How to Be a Good Boss
If you’re a hardworking, talented, and career-driven person, you probably aspire to be a leader some day. It’s easy to understand why. “Being a boss” can feel like a natural next step after years or even decades of hard work and professional achievement.
But being a good boss requires a number of skills that are separate from the ones that probably got you promoted. When you become a leader, your talents for writing code, or planning weddings, or stamping out widgets at the widget factory become inconsequential overnight, and your career success begins to depend instead on how well you communicate, motivate, and connect with the hearts and minds of others.
Most people find this shift harder than they expected. They often end up feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and less sure of themselves than they felt before. Many seek out career coaching or leadership coaching to learn not only how to be a boss, but how to be a good boss, capable of leading a team of talented people to accomplish great things. They begin a process of personal growth that makes them more aware, more influential, and more courageous, at work and in every other area of their lives.
This episode of the podcast is for anyone who leads other people, or who hopes to someday. As a small business owner myself, I can tell you that being a good boss is not a destination, but an ongoing journey that will challenge you in unexpected ways. I hope this episode gives you some fresh ideas for where to begin.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
P.S. — For more expert advice on reaching your highest career potential, check out our “professional growth” collection of articles and podcasts.
How to Be a Good Boss: Episode Highlights
Professional development means continuously growing so that you can function at higher and higher levels in your career. When you go from being managed to managing others, your continued professional development will require you to pick up some new leadership skills.
But before you get started on any of that, first you need to ask yourself a question:
Are You Cut Out to Be a Leader?
The truth is, not everyone is a natural-born boss — and that’s ok.
There are a number of personality traits that can make it hard to manage others. You might be conflict avoidant, and find difficult conversations about things like performance problems even more stressful than the average person. You might be very introverted, and find it exhausting to have people turning to you for answers a dozen times a day. Your organization skills and ability to plan might not be strong enough to get a team of people working in alignment toward a common goal.
None of these qualities are deal breakers. There are plenty of fantastic bosses who are naturally conflict avoidant, or introverted, or disorganized. But they are able to lead effectively because they work on themselves really hard so they can do what needs to be done in spite of their limitations in these areas.
Are you willing to do that if you need to? And would you actually enjoy embracing that kind of personal growth process?
If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” you would be better off respectfully declining a management position. You won’t enjoy the work, and the people you’re supposed to be leading will feel frustrated and directionless. You would feel happier and find more success if you direct your talents elsewhere.
If you have the self-awareness and humility to turn down a leadership position because it’s not the right fit for you, that’s something you can feel proud of. The world would be a much better place if more people knew themselves so well.
What Makes a Good Boss?
Good leaders share a few qualities. You may or may not have been born with these traits; what matters is whether you’re willing to put in the work to develop them, and whether you can find some enjoyment in that process.
First, leaders need to be able to see into the future a bit. When your job is to produce something or perform a series of tasks, you can focus on your goals for the day, or the week, or maybe the quarter. When your job is leading others, you have to expand your future horizon to consider the years ahead. Where is your organization going? How do you plan to get there? How does everyone on your team fit into that plan?
This kind of “visionary” thinking is possible when you’re skilled at creative problem solving. There are obstacles standing between where you are now and where you want to be. When you’re the leader, it’s your job to anticipate them and plan a way around them, while your team is focused on the day-to-day tasks that keep your organization afloat.
Next, you need to be able to communicate your vision to others in a way that is clear, and that generates goodwill and enthusiasm. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially the last part.
The power dynamic between bosses and employees is tilted heavily in the boss’s direction. This is as it should be; anyone who has ever held a bake sale knows that without clear leadership, it’s impossible to keep a group of people organized and on-task. But if you aren’t skilled at building positive relationships with other people, this uneven power dynamic can become a fertile breeding ground for alienation, resentment, and other destructive ingredients that lead to a toxic work environment.
You don’t want the people you’re managing to do what you say because you’re the boss. You want them to do what you say because they share your vision, they’re excited about creating it, and they trust you to lead them there. The number-one skill you need to create that kind of work environment is emotional intelligence.
Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader
You might be wondering, what is emotional intelligence? It’s the ability to understand and manage your own feelings, and to connect with those of others. It’s an essential skill for career success, especially if your goal is to be a good boss.
There are four facets of emotional intelligence:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
Human beings have feelings, even at work. How readily do you recognize and understand your feelings? You can’t take responsibility for your own feelings, manage them effectively, and understand other people’s emotional states without first tuning into how you feel through self-awareness.
Once you become aware of a feeling, you do something to regulate it. This is self-management, and it’s especially important when you’re under stress at work. For example, when you’re exercising good self-management, you may notice when you’re starting to feel frustrated with a coworker, and take some time to calm down before providing them with feedback, rather than saying something out of frustration that will hurt their feelings and damage the relationship.
Next, emotional intelligence requires social awareness, or the ability to understand and empathize with others. When you have good social awareness, you can surmise how other people are likely feeling and use that information to make smart decisions about how you’re going to interact with them. You’re thoughtful about what you say, you choose good moments to have important conversations, and you know when to push people and when to cut them some slack.
Finally, emotional intelligence requires relationship management skills. At work, this looks like creating an emotionally safe environment where people feel comfortable discussing how they’re working together, so problems can be resolved and the team can keep moving forward. When you’re empathetic and approachable, you help create the kind of working environment where people will communicate openly and authentically, which is essential to accomplishing your mission.
Most people believe they’re more emotionally intelligent than average, but it’s impossible to know for sure until you’ve done an actual assessment. We all have blind spots, or things that other people know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Career counselors use a tool called “the Johari window” to help people understand themselves and their relationships with others, particularly how they’re coming off to their coworkers. It’s a quadrant with information about things you know about yourself, things other people know about you, and things that are known to both or neither. The only way to uncover the personal traits that are hidden from you is through an effective assessment.
Working with a good emotional intelligence coach can help you assess your emotional intelligence, uncover your blind spots, and use that insight to improve your relationships with the people you’re leading.
Good bosses can recognize the strengths and the growth opportunities in the people on their teams. This not only helps them put the right people in the right roles, it helps them coach their people to develop as professionals.
Different people need different things to grow. To be a good mentor, you have to be able to recognize where each team member is at, where they want to be, what their personality is like, and what motivates them. Then, you can guide them toward doing their best work.
Delegation is an essential skill for leaders to learn, but it can be a lot harder than it sounds, especially for the hyper-competent, proactive types who tend to get ahead at work and reach leadership positions.
Delegation usually doesn’t come with an immediate payoff. You have to ask someone to do a task, show them how to do it, and provide accountability to ensure it gets done. Sometimes, you have to do some or all of these steps multiple times. Eventually, if the person you’re leading is competent and coachable, they’ll incorporate the task into their work without having to be asked. But in the meantime, it can feel a lot easier to just do it yourself.
If you take that approach and fail to practice delegating, it won’t take long for you to become overloaded, especially if you’re managing a large team. Many managers who arrive in career coaching feeling burned out really need help learning how to delegate.
Delegating also means accepting that other people may do things differently than you would, which is tough when you’re someone who likes to be in control. Focus on the outcome you want, and be flexible when you can about the process that people use to create that outcome.
Finally, being a good boss means practicing humility. It means recognizing that just because you’re managing others doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You will always have room to grow and learn, and the people who work for you will provide you with valuable feedback that will point you in the right direction — if you can create an empowered workplace where they feel comfortable doing so.
When leaders won’t listen to the people they’re managing or take influence from them, it stunts their own professional growth and the growth of the organization. If you’ve put the right people in the right roles, you should trust them and welcome their authentic feedback.
Becoming a Good Boss
If you’ve read this article and/or listened to this episode about how to be a good boss, you’re already on the right track. Maintaining a growth mindset and continuing to develop your leadership skills will serve you well, and will make life a lot easier for the people you serve through your leadership.
If you’d like more support becoming a good boss, schedule a free consultation with a leadership coach on our team.
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How to Be a Good Boss
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Music in this episode is by Luca Lozano with their song “Boss Moves.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://lucalozano.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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