The Qualities that made my Best Boss “Great”

Note:  This series of posts was inspired by a LinkedIn article 8 Qualities That Make Great Bosses Unforgettable by Jeff Haden, a contributing editor of Inc, Magazine.

I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years.  Many of them have been quite successful – both in terms of their own careers as well as in their leadership of high-performing organizations.  

But sometimes these bosses seem to succeed despite themselves.  While they might have commanded a handful of over-the-top qualities that drove their success (a towering intellect, an endless supply of drive, or a need to defeat an opponent – real or imagined), they were often difficult people work for.  I’ve often wondered if a top-performing executive can be a “normal” person – normal in terms of their relationships and motivations – or if the mega-successful manager gets to where they are because of their personality extremes.

Based on my personal observations, I could easily draw that conclusion – except for a couple of major exceptions that blow the theory out of the water.

During my years as both a manager and as a subordinate, I’ve worked for two bosses that were different.  Both of them earned my loyalty and respect.  And of those two, one in particular stands out as my one “great” boss.

I’ve often times pondered what it was he did that separated him from the rest.  Why was it that I was inspired by him when I am so critical of the “others?”

Whatever those critical characteristics were, they certainly inspired me to be more committed and more dedicated than at any other time in my career.  And while I wouldn’t have taken a bullet for him, there wasn’t much short of such an act that I wouldn’t have volunteered to do.

I’ve attempted to sift through my great boss’s best qualities, teasing out those that made \the biggest difference to me.  Many of these were characteristics I later tried to emulate during my own climb up the corporate ladder.  In this blog series I will dissect each of these characteristics, defining the behaviors and how my great boss demonstrated them and discuss how they impacted me as a subordinate.

For now, here is my list – the 13 qualities that made my best boss great.

  1. Devoted time to really know someone.
  2. Explained the rationale behind important decisions.
  3. Communicated the “big picture.”
  4. Gave subordinates a chance to do it their way.
  5. Joined subordinates in the trenches.
  6. Shared key insights.
  7. Helped with career management.
  8. Acted boldly.
  9. Worked hard.
  10. Held his temper.
  11. Took the heat.
  12. Had credibility up the ladder.
  13. Became a friend.

I realize some of these may seem a bit cryptic at this point, a situation that will be resolved over the coming weeks as each topic is explored in depth.

The original cover for NCP.  I have a few paper copies of this version in my possession -- click the image for details of how to get one.

The original cover for NCP.  I have a few paper copies of this version in my possession -- click the image for details of how to get one.

I am aware that many of these characteristics do not appear in your typical “successful management” playbook.  A few, in fact, are undoubtedly the opposite of what management gurus would advise.  A couple may not be the wisest things to do from a political standpoint.

And yet each of these behaviors exhibited by my “great” boss was an important element in developing my devotion and dedication as a subordinate.

So while adopting these qualities might not necessarily lead you to the CEOs suite, it will help to make you a true and reliable leader in your employee’s eyes.

In my book, that is a worthwhile goal.

Posts in the “On the Way Out” Series (in Chronological Order):

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Shown here is the cover of NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS my non-fiction primer on the nature of politics in large corporations, and the management of your career in such an environment.  This is my best-selling book.  Chocked full of practical advice, I've had many managers and executives say they wished they'd read it early in their career.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.