What does it take to be a great leader? There are so many lists, articles, and books on the topic. Do we need to be decisive or always open to emerging options? Someone methodical and disciplined, or someone open minded and flexible? We all know that you have to thrive in a dynamic work environment with the ability to manage frequently changing priorities—whatever that means. I decided to pull together my own list of what I consider to be invaluable skills—the traits that don’t get the respect they deserve in typical round-ups of the qualities of great bosses.
The seven traits below describe the type of person I love to work with.
They know that micromanagement is a sign of distrust. Few things are as suffocating as having a micromanaging boss. Rather than trusting us and treating us like the responsible adults we are, micromanagers want to know not just what we’re going to do, but when and how will we do it. They then set up regular touchpoints that are far too frequent. Great bosses however, know this behavior is unnecessary and de-motivating—particularly to strong performers. They realize that if their team truly needs constant supervision, they have a much bigger problem. Great bosses know how to support and monitor a team, while staying out of their way.
They are interested in results not optics. We know that perception is reality. Great bosses can appreciate a flashy deck with infographics that bring dull data to life. They know a well-tailored suit when they see one, and are interested to hear about the latest TED Talk we watched on the weekend and how it helped us grow as a person. Ultimately, however, great bosses know it’s all about results. When you’re in a meeting and your technology fails and you can’t project your sexy deck, can you still have an informed conversation on the topic? What metrics have you impacted? How are you driving the business strategy? Optics can attract people’s attention, but then you need to deliver meaningful results—and a great boss will care more about what you have achieved than how good things look.
They are straight talkers. Great leaders respect their teams enough to relay the unembellished truth. No $100 words or hokey positive spin. I can’t be the only person who rolls her eyes when every single problem is presented as an “opportunity.” Yes, we all know that there are opportunities in every challenge—we’ve seen the memes and we’ve got the poster. But sometimes, sh*t happens. When an unforeseen issue hits us from left field, let’s call it what it is. Fix it and move on. Great bosses know when to motivate their team and focus on the positive, and when they need to bond with the team by keeping it real.
They treat their team with the same respect they show to clients. Many companies put clients at the top of the food chain. Afterall, without clients purchasing our goods or services, we would have no business. We want to make clients feel like family. We should know stuff about them—their birthday, the name of their pets—and be willing to find creative solutions to their problems. But if my boss still doesn’t remember that I have two kids, and won’t splurge for a 2nd microwave in the kitchen so I don’t need to spend 12 precious minutes of my lunch each day lined up to warm my food, I’m not likely to be very engaged. Where’s the creative problem solving now? Great bosses get to know their team members, and see their job as removing obstacles to let their teams do their best work—just as they do for clients.
They take their role seriously and not seriously at all. Unless you are saving lives in a hospital emergency room or launching astronauts into space at NASA, it’s unlikely your job is life and death. Great bosses are grateful for the trust the organization has put in them to drive results and maximize returns against costs. They also tend to be ambitious, wanting to make their mark within the organization. However, they also know that in the big picture, having a typo in an email to an executive or flubbing one presentation will not erode the share price in the next quarter. They have perspective. Their approach is to deal with it, make sure it doesn’t happen again, and keep things rolling.
They know they don’t know everything. Great bosses understand that they need to surround themselves with a strong team to succeed. They know that even though they won the top prize in the science fair straight through high school and graduated at the top of their engineering class, they may not have the same level of skill in communications or finance. They are comfortable and even excited to hire and learn from team members who are more skilled than they are in specific disciplines, and don’t view it as evidence that they aren’t as smart as their mom thinks they are. Rather, great bosses know their key role is to pull everyone together towards a common goal.
They believe in the concept of learning from failure. They don’t just repeat the mythology of using failure as a teacher. Some managers have posters on their walls touting the value of learning from failure. But when things go wrong, Job One is about finding out who is to blame so we can make an example of them. Great bosses understand that when the results of a pilot program are much lower than expected, it’s time to assess, learn and course correct. They are quick to share their own mistakes to illustrate to a team member how you learn from it and then shake it off and move on. They don’t need the poster on the wall as they live the philosophy of failure as a teacher each day.
The ability of leaders to be honest and transparent gives their team permission to do the same, which fosters an environment of candor and camaraderie. They give trust freely, don’t take themselves too seriously, and care more about results than optics or their own egos. And they lead people who also have way more fun than the average team.
Finding a leader who manages the delicate balance of drive and ambition with perspective and self-deprecation is so refreshing. Keep your eyes open. These types of leaders are definitely out there.