What makes a great boss?

What makes a great boss?

I’ve had two great bosses in my life, both of whom I still talk to and respect deeply. Jeff and Andra believed in me and challenged me. They taught me how to think.

At 22, I was so mad when I’d charge into Jeff’s office and not be given an answer to my problem. Instead, I was told to come back with an answer, a technique I use today on my staff.

Andra asked great questions, guiding me to finding my own solutions rather than just handing me an easy fix. She was so subtle it took me years to see the magic she does, and I still rely on her unerring judgement for unusual situations.

If you call enough people and ask them if they like their jobs, patterns emerge. That is the nature of headhunting — to find out what people love and don’t love about their jobs, workplaces and companies. In survey after survey, money is not the reason people leave their jobs. In fact, money is usually No. 5 or No. 6 on the list.

So what’s the No. 1 reason? Their boss. Or sometimes the boss’ boss.

People leave jobs they love to get away from managers they don’t. So to avoid this, what does it take to be a great boss?

High performers, regardless of industry or discipline, in interview after interview, say the same thing. They don’t want to be micromanaged. The word “micromanage” is defined as “control every part, however small, of an enterprise or activity.” But most top achievers define being micromanaged as the sense that that they are not given the good faith and autonomy to do the job they were hired to do.

Liz Ryan, considered to be the world’s most widely read career and workplace authority, recently asked her audience to describe what makes a great boss. Here are the five things that almost every respondent mentioned:

A coach. A great boss has credibility and respect because they can jump in and show their team how to do something instead of asking the team to do something they won’t. Willing to get in the trenches, great bosses lead by example. They believe in their team, have their backs and work to help their staff improve. Great bosses own up to their mistakes, letting their team learn from them. These bosses will give positive feedback as well as constructive criticism now rather than wait for an arbitrary performance review date.


Approachable. A great boss has trust and rapport with their team and can somehow find a way to listen no matter how busy. They make everyone on the team feel welcomed, respected and valuable.


Focused on the goal and the why. Great bosses don’t just push to cross arbitrary lines and check random boxes. They translate to their team how the goal fits into the larger company picture and why it is important to each contributor. They show the larger picture.


Fair and transparent. Great bosses stick to the rules and apply them openly and equally. They don’t play favorites or tolerate politics and drama. It’s clear what the team and everyone on it is responsible for. Slackers can’t hide.


Communicates. They listen and receive insight from the different perspectives in their group and can explain why a decision has been made a certain way. They can adapt their communication style to different personalities and have tough conversations with dignity and respect.

A great boss doesn’t just build a great team. A great boss can change your life.


Dixie Agostino is founder and CEO of Switchgear Recruiting