The Good Boss

Insights for a healthy and productive workplace in challenging economic times.


The question often looms: Why do we work? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter why — we all have to work to some degree or another. Some people work to live and others live to work. Some find a balance between the two where one flows naturally and seamlessly into another. We spend every day doing stuff and it turns out, oddly and intuitively enough, that the people we encounter and work with influence our experience at work as well. Our colleagues, clients, peers, and bosses, all of those we cross paths with at work bear some weight on our satisfaction, productivity, creativity, and diligence for the little niches we may find or cultivate.

Let’s look at how one of these groups affects each and every one of us. Most of us have all had a boss at some point and many of us may be a boss or have been a boss in the past. In this case, we’ll consider a “boss” as any position managerial, supervisory, or executive — really any time someone leads other people. Bosses are important for this reason, that they lead others through experience, vision, and honored time.

Not all bosses are created equal, however, and there are certain trends that make for better bosses. Forty years of combined experience — one of us with 35 as a professional management consultant and the other with five as a fresh and reflective worker — have uncovered prime examples of good bosses. To enlighten the modern workplace and work force, here are five examples of good bosses (and they are not mutually exclusive):

1. The Listener — a boss who will listen to and appreciates different points of view. This boss hears and honors their employees’ thoughts and considerations respectfully but with a caveat being they may or may not put these ideas into action. The Listener listens to their employees because they were hired for a reason. As such, they trust their employees and value their input. Sometimes, they are even dependent upon it. The Listener is a good boss because they have insight beyond their own experience and vision, insight that is influenced by many angles, and because if their employees are allowed to voice their own opinions and ideas, they are inspired and engaged.

2. The Empowerer — a boss that lets employees run their own show and lets them learn by making some mistakes. To a degree of trust and support, this boss cultivates leadership in their team. Working together, they identify tasks and create a plan, but let the employees decide the nuts and bolts of how it actually gets done. The Empowerer doesn’t delegate aimlessly, creating a sense of subordination in their team, but rather engages their employees from the ground up in a focused manner. Employees are inspired to take on leadership roles and collaborate both with their boss and with others. The Empowerer is a good boss because they can simultaneously ignite productivity, personal development, and satisfaction among their employees.

3. The Mentor — a boss that teaches, coaches, and guides. This boss doesn’t necessarily need to be older, but a tad wiser or simply just willing to share. They seek to understand their employees’ experiences and identify which ones need or want mentoring. The relationship with their employees is constructive, meaning both criticism and praise are offered with the intentions of growing the employees’ set of skills. An offer to mentor is either explicitly offered or subtly developed over time. The goal is both in current interest and looking toward the future, always geared to enhance the employees’ skills. The Mentor is a good boss because they ensure a future for the employee and the company while inspiring immediate productivity and engagement.

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