I’ve had several great bosses in my career, but when it comes to the best boss I ever had, my mind immediately goes to the boss I had before I became the boss with my own company. Her name was (well, still is) Dawn Winder and one of the things I admired most about her was her ability to lead with the perfect combination of caring and accountability. She had great vision, knew how to leverage her team and I think all of her direct reports considered her a friend. In fact, I’m still in touch with her and consider her a dear friend. At the same time, we all knew exactly what was expected of us and knew that we needed to meet those expectations. (The thing is – we wanted to because we were so inspired by her!)
So, what got me thinking about the best boss I ever had?
Recently, one of my team members and I were on a project and impressed by the leadership skills of our customer. The first thing we noticed is how much he truly cares about each of his team members. He brought on several new team members while we were there, and he quickly learned their names, the names of their family members and pets, as well as their strengths and some of their challenges. We watched him praise people for their strengths, and listen to their concerns even when their concerns weren’t work-related. It’s very clear to everyone on that team that their boss cares. Because of that, we heard several of the team say that he was “the best boss I ever had,” and they would follow him anywhere.
At the same time, you don’t mess around with him! As part of our work, we put everyone we trained through difficult written and practical tests. Most did well, a few did not. The few who scored poorly were the very same people who did not actively engage in the training program; or fought it the entire time. No surprise there! This leader pulled the people who didn’t do well aside and took them to task on their scores. He challenged them to rise to the occasion and gave them clear consequences if they didn’t. To our delight, we watched these team members in action during our “observation days” and they had completely turned around their behavior. They were fully engaged, upbeat and friendly, and 100% participated in the team. We were impressed!
Occasionally a team member did not live up to expectations, even after coaching, and they were invited to go be successful elsewhere.
Many of us are great at the caring part; and others are great at the accountability part. However, it’s the combination of both that is the magic key that will keep your team inspired and engaged as well as living up to your clearly communicated expectations.
So what doesn’t work?
What doesn’t work is what the best boss I ever had used to call “the Fred Flintstone style of management.” It’s the kind where you just beat your employees over the head with a hypothetical sledgehammer and expect them to jump to attention. It’s when you refuse to acknowledge the contributions of your team because “I’m not going to praise them for doing their job. That’s what I pay them for.” As Dr. Phil has been known to ask, “How’s that working for you?”
At the same time, it doesn’t work to be the caring boss who builds great relationships, lavishes praise on team members, connects with them on a personal level, but is afraid to have the tough conversations when their needed!
So ask yourself…
Where am I strong? Where do I have room for improvement? If you’re like me you know exactly where you need to improve. I know I look to Dawn’s example in my past work experience to guide me and if I can become half the leader to my team that the best boss I ever had was to me, then I’m doing pretty good.
What about you? Who was the best boss you ever had and why? Comment below and let me know! You never know, I may use your example in another blog post or in my next book. The best conversations are two-sided, and your comments are wanted and welcome.
Donna Cutting is the Founder & CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Systems, Inc. and the author of two books including The Celebrity Experience: Insider Secrets to Delivering Red Carpet Customer Service (2008, Wiley) and 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers (Career Press, 2015). To help you with the caring side of the best boss equation, feel free to download the 21 Days of Thank You Free Report by filling in the form to the right of this page.