How do you become a good boss?

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Answered by: Dr. Patsi, An Expert in the Leadership Category
"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

What about your boss? Good boss, or just so-so? I'll bet you can recognize a great boss when you see one. But like great works of art, however, a good boss is hard to define.

The word “boss” conjures up memories of the good, the bad and the ugly ones we’ve endured throughout our careers. Bosses shape how people experience work: joy versus despair, enthusiasm versus complaints, good health versus stress.



Most bosses want to be good at what they do, yet many lack the essential mindsets that precede positive actions and behaviors. They don't know how to become a good boss.

If you're a boss who strives to do great work, you might need to adjust your thinking. The beliefs and assumptions you hold about yourself, your work and your people will determine your actions, according to Stanford University management professor Robert I. Sutton, PhD, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best...and Learn from the Worst (Business Plus, 2010).

“Devoting relentless attention to doing one good thing after another—however small—is the only path I know to become a good boss,” he writes.



Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a restaurant owner, athletic coach or store manager, your success depends on how well you deal with the people who surround you. In any position of authority, great or small, you're expected to personally guide, inspire and discipline.

"Just Right" Managing

Managers who are too assertive will damage relationships with their superiors, peers and subordinates. Conversely, those who aren’t assertive enough will fail to inspire their teams to strive for stretch goals, according to a study conducted by business professors Daniel Ames, PhD, and Francis Flynn, PhD (of Columbia and Stanford Universities, respectively).

To become a good boss, you practice being flexible. There are times when bosses need to coach people, discipline, communicate direction and intervene. The savviest bosses look for the right moments to apply pressure or encouragement to get the best out of their people. In choosing their moments, they command respect instead of contempt.

The Boss as Coach

A major function of good managers is to provide feedback and coaching support. The path to success is lined with small wins. Framing goals as a series of small steps helps people see the importance of their participation.

Smaller goals also help people make better decisions, sustain motivation and manage stress. When subordinates experience a challenge as too big or complex, they can freeze up. When problems are broken down into bite-sized pieces, a boss inspires clarity, calmness and confidence.

Avoid Power Traps

Numerous studies show that people in power tend to become self-centered and oblivious to what their subordinates need, do and say.

Wielding power over others can cause you to:

Become more focused on your own needs and wants

Become less focused on others’ needs

Act as through written and unwritten rules don’t apply to you

To become a good boss, you need to remain on guard to avoid such power traps. Good bosses never forget how closely they are watched by their people, and they resist taking advantage of their position and ignoring others’ needs.

Become a Better Boss

Here's a check list of questions to ask yourself about your abilities as a boss:

Are you managing with just the right degree of assertiveness?

Do you walk the line between enough intervention and micromanaging?

Do you give your people guidance, wisdom and the feedback they need to succeed?

Do you instill a sense of urgency without treating everything as a crisis?

Do you propose big picture, grand goals?

Do you break things down into bite-sized steps?

Do you remind yourself that your people are watching you closely?

Do you avoid doing little things that undermine their performance and dignity?

Do you ignore the little things that could be perceived as overuse of power?

Do you realize that everything you say and do will be magnified in your subordinates’ minds?

Do you see your job as caring for and protecting your people?

Do you fight for them when necessary?

When your people screw up, do you take the hit or hang them out to dry?

When you screw up, do you admit it?

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