While occasionally a great team succeeds in spite of a bad boss, great businesses are almost always built by great leaders.
Unfortunately, illusory superiority is an actual thing. Eight out of 10 people believe they're above average drivers. Nine out of 10 college professors believe they're above average teachers. Ninety-nine out of 100 high school kids believe their social skills are above average.
And most people in leadership positions believe they're good bosses.
But since leadership is more art than science, how can you objectively determine if someone is a great leader?
Researchers from the University of London decided to find out, first identifying factors that not only contribute to employee job satisfaction -- often the canary in the bad-boss coal mine -- but leadership performance as well. (More on that in a moment.)
They boiled those factors down to the following seven questions, answered on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) scale:
- Does your immediate boss provides useful feedback on your work?
- Does your immediate boss respect you as a person?
- Does your immediate boss give you praise and recognition when you do a good job?
- Does your immediate boss is helpful in getting the job done?
- Does your immediate boss encourage and support your development?
- Is your immediate boss successful in getting people to work together?
- Does your immediate boss help and support workers?
Like the tool Google uses to identify its best team managers, the questions focus more on soft skills than hard skills: Respect, feedback, coaching, teamwork, etc.
Yet when the researchers dug deeper, they discovered something interesting.
You might think of a "bad boss" as a person who is, well, a jerk: Rude, disengaged, disrespectful, dismissive.
But the researchers found that bad bosses were relatively strong in their "respect for workers" and weakest on "ability to get the job done" and "employee development."
As the researchers say:
This seems an intriguing finding. It does not mean that respect is irrelevant... respect is correlated with job satisfaction. It is that the Devil Wears Prada conception of a boss -- in which Miranda Priestly is a disdainful human being who is openly rude to employees -- in fact is not the typical kind of bad boss even though it is perhaps a common kind of media representation.
In modern workplaces, the problem is apparently not primarily that bad bosses are disrespectful. The key problem of bad bosses may not be that they are unpleasantly disrespectful of others... but rather that they may lack the sheer technical competence to get the job done. (My emphasis.)
In simple terms: Technical skill matters -- as does actually putting all that knowledge, experience, and skill to use.
Which leads to a key point.
Some people want to be bosses because they want the job title. (Some entrepreneurs want to start businesses because they want to be a "startup founder.")
Great bosses -- great entrepreneurs -- don't care about job titles. They want to be in charge because they want the work. They want the outcomes. They want to be in charge because they will then have a bigger impact on results.
As HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah likes to say, "You don't need a VP of Engineering. You need a doer of stuff that needs to get done."
The best bosses want the job -- not the title.
A great sales manager is a person who excels at helping people sell more. A great product manager excels at helping people create and deliver new products. A great operations manager excels at helping people keep the trains running ahead of schedule.
They have people skills and technical skills.
So while it might occasionally be true, as the saying goes, that "a great leader can lead anywhere," hard skills definitely matter. Research shows having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on employee job satisfaction.
As those researchers write, "If your boss could do your job, you're more likely to be happy at work."
Which means the best bosses score highly on respect, providing feedback, coaching and mentoring... but they also know their (stuff), and use that knowledge to get things done.
Your employees? They'll respect you if you're generous, thoughtful, and kind.
But they'll respect you even more when you also get stuff done.