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What makes a great boss?

LumbergBusiness books and articles frequently address the question “what makes a great leader?” Studies of leader effectiveness and company performance are often cited when this popular topic is being discussed.

What is not referenced as often is what employees think makes a great boss. It turns out there is a strong correlation between employee perceptions of their bosses and how it effects their personal productivity and company performance.

When employees are asked to describe the best boss they have ever worked for, and to list the characteristics that distinguished that individual, they identify six attributes:

1. recognizes me appropriately
2. supports me without taking over
3. involves me in decisions
4. listens to me
5. takes time to explain the rationale for decisions
6. takes care to maintain my self-esteem

Unfortunately, most bosses don’t meet these criteria. As many as 60 percent of surveyed employees say their boss sometimes damages their self-esteem and almost half say their boss rarely or never asks for their ideas or provides feedback on their performance. A full 40 percent say their boss very rarely or never adequately recognizes their contributions.

When comparing levels of motivation, 94 percent of employees report that they are motivated to be more productive by the “best boss” while only 5 percent report being motivated by “the worst boss.”

This data is supported by my former career experience as an HR executive. Most of the managers and executives I worked with fell far short when it came to listening and providing acknowledgement and feedback to their employees, and a very rare few were really good at these behaviors.

For some tips on what small business owners can do to improve these competencies, both personally and in their management teams, I turned to Mary Ann Kmetyk of Applied Performance Strategies. She points out that the behaviors attributed to the “best bosses” are fundamental leadership skills that enable leaders to get things done while developing respect, trust and motivation among those they lead.

A critical starting point is to understand yourself as a leader. Many business owners’ self-perceptions of how they manage are different from how their employees perceive them. A 360-degree feedback tool, or a leadership or climate survey can be particularly helpful in shedding light on how employees feel about their boss’s leadership skills.

While many leaders think of education, training and coaching in terms of acquiring technical expertise, the specific competencies modeled by the “best bosses” can also be learned with proper training. Applied Performance Strategies conducts training sessions that teach managers how to provide effective performance feedback as well as how to effectively engage their subordinates.

And of course, simply remembering to acknowledge the good work of your staff members and asking them what they think can go a long way toward making you a better and more effective boss.