The Good Boss: Insights for a Healthy and Productive Workplace in Challenging Economic Times
By James Finkelstein
The question often looms: Why do we work? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter why – we all have to work to some degree or another. Some people work to live and others live to work. Some find a balance between the two where one flows naturally and seamlessly into another. We spend every day doing stuff and it turns out, oddly and intuitively enough, that the people we encounter and work with influence our experience at work as well. Our colleagues, clients, peers and bosses, all of those we cross paths with at work bear some weight on our satisfaction, productivity, creativity and diligence for the little niches we may find or cultivate.
Let’s look at how one of these groups affects each and every one of us. Most of us have all had a boss at some point and many of us may be a boss or have been a boss in the past. In this case, we’ll consider a “boss” as any position managerial, supervisory, or executive – really any time someone leads other people. Bosses are important for this reason, that they lead others through experience, vision, and honored time.
Not all bosses are created equal, however, and there are certain trends that make for better bosses. Forty years of combined experience – one of us with 35 as a professional management consultant and the other with 5 as a fresh and reflective worker – have uncovered prime examples of good bosses. To enlighten the modern workplace and workforce, here are five examples of good bosses (and they are not mutually exclusive):
1) The Listener – a boss who will listen to and appreciates different points of view. This boss hears and honors their employees’ thoughts and considerations respectfully but with a caveat being they may or may not put these ideas into action. The Listener listens to their employees because they were hired for a reason. As such, they trust their employees and value their input. Sometimes, they are even dependent upon it. The Listener is a good boss because they have insight beyond their own experience and vision, insight that is influenced by many angles, and because if their employees are allowed to voice their own opinions and ideas, they are inspired and engaged.
2) The Empowerer – a boss that lets employees run their own show and lets them learn by making some mistakes. To a degree of trust and support, this boss cultivates leadership in their team. Working together, they identify tasks and create a plan, but let the employees decide the nuts & bolts of how it actually gets done. The Empowerer doesn’t delegate aimlessly, creating a sense of subordination in their team, but rather engages their employees from the ground up in a focused manner. Employees are inspired to take on leadership roles and collaborate both with their boss and with others. The Empowerer is a good boss because they can simultaneously ignite productivity, personal development, and satisfaction among their employees.
3) The Mentor – a boss that teaches, coaches and guides. This boss doesn’t necessarily need to be older, but a tad wiser or simply just willing to share. They seek to understand their employees’ experiences and identify which ones need or want mentoring. The relationship with their employees is constructive, meaning both criticism and praise are offered with the intentions of growing the employees set of skills. An offer to mentor is either explicitly offered or subtly developed over time. The goal is both in current interest and looking towards the future, always geared to enhance the employees’ skills. The Mentor is a good boss because they ensure a future for the employee and the company while inspiring immediate productivity and engagement.
4) The Cool Dude (or Dudette) – a boss that has fun and lets their employees have fun. This boss maintains a certain aura of authority while creating a likeable and lively atmosphere. They let their employees enjoy their time at work and find time for small diversions, within the confines that the job still gets done…and done well. At those instances, this boss rewards their employees with time off or special workplace events within the realm of a respectable workplace culture. The Cool Dude or Dudette is a good boss because they understand that all employees are people, that all people need some kind of fun, and that happy employees are healthy, productive, and engaged.
5) The Creator – a boss who inspires invention and creativity. This boss pushes the limits of their employees to ignite innovation. They challenge intellect and question the status quo, so that new products and ideas are developed from within. The Creator embodies the spirit of imagination and is never overly demanding. Creativity and invention come from a unique mindset, so this boss correctly identifies those in their team that are keen to this way of thinking. As such, The Creator is a good boss because they are motivational and collaborative.
These five bosses, or rather their respective characteristics, exemplify what makes for healthy leadership within organizations. Many bosses may embody many or all of these characteristics. The best bosses are able to reflect upon their own natural inclinations and experiences, leveraging their assets and developing areas of weakness. Common trends amongst these five good bosses make for a great boss as well – collaborative, communicative, engaging, and inspirational. Our new cogenerational world is crying out for leaders – of all ages and generations -- and hopefully many of us will realize that great leaders can exist in the smallest, biggest, nearest and furthest of places.
About the Author:
Jim Finkelstein is a student and leader of people in business. With 34+ years of consulting and corporate experience, he has specialized in business and people strategy, motivation and reward, and organizational assessment, development, communications and transformation. Finkelstein has worked for diverse industries, from health care to high tech. He has built programs and provided services to Boards of Directors, senior executives, management and employees.
Finkelstein received his MBA in Organization Behavior and Development from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1976) and a BA in Psychology and Economics from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut (1974).
His experience includes being a partner in a Big Five firm, a CEO of a professional services firm, a corporate executive for Fortune 500 companies, and an entrepreneur with his current company, FutureSense®, Inc. He has experienced business from every possible angle and through every possible change.