5 Traits of a ‘Best Boss’
Becoming a Best Boss should be the focus of every business leader. Here’s how to do it.
"You made me a better person... not just a better leader. You
made me learn how much more people can do when they feel
supported and appreciated. You taught me to take chances,
celebrate success, and appreciate that if I don’t make mistakes, I’m
not challenging myself enough! Thank you!”
Have you ever worked for someone who made you feel this way?
If you’re lucky enough to have worked for a Best Boss, this
relationship likely had a profound impact on your performance,
your career, and your life. And if you are, or aspire to be, a Best
Boss, you will have that same impact. We think everyone should
plan to be a Best Boss. So, here’s how to do it.
BEHAVIORS OF A BEST BOSS
Chicago-based consultancy Lead Well LLC, in partnership with
Vantage Leadership Consulting, invited individuals across many
demographics and working environments to answer seven open-ended
questions about their perceived Best Boss. Survey
respondents repeatedly highlighted five integrated behavioral traits:
• Leads With a Higher Purpose – A Best Boss has a purpose
beyond self-interest and profit that is put into action on behalf of
• Activates Potential – A Best Boss observes, values, and takes
steps to activate the present capability and future potential of
• Grants Autonomy – A Best Boss imparts knowledge, business
acumen, and big picture thinking, and establishes an
autonomous space for the individual to perform.
• Provides Pervasive Feedback – A Best Boss seamlessly uses
frequent and diverse feedback to constructively shape, reinforce,
and/or modify behavior.
• Encourages Risk Taking to Accelerate Learning – A Best Boss
fuels reasonable risk taking to assure learning and realizes that
mistakes are a natural part of the growth process.
Behind these five Best Boss traits is a contemporary leadership
philosophy — shared success. Being a great leader is not just about
work and careers, it’s also about supporting an individual’s success
by focusing on their personal needs. It’s about creating an energy
in someone, so they achieve their aspirations, and therefore yours
and your organization’s.
Leading from the point of view that the organization’s needs
dominate simply doesn’t work anymore. At the same time, we also
know that an individual’s needs cannot always be the top priority.
Instead, great leadership today must be about building an energized
balance between individual and organizational needs.
A BEST BOSS IS HARD TO FIND
Unfortunately, all too often we tend to work for bad bosses. Our
society loves to focus on bad boss experiences. In 2011, the movie
“Horrible Bosses” was a comedic hit. Badbossology.com is dedicated to helping people deal with difficult bosses. According
to this website, half of us would fire our boss if we could. Research
has increasingly focused on the impact of bad bosses. Gallup
surveys regularly tell us the top reason people quit their jobs is
because of their bosses. A 2008 study by Swedish scientists even
found that males were 35 percent more likely to have a heart attack
if they worked for a bad boss. On and on it goes.
We also know that the accounting and finance profession faces
several challenges directly linked to the cultures within
organizations and the business practices driving them. The Illinois
CPA Society’s INSIGHT Special Feature, “The Culture Conflicts,” highlights many of those challenges and asks us what we can do
about them. In many cases, change must come directly from
leadership — aka the bosses.
Our goal here is to help you build the mindset that a great leader,
a Best Boss, must focus on connecting, engaging, and retaining
diverse talent. As the “war for talent” worsens, this type of focus
is critical for your business to remain competitive in a tight
labor market. Your ability to differentiate yourself as a great leader,
and your organization as a great place to work, materially impacts
your business because, done right, you’ll be better able
to attract the best candidates, build diverse
teams, and motivate each worker to reach their
In other words, as a Best Boss, you
can help change firm and corporate
cultures, drive solutions to the
succession planning struggles so
many organizations face, and truly
drive the development and shared
success of your staff.
BECOMING A BEST BOSS
To be clear, leading is more than
connecting, engaging, and retaining.
It’s also about aligning, executing,
and achieving. A great leader must get
results. It’s “the how” we’re talking
about here. And the how matters now
more than ever. Here are some steps you
can take to become a Best Boss:
Lead With Your Values – A Best Boss is a values-based
leader who consistently places the needs of individuals
ahead of needs of themselves or the organization. Display a strong
moral compass. Have compassion for your people and their lives
outside the job and assure them that your performance expectations
need not be at odds with integrity.
Learn How You’re Viewed as a Leader – Conduct your own survey
or ask your organization to perform a 360 review. Also ask for
candid feedback from trusted friends and employees. What are the
facts regarding your leadership style?
Put a Plan in Place – Closing the biggest gaps between the type
of leader you aspire to be and the type of leader you are today
should be your primary focus. Start with one area for improvement.
Get input on how to improve. Then solicit feedback on how
you’re doing. Once you’ve improved, move on to the next area
Aspire to Be Called a Best Boss – Best Bosses display a host of
characteristics foundational to forming great relationships with their
direct reports. Descriptions of Best Boss characteristics include
humble, authentic, positive, optimistic, “can do” attitude, fair,
ethical, has a sense of humor, thoughtful, thorough, and respectful.
At the core of these traits is respect. It’s simple; treat people how
you would like to be treated. Treat people like people and
remember to explain why you need something when giving
direction. Sell more, tell less.
Create a Feedback Expectation – Rather than always waiting for
formal performance evaluations, a Best Boss makes real-time
feedback a routine part of the supervisor-report relationship. Try to
balance sharing constructive, respectful criticism with providing
positive recognition for work well done.
Have More Consistent Discussions – Hold regular one-on-ones
with your team members, and ask some of the tougher questions
so many leaders try to sidestep:
• What is important to you? What are your needs?
What gives you energy?
• What are you good at and like to do? What are you
not as good at that you would like to improve?
• What is your view of what is needed for success in your
role? How are you doing?
• What more can I do to support you? What
more can the organization do to meet your
• How can we work together to
put a plan in place to create shared
success for you and the organization?
Focus on Developing People –
Today, more than ever, younger
generations within the workforce
want to quickly learn, grow, and
develop as professionals. They
know they must continually build
their skills and capabilities if they’re
going to stay competitive in a very
dynamic marketplace. That said, it
should be no surprise that the most
common Best Boss behavioral trait was
“activating potential.” To be a Best Boss, you
must help people understand the potential they
possess. Then make it your mission to actualize it by
building real developmental plans, supportively pushing direct
reports out of their comfort zones, providing them opportunities to
grow their skills, and advocating for them to perform to their
Connect to the Whole Person – All people, but especially your
young and diverse talent, want to be thought of not just as
employees, but as the unique individuals that they are. You must
connect with your people on a deeper level, understanding that
work is only one part of a rich life.
Being a great leader and a Best Boss in today’s workplace requires
a much more proactive and personally engaged approach than in
the past. What that means for accounting and finance leaders today
is that the focus must not only be on the numbers but also on
the people. It’s within you to drive change, create energy, and
overcome many of the cultural and leadership challenges the
So, are you going to be a Best Boss or a Bad Boss?