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DeEtta Jones


The Best Bosses Are…

What every employee wants from you as a leader

Published: Thursday, November 6, 2014 - 11:22

Do you ever feel overwhelmed as a manager? Being overburdened by the responsibility of having to figure out what the people on your team want and need from you is a familiar feeling shared among leaders. Fortunately, there is a “best practice” for obtaining just the kind of information needed to increase your leadership effectiveness—ask them what they want.

The following 10 traits have emerged when front-line staff, supervisors, and middle managers have been asked to describe the traits they look for in a boss. As you read through their “wish list,” think about the kind of boss you are, you want to be, and what you look for in a good boss yourself.

Employees want bosses who are:

1. Innovative
Good bosses have good ideas but their role in innovation is more as facilitator than consummate mastermind. They are not threatened by the talent of their employees, and cultivate a working environment that allows each person’s creativity to come forward. They facilitate innovation.

2. Coaches
Good bosses provide important education and guidance that helps employees see how their work contributes to the larger goals of the organization. They help employees build confidence by giving stretch assignments that require demonstration of new skills and right-sized risk, then provide feedback that allows needed course corrections early enough to avoid a major failure. When employees do fail, good bosses encourage reflection and identification of learning that can be applied to future endeavors.

3. Caring
Good bosses listen to their employees and show an interest in their opinions. They provide opportunities to talk openly, showing interest in their employees’ opinions. They encourage personal and professional growth, sometimes by giving access to resources (like professional development experiences) and sometimes by removing barriers.

4. Strategic
Good bosses can make hard choices and have the finesse needed to get people behind even sometimes unpopular decisions. They are able to secure resources for important initiatives worth pursuing. They use analytical frameworks for guiding change, promoting transparent processes, and communication. Strategic bosses are decisive (not to be confused with closed-minded or dogmatic). Once a decision has been made, they stick with it and avoid changing directions quickly or sending mixed messages.

5. Visionary
Good bosses are also visionary managers, able to clearly see and build a commitment toward a compelling future state. They articulate a sense of direction, map out the path, and shepherd the process.

6. Demonstrably trustworthy
A good boss is genuine, has integrity, and behaves in a manner consistent with his or her words and values. Employees trust bosses they know to be intelligent and capable, with a demonstrated track record of acting in their best interests. They give and receive (even invite) feedback, and always receive it in an affirmative and constructive way. They are fully aware of their scope of power in the organization and in their relationship with employees. They recognize that an off-handed comment or unpleasant glance may ruin someone’s entire weekend.

7. Accessible and Adaptable
Good bosses are able to balance how they give support and direction with the freedom employees need to do their work, acknowledging specific levels of experience and expertise. They understand that each employee comes to the workplace with unique experiences, needs, and cultural lenses that will require individualized attention and support, and can adapt their own style to ensure effective communication and levels of productivity.

8. Passionate
A good boss has a fire their belly about something—particularly the vision, mission of the organization, and the people with whom they work and whom their products and services are meant to touch. They are the first to roll up their sleeves to contribute and model the level of motivation and quality required to achieve organizational goals. They help employees stay connected to their own passions by encouraging the sharing of ideas, and then help shape those ideas to fit within and be supported by the larger organization.

9. Champions
People want to know that the person to whom they report is on their side, even when mistakes are made. Champions look for opportunities to catch their employees doing a good job, and go out of their way to point it out. They don’t take the credit for their employees’ work, and they don’t throw an employee under the bus—ever. They “influence up” by being a conduit between their employees and higher-level decision makers, often helping their employees develop the language and influence strategies needed to take an idea to the top of the organization.

10. Fun
Good bosses are willing to laugh and value a work environment that encourages meaningful relationships between colleagues. They inspire us by making the connection from our head to our heart about the importance of our work and our value to the company.


Here’s the leadership next step: reflect on the list and identify qualities you are modeling. Think about where there is room for growth in your leadership practice—growth that will lead to increased levels of motivation and engagement. Finally, begin today by encouraging your employees to share their own needs, and allow for timely adjustments.

Remember, leadership is a journey. Bon voyage!


About The Author

DeEtta Jones’s picture

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate, and author. She has more than 20 years of experience working with individual leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. Her multidimensional background and fresh perspective leaves clients feeling heard and empowered to take on some of the major organizational and workforce challenges of our times. Jones has taught undergraduate and graduate-level courses on leadership and diversity. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in higher education from Colorado State University, and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.