Good bosses look good on paper. Great bosses look great in person; their actions show their value.
Yet some bosses go even further. They’re truly exceptional — not because of what you see them do but what you don’t see them do.
Where remarkable bosses are concerned, what you see is far from all you get:
- They forgive…and they forget.
When an employee makes a mistake — especially a major mistake — it’s easy to forever view that employee through the perspective of that mistake. (I know. I’ve done it.)
But one mistake, or one weakness, is just one part of the whole person.
Great bosses are able to step back, set aside a mistake, and think about the whole employee.
Exceptional bosses are also able to forget that mistake, because they know that viewing any employee through the lens of one incident may forever impact how they treat that employee.
And they know the employee will be able to tell.
To forgive may be divine… but to forget can be even more important.
- They transform company goals into employee’s personal goals.
Great bosses inspire their employees to achieve company goals.
Exceptional bosses make their employees feel that what they do will benefit them as much as it does the company. After all, for whom will you work harder: a company or yourself?
Whether they get professional development, an opportunity to grow, a chance to shine, a chance to flex their favorite business muscles, employees who feel a sense of personal purpose almost always outperform employees who feel a sense of company purpose.
And they have a lot more fun doing it.
The best bosses know their employees well enough to tap the personal, not just the professional.
- They look past the action to uncover the emotion or motivation.
Sometimes employees make mistakes or simply do the wrong thing. Sometimes they take over projects or roles without approval or justification. Sometimes they jockey for position, play political games, or ignore company objectives in pursuit of personal goals.
When that happens, it’s easy to assume they don’t listen or don’t care. But almost always there’s a deeper reason: They feel stifled, they feel they have no control, they feel marginalized or frustrated — or maybe they are just trying to find a sense of meaning in their work that pay rates and titles can never provide.
Effective bosses deal with actions. Exceptional bosses search for the underlying issues that, when overcome, lead to much bigger change for the better.
- They support without seeking credit.
A customer is upset. A vendor feels shortchanged. A coworker is frustrated. Whatever the issue, good bosses support their employees. They know that to do otherwise undermines the employee’s credibility and possibly authority.
Afterword, most bosses will say to the employee, « Listen, I took up for you, but… »
Remarkable bosses don’t say anything. They feel supporting their employees — even if that shines a negative spotlight on themselves — is the right thing to do and is therefore unremarkable.
Even though we all know it isn’t.
- They make fewer public decisions.
When a decision needs to be made, most of the time the best person to make that decision isn’t the boss. Most of the time the best person is the employee closest to the issue.
Decisiveness is a quality of a good boss. Great bosses are decisive too, but often in a different way: They decide they aren’t the right person to make a decision, and then decide who is the right person.
They do it not because they don’t want to avoid making those decisions but because they know they shouldn’t make those decisions.
- They don’t see control as a reward.
Many people desperately want to be the boss so they can finally call the shots.
Remarkable bosses don’t care about control. As a result, they aren’t seen to exercise control.
They are seen as a person who helps.
- They allow employees to learn their own lessons.
It’s easy for a boss to debrief an employee and turn a teachable moment into a lesson learned.
It’s a lot harder to let employees learn their own lessons, even though the lessons we learn on our own are the lessons we remember forever.
Exceptional bosses don’t scold or dictate; they work together with an employee to figure out what happened and what to do to correct the mistake. They help find a better way, not a disciplinary way.
Great employees don’t need to be scolded or reprimanded. They know what they did wrong. Sometimes staying quiet is the best way to ensure they remember.
- They let employees have the ideas.
Years ago I worked in manufacturing and my boss sent me to help move the production control offices. It was basically manual labor, but for two days it put me in a position to watch and hear and learn a lot about how the plant’s production flow was controlled.
I found it fascinating and asked my boss if I could be trained to fill in as a production clerk. Those two days sparked a lifelong interest in productivity and process improvement.
Later he admitted to an ulterior motive. « I knew you’d go in there with your eyes wide open, » he said, « and once you got a little taste, I knew you’d love it. »
Remarkable bosses see the potential in their employees and find ways to let them have the ideas, even though the outcome was what they intended all along.
- They always go home feeling they could have done better.
Leadership is like a smorgasbord of insecurity. Bosses worry about employees and customers and results. You name it, they worry about it.
That’s why great bosses go home every day feeling they could have done things a little better or smarter. They wish they had treated employees with a little more sensitivity or empathy.
Most importantly, they always go home feeling they could have done more to fulfil the trust their employees place in them.
And that’s why, although you can’t see it, when they walk in the door every day exceptional bosses make a silent commitment to do their jobs even better than they did yesterday.
And then they do just that.