of their work. They also work better when they have a good idea of what everyone else around them is doing. Less miscommunication occurs and less time is wasted fixing directionless work. As a result, the team succeeds with collaborative effort rather than failing with misfitting individual contributions.
Bad: Delegates inefficiently
Some bosses fail to delegate whatsoever and end up either piling a ton of work on one person or just trying to do everything themselves. Others, more dangerously, delegate inefficiently by failing to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Does your boss often give tasks that sound perfect for your skillset to a colleague who needs to be trained to do them? Do you regularly get tasks that sound way outside the reasonable bounds of your job description?
If you’re doing tasks that aren’t fit for your skillset, you understand how frustrating and demotivating work can get. What you can learn from this type of boss is that how closely you evaluate the talent around you dictates how well they’ll do the tasks you give them. If you take care to understand how and why your teammates’ talents are misused by your current boss, it will help you delegate in a way that will keep your future employees happy and productive.
Your best example for how to lead (and how not to lead) is the person who manages you today. Look at what they do and how they behave. Understand how those attitudes affect their employees. Use the lessons you learn from this evaluation to become a great leader yourself.
Image courtesy of K2 Space.