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13 Habits of Extraordinary Bosses

Extraordinary bosses use these habits to bring out the extraordinary in those around them.
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The most popular post I've ever written is The Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Bosses. However, while that post clearly struck a chord, it lacked something important: a code of behavior that puts those beliefs into action.

Probably my favorite business book is Sylvia Lafair's Don't Bring It To Work: Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success. In that book, Sylvia describes how people can transcend the limitations of their family background to become better workers.

In the process of describing that transformation, Lafair describes a set of habits that define how ideal leaders behave when they've got their beliefs aligned the right way. Here they are:

1. They collaborate rather than grandstand.

Extraordinary bosses realize that success doesn't have to entail only individual accomplishment. They redefine that emotionally-packed word "success" so that wealth, position, and fame are no longer what really matters. They realize that group success is entirely consistent with individual accomplishment.

2. They build communities rather than platoons.

Extraordinary bosses focus on the basic wants and needs of the community and the desire to move from what exists now to what is possible. This creates a groundswell of activity as more and more people feel included and want to help. This allows them to tackle problems at the core, in order to make change happen.

3. They create new realities.

Extraordinary bosses create a sense that all things are possible. Everyone who's ever faced a daunting challenge knows how important it is to be around somebody who can communicate what seems impossible and see the essence of hope in a haystack of adversity, allowing a business to break through into new markets.

4. They laugh at problems (and themselves).

Extraordinary bosses use humor put worries into perspective, so that we can laugh at ourselves and the situation before tackling hard work. The ability to tell the right joke at the right time reduces office stress and builds camaraderie, which is a real advantage in today's intense, fast-paced work environments.

5. They help others visualize a better future.

Extraordinary bosses don't just have a vision of the future. They also have a rare ability to understand and channel the desires and needs of other people. They listen as much as they talk and thus create a shared vision that motivates everybody, not just the boss. They point to a place that we know is better and give us the courage to get there.

6. They avidly explore new ideas.

Extraordinary bosses are always willing to be part of the first test to make sure that a project will succeed. They guide people into new territory, without hogging the limelight. They have a great sense of timing and know when to wait until the kinks have been worked out... without waiting too long.

7. They mentor and coach.

Extraordinary bosses know how to listen and give good advice at just the right time. Because they haven't sailed through life, they know what it's like to overcome intense obstacles and challenges. Most importantly, they're willing to let go when you're competent to make your own decisions without them.

8. They use stories to inspire.

Extraordinary bosses know that a good story can move people to places where no PowerPoint can take them. They know that stories help people understand how problems can be, and should be, solved. They use stories to close the distance that voicemail, e-mails and texting create between us.

9. They integrate pieces into wholeness.

Extraordinary bosses have the ability to see all sides of a situation and allow conflicting parties to not only be heard but acknowledged. They can gather a group and find ways that individuals can work together. They have an uncanny way of "slicing the pie" so that while every piece may not be identical, everyone feels treated with fairness and respect.

10. They tell the truth, even when inconvenient.

Extraordinary bosses do not change their minds just to pacify someone, although they are not averse to adjusting their opinions if that will enable a conflict to push towards resolution. They do not "beat around the bush," so you always know where you stand.  They treat you as an adult who can handle the truth rather than a child who must be protected from it.

11. They act before they have ALL the answers.

Extraordinary bosses can tolerate and moderate the conflicts that inevitably show up before the creative process comes into full bloom. They enjoy being involved in the thick of arguments, thus allowing problems and dissent to be resolved more quickly so that the creative process can move forward.

12. They create a climate of trust.

Extraordinary bosses know that trust is the glue that holds an organization together. Their commitment to build trust creates a counter force to the deception and political game-playing that makes so many offices difficult places to work. They know that trusting, and being trusted, is the best way to ensure that everyone in the organizations wins.

13. They make peace between factions.

Extraordinary bosses cannot be swayed to side with one group or individual against another but instead work to preserve the integrity of the whole system. Peacemakers teach us that peace is a state of mind and that it's still possible to be happy even in the midst of turmoil and chaos.

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Last updated: Feb 19, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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