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8 Ways to Be a Truly Memorable Boss

Employees don't leave jobs; they leave bad bosses--and even mediocre ones. Don't be that kind of boss.
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I remember all of my bosses. Some were bad. Most were good.

But only one was truly memorable--in the best possible way.

Memorable bosses possess qualities that may not always show up on paper but do always show up where it matters most: in the hearts and minds of the people they lead.

Here are eight qualities of truly memorable bosses:

They believe the unbelievable.

Most people try to achieve the achievable; that’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than inconceivable.

Memorable bosses expect more--from themselves and from others. Then they show you how to get there. And they bring you along for what turns out to be an unbelievable ride.

They see opportunity in instability and uncertainty.

Unexpected problems, unforeseen roadblocks, major crises... most bosses take down the sails, batten the hatches, and hope to wait out the storm.

A few see a crisis as an opportunity. They know it’s extremely difficult to make major changes, even necessary ones, when things are going relatively smoothly.

They know reorganizing an entire sales team is accepted more easily when a major customer goes under. They know creating new sales channels is a lot easier when a major competitor enters the market. They know reorganizing manufacturing operations is a lot easier when the flow of supplies and components gets disrupted.

Memorable bosses see instability and uncertainty not as a barrier but as an enabler. They reorganize, reshape, and re-engineer to reassure, motivate, and inspire--and in the process make the organization much stronger.

They wear their emotions on their sleeves.

Good bosses are professional.

Memorable bosses are highly professional and yet also openly human. They show sincere excitement when things go well.  They show sincere appreciation for hard work and extra effort. They show sincere disappointment--not in others, but in themselves. They celebrate, they empathize, they worry.

In short, they’re people. And, unlike many bosses, they act as if they know it.

Professional is admirable. Professional--with a healthy blend of humanity--is inspiring.

They protect others from the bus.

Terrible bosses throw employees under the bus.

Good bosses never throw employees under the bus.

Memorable bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way often without the employee knowing until much, much later (if ever--because memorable bosses never seek to take credit).

They’ve been there, done that, and still do that.

Dues aren't paid, past tense. Dues get paid each and every day. The only real measure of value is the tangible contribution a person makes on a daily basis.

That’s why no matter what they’ve accomplished in the past, memorable bosses are never too good to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and do the “grunt” work.  No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.

Memorable bosses never feel entitled, which means no one feels entitled--except to the fruits of their labor.

They lead by permission, not authority.

Every boss has a title. That title gives them the right to direct others, to make decisions, to organize and instruct and discipline.

Memorable bosses lead because their employees want them to lead. They’re motivated and inspired by the person, not the title.

Through their words and actions they cause employees feel they work with, not for, a boss. Many bosses don’t even recognize there’s a difference, but memorable bosses do.

They embrace a larger purpose.

A good boss works to achieve company goals.

A memorable boss also works to achieve company goals--and achieves more than other bosses--but also works to serve a larger purpose: to advance the careers of employees, to make a real difference in the community, to rescue struggling employees, to instill a sense of pride and self-worth in others. They aren’t just remembered for nuts and bolts achievements but for helping others on a more personal or individual level.

Memorable bosses embrace a larger purpose because they know business truly is personal.

They take real risks, not fake risks.

Many bosses--like many people--try to stand out in some superficial way. Maybe it’s their clothes, or their interests, or their public displays of support for popular initiatives. They do stand out, but for reasons of sizzle, not steak.

Memorable bosses stand out because they’re willing to take an unpopular stand, to take an unpopular step, to accept the discomfort of not following the status quo, to take the risk of sailing uncharted waters.

They take real risks not for the sake of risk but for the sake of the reward they believe is possible. And by their example they inspire others to take a risk in order to achieve what they believe is possible.

Memorable bosses inspire others to achieve their dreams: by words, by actions, and most importantly, by example.

Last updated: May 7, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

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



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