Bonus Content

What Makes a Great Boss?

By William Lynott

It’s far too easy to blame less-than-optimum business results on external causes such as poor employee performance, excess operating expenses, or the economy. While situations like that can exist, another cause can be much more difficult to face: management shortcoming.

Are you really doing the great management job that you think you’re doing? These nine questions will help you to analyze your own performance while leading the way to better profits (the most effective managers are those who can answer yes to all or most):

1. Do you avoid showing signs of favoritism?
Favoritism, or even the appearance of it, can be a deadly enemy of positive employee attitudes. An employee who feels that he or she is the victim of favoritism is likely to develop a grudge—one that can silently, but effectively, damage the business. While it’s not always possible to avoid regarding some employees more highly than others, allowing that feeling to become obvious to others is a serious management failure.

2. Do you understand the importance of self-esteem?
Every human being has a powerful need to feel respected, accepted, and valued by others. This need is felt in every aspect of a person’s life—and nowhere more strongly than in a business environment. The work of an employee left with no reason to think that his or her boss respects and values his contribution is almost certain to perform below his or her potential. In extreme cases, negligent or even harmful behavior will be the result.

3. Are you a good listener?
Good listeners have a huge advantage in connecting with people; and connecting with customers, prospects, and employees is a critically important part of running a business. Michele Tillis Lederman, author and adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, agrees: “Regardless of where you are in your business career, listening is a skill that you must work on. Listening is not a passive activity. It takes energy and concentration to focus on what people are saying and what they mean by it.”

4. Do you avoid “passing the buck”?
A reputation for always putting the blame on others is a management deficiency that will eventually exact a heavy toll in the form of employee unrest. Being in charge means being willing to take responsibility for whatever happens on your watch. If you want people to stay late to get ready for an incoming heavy workload or finish an important project, stay late yourself. If you want courteous employees, offer courtesy to others. In short, the person leading the operation must display the behavior he or she wants others to emulate.

5. Do you encourage your employees to contribute their ideas?
People who do the same job over and over every day often gain a perspective that even the boss cannot match. This can lead to ideas for improvement attainable in no other way. Not every employee idea will be workable, but those that are used have a double benefit: They improve productivity and encourage the contributor and other employees to make a strong effort to make them work.

6. Do you really “know” your employees?
Each employee has a unique set of needs, talents, and individual circumstances—and providing the kind of recognition that considers employee individuality is an easy task. One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in employees is to take a little time to learn something about each one. Ask about such simple things as the names of spouse and children, hobbies, or special interests and then follow through from time to time with a little conversation that shows you remember them and are genuinely interested.

7. Are you a good delegator?
The idea of delegating responsibility to others makes some bosses feel as if they are giving up power that rightfully belongs to them, or they fool themselves into thinking that if they want it done right they always have to do it themselves. That philosophy is a way of closing the door on employees who want to contribute to the success of the business. In actual practice, effective delegation is a hallmark of skillful management.

8. Are you a good communicator?
The ability to communicate with precision doesn’t come naturally to most, which is unfortunate, since the ability to express our thoughts clearly and effectively is an essential ingredient in successful business management. Since words are the tools with which we build ideas, most experts agree that building a better vocabulary is a key to better communication. The trick is to master enough words to allow clear expression of thoughts without resorting to the use of words that are beyond the understanding of all but English professors.

9. Do you set a good example?
Employees don’t receive inspiration from employee manuals or vocal instructions. The kinds of behavior desired from employees are best shown, not told. As an example, great bosses raise the bar by handling tough situations such as customer complaints with courtesy and respect toward the customer, even when the customer seems to be “wrong.”

Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management and personal and business finance. Reach him at or



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