How to Be a Good Boss

You're the boss. But it's no fun (and very difficult) being a boss who is not respected, or is even actively disliked. How do you get your staff to be the best thing that ever happened to you? By being the best boss that ever happened to them. This article is intended to be helpful in a smaller, more casual setting. Although the tips could be helpful to a person in a larger, more formal executive setting, some are wholly inappropriate in those settings--see How to Be A Good Manager for advice in a more formal setting. But if you're someone who is pretty much the ultimate authority in his or her company or store (a small business owner or a general manager (GM) for a retail store, for example) here's how to do a good job.


Realize that management succeeds via the efforts of the workers. Just because you're in charge doesn't mean you deserve all the credit for the work being done. Your staff is responsible for the bulk of the work. You are leading them as they get it done to be sure all regulations are complied with, etc., but they are doing the actual work. Taking credit for their efforts will surely undermine your leadership.

Delegate responsibility and then trust your people. Micro-managers are never appreciated. Once you've trained someone to handle a task, allow them to handle it without interference. Different people have different approaches, and their way of doing something may be just as efficient as the way you would do it, so before you step in and force your way on them, give an honest evaluation to their method, and if you find theirs works just as well, even if it's different from yours, let them be. Constantly correcting them undercuts their confidence and does not allow them to exercise their own style.

Know your employees to know your strength. Watch your staff, get to know them as individuals. Understand their motives: Why do they work in this company? Why do they work in this department? What excites them? Some may love the work. Some may love the flexible hours. Some may love the retirement plan. Whatever that is, do your best to understand. That allows you to enhance, adjust and align their motives with the goal of your unit. The cream always rises to the top, and it's your job to figure out which employees do what is required in their jobs, and which employees do all they can in their jobs. There is a huge distinction.

Clone yourself - many times. Once you've identified good candidates, teach them your job. That's right. Teach them to be you. Most bad bosses are under the (mistaken) impression that there is something threatening about this, because the bad boss thinks that s/he is the only one who can perform a given function. The truth is, the best boss trusts his or her staff and re-creates himself many times over so that in case of emergencies, or in his absence, the Good Boss has excellent help that can be utterly relied upon. If you happen to be an entrepreneur/owner, cloning yourself means that you don't need to go to work as much, freeing you to do as you please and knowing your business is earning as much today without you there as it would if you had to go there and slave away. And remember, too, that you're creating another Good Boss!

Empower your staff to make critical decisions, and don't second-guess them. If you've done a good job of training your people to be your proxies, then you must know they are doing their best to act in your (and your company's) best interest. Even if they make a wrong decision, or handle a situation in a way you would not have, don't second guess or berate them. Instead, use it as yet another training opportunity. Hear out their reasons for their action - most of the time, when taken in context, there was a logical basis for what they decided to do.

Example: Once the employee has explained his or her rationale, try saying, "Given what you've told me, I now understand why that seemed like the way to go. However, in the future, I would like you to try handling it this way (then explain the way you want them to do it). If you have a problem doing it that way, you can always call me for help."

Create a clear chain of command. If you are the owner and have a manager, be sure the rest of the staff understands the chain - they are to take problems to the manager first, and only if they are still unsatisfied should they escalate it to you. When leaving, say, "Franki, you're in charge." This lets any additional staff know who's the boss in your absence, plus, goofy as it sounds, it makes Franki square up her shoulders and realize that she now "has the bridge." If customers are there, so much the better - you are putting your faith and trust in Franki right in front of them. They feel it, Franki feels it - and by gracefully handing the reins to her, you just went up a notch in the esteem of your right hand woman and your customers.

Help them learn to work out issues without your intervention. Sometimes one or more of your staff may experience friction with others. If they come tattling on one another to you, listen to them carefully. If someone is not fulfilling their responsibilities or is mistreating another employee, you'll need to step in and resolve the conflict yourself. But if you're satisfied it's only an issue of competition or a simple personality clash, urge them to settle it between themselves.

For instance:
Tell the complaining party, "I'm a need to know boss. I don't need to know about this, it's really between you guys. Let me talk to ___________ (the other party in the clash), but once I have, if I don't get back to you, it's up to you."

Talk to the other person, and upon verifying that it's a personality issue, simply let them know that they aren't required to be friends, only to get along and get their work finished.

Defend the other to each of them: "You know, Francesca may be a little loud and talkative, but she's the best salesperson we have, and you could learn a lot from her. Try and work it out." and to Francesca, "Juan is a quiet guy, and it may help if you let him come to you. I think he may feel a little like you're steamrolling him; the thing is, he's very organized and we need him. Try a less frontal approach. I bet you guys can work this out."

Tell them both you believe in their abilities to work and get along. Then leave them alone, but watch carefully. Don't interfere unless they bicker in front of customers. Put a stop to anything like that instantly.

Deal with any problems quickly and directly. Any boss who is terribly busy totally understands this concept: "I don't need all the details. Bottom line it for me." You don't have to be so blunt that you crush people, but being direct and honest is a big time saver, and frankly, appreciated in the end. When you see a problem, deal with it quickly and don't nag your people about it later - let done be done. Try to relate to your employee and elicit the agreement that whatever just happened was not acceptable. Remember that your goal is to promote productive behavior and regain the respect of your employee, NOT to antagonize your people, particularly in front of others. Here's an example:

Boss: "Evan. I need you in the office for a moment." (Say this in a neutral or pleasant tone. Don't come out in front of customers or peers with your guns blazing, bellowing, "Evan, get in the office NOW." This is between you and Evan.) Privately, once all prying eyes are away:

Boss: "Evan, the cell phone call. Is everything okay with your family?"
Evan: "Yes, it was just my dad wanting some help later..."
Boss: "I understand that we're all human, but when you're with a customer, you cannot take personal calls."
Evan: "I know. I'm sorry. It's just my dad doesn't have many opportunities to call..." (the actual problem or subject of the call is irrelevant)
Boss: "Right, however - when you find you can't end a personal call immediately, I'd like you to leave the sales floor. When customers see you taking an obviously personal call instead of helping them, it looks bad for you and the store. Our customer is always to have priority unless you have an emergency, clear?"
Evan: "Yeah... that was my bad."
Boss: "Alright. Glad you understand that. Next time, either leave the sales floor or let your phone go to voice mail, okay? Now, are you good to return to the floor?"
Evan: "I'm good."
Boss: "Okay, get out there."

And that's it. Don't belabour it, don't nag him about it, just let him get on with his job. It isn't necessary to cushion these discussions with compliments or flattery. Your employee should (A) know better than to take personal calls on the job and (B) be a grownup about discipline. You, as a Good Boss, should (A) stay cool - it's a training opportunity, and (B) be kind and calm, but firm and clear in expressing your correction of the behavior and your expectation for the future.
Excessive compliments and a constant attempt to "relate" to your staff's personal issues are a waste of time. Get to the point quickly - but without becoming strident or making a mountain out of a molehill.

Tell your staff how much you appreciate them - in front of customers if possible. Never hesitate to pat your employees on the back, compliment and thank them for their excellent service - if customers are there, letting them know how you value your people can go a long way toward the customers actually having more faith in the services your business provides. When your staff feel valued and appreciated, their job means more to them than simply a pay check. When your customers know that you, as the owner (or manager) think highly of your staff, they feel confident that they're in good hands, and it leaves you more freedom to leave your customers in the very capable hands of your staff. See how this becomes a "win-win-win"? By lifting up your employee while your customer was watching, ALL of you got something good from it - with zero downside.

Show your appreciation by doing things for them. They go the extra mile for you. You do something nice for them. Buy everyone lunch every other Wednesday. Be sure there's a supply of their favorite sodas in a small fridge for them. If you get extra tickets to something you know they would enjoy, offer it to them as a bonus for work well done. Remember their birthdays, at least enough to wish them a happy day, or buy them a cupcake.

Share your goals with your employees. Tell them what makes you happy and ask them directly to help you reach your goals. "Hidden agendas" in a leader are damaging to morale because they create confusion in those who work for you. Tell them things like "I like to hear praise from our customers about you", "I do not like to hear complaints from other teams about us", "My goal is to win the [best team award] next year", etc. etc.. Trust that your employees are very much like you: They love to feel helpful and accomplished. Your job is tell them how to achieve those feelings.

Learn to be an effective listener. Your employees deserve to be heard when they have concerns. Allow them to finish talking before you speak; do not assume that you know what they are going to tell you before they finish talking; do not form objections in your mind while they are talking. Instead try to be fully engaged while they are talking without making it about your rebuttal.

Acknowledge their points, which does not mean that you agree but does mean that you understand their concerns. Repeat their points in your own words to confirm, if necessary. You may not need to take any action, but hearing them out is important to their sense of empowerment and significance.

Be the boss. All these steps may not prevent from you having to assert your ultimate authority at some point. No matter how well your staff is trained or how good your leadership skills become, there will be times when you will have to remind someone that you are the final word on all matters. Being a good boss and empowering your people to make "daily" decisions does not mean you've abdicated your authority. If you find that someone on your staff is overstepping or has made a mistake, be decisive and firm, act swiftly and don't waffle. This may result in some deflation of that employee, but assuming you allow it to be done with once you've corrected the situation, it should pass quickly.

Have a little tolerance in your heart. Your staff works how ever many hours for you and then lives the remainder in his or her personal life, which may leave a big impact, bleeding into work hours. Your employee may be cranky or have an off, low-producing day due to any number of personal reasons. (Still, remember it is their responsibility to deal with their personal lives on their time. You must remind them of this if they continually have the problem, but if it's a rare occurrence, do allow for the human limitation.)

Understand that things beyond your staff's control are bound to come up from time to time. As long as it's not habitual, it's in your best interest to treat your people like PEOPLE, not objects or numbers or cogs in your grand wheel. Give them the freedom to handle their personal issues, even if they come up on your time - as long as it isn't continual or egregious.

If you are on a tight budget, becoming a good boss can save you a ton of money. Many studies show how a staff that feels you care for them and value them will be far less motivated by money, and far more motivated by their sense of empowerment, value to you and the company, and the feeling that they have significant responsibilities.

Have fun with your staff. Joking with them and allowing them to see you as a human being binds them to you with feelings of friendship. Letting them address you as "My King" or "Captain" may amuse them. It's okay, then, should your staff start doing something like this, to address them occasionally as "My Prince," or "Lieutenant Commander!" etc. This is charming to them and lets them know they are not simple minions, but essential members of your crew or "royal court." While it's important to maintain the reality of your position as their leader, it's also important that you be accessible. (And it's quite telling as to how they feel about you - being addressed with a bow and "My Queen," even privately or in a light-hearted way says this person respects and admires you, and is willing to defer to you).

The owner or manager of a small company may be able to afford only a very meager year-end bonus. Instead of giving your team a teeny bonus of less than $50 each person, consider throwing a party for them - host it at your own home if you can. Your staff will be very touched that you have (A) invited them to your home, (B) spent money to cater for them, (C) provided a warm, fun event for them to share each other's company, and yours. Remember that $50 is a tank of gas that will be forgotten in a few days, but that party will give them a memory they may carry with them all their lives. A few themed party favors cost little but create loads of fun and good feelings.

Being a good boss really is a lot like being a king or queen. You have to rely on your people for so much, it's important that they feel loyal to you, and do things the way you want them done. Telling them to remember that wherever they go, even on their own time, they stand for you and your company, and to remember who they are in that light - it's actually a good thing. It makes them feel invested in the company in a very deep way, and those who are your very best will always go far above and beyond the call of duty to serve you to the best of their abilities.

Recognize that you need to learn to be a boss. Many of us are promoted to be a boss because we did a good job as employees. But the job of a boss is very different - and sometimes counter-intuitive. Without some level of effort, you may not grow into a good boss. Instead, you may continue to be just a good employee to your new boss.

A good way to remember the importance of treating your employees well is to remind yourself to think of them as you do your good customers. Your good customers often get the benefit of the doubt in a dispute. You will sometimes offer special perks as a way to say thanks and/or build loyalty. No matter what kind of personal mood you may be in on a given day you always put on a good positive face for your good customers. And, of course, you always treat those customers with great respect. These are the kinds of things you should also be doing for your good employees since, at the end of the day, they are every bit as important - if not more so in some cases - as those good customers you so treat them well! Their morale will be higher, and therefore business will be better, the more valued by you they feel.

Being nice takes the same amount of time (or less)as being a curt, rude, jerk. And it gets you treated better in return.

Not everyone is cut out to be the boss. If you are the owner, you might do well to hire a manager who is a good boss to interface with staff; if you were promoted, you might seek a different position elsewhere which does not require you to make management decisions. Sitting in the Captain's Chair really does require a certain type of personality - if you don't have it, that's okay; just figure it out and make your decisions accordingly.

Don't feel you need to cushion counseling or disciplinary statements with compliments or flattery. It makes you seem oily - in the "Evan" example above, starting out by complimenting and coaxing him to "get it" himself would be akin to bribing him to accept your guidance. If Evan is a halfway decent employee, he will know that being called into the office is not about his doing a good job, and you will seem weak if you cannot just come out with the problem. You don't need to dress him down, you just need to correct the behavior quickly. Your staff should be able to do a good job as a matter of course. If you are giving your people the props they deserve at the appropriate times, they will not require stroking at inappropriate times.

You will feel indebted to your staff. The better they do their jobs and you recognize them for it, the harder it is for you to feel as if you live up to their loyalty.
When you lose one of them to a new job, it's hard to replace them, both in your own heart, and in your business.

Things You'll Need

Courage – you have to be brave to relinquish controlling tendencies.

A positive attitude - if you're sullen and morose, your people will be sullen and morose, too. They will mirror you. Staying upbeat will keep them optimistic and happy.

Patience - teaching people to do things your way takes time.

Empathy - understand that your people are human beings with needs and feelings, just like you.

Faith - believe in them. It means everything to them, and ultimately to you.
To remember to lead from the front: we must inspire great people to do great things. They will take their cues from you.