Many people are good bosses. Some people are great bosses.
A handful go even further: They're phenomenal, not only because of what you see them do but also because of what you don't see them do.
If you're a truly phenomenal boss, what your employees see is far from everything they get.
1. You look past the action to understand the motivation.
Sometimes an employee makes a mistake or does the wrong thing. Sometimes an employee takes over a project or a role without approval or justification. Sometimes an employee jockeys for position, plays political games, or ignores company objectives in pursuit of a personal agenda.
When that happens, it's easy to assume that person won't listen or doesn't care. But there is almost always a deeper reason: The individual feels stifled, feels they have no control, feels marginalized or frustrated--or maybe is just trying to find a sense of meaning in their work that pay rates and titles can never provide.
Effective bosses deal with actions. Great boss search for the underlying issues that, when overcome, lead to a much bigger change for the better.
2. You forgive...and more importantly, you 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.
If you're a great boss, you can also forget that mistake because you know that viewing any employee through the lens of one incident may forever impact how you treat that employee. (And you know the employee will be able to tell.)
To forgive may be divine, but to forget can be even more divine.
3. You place importance on employee goals as much as on organizational goals.
Good bosses inspire their employees to achieve company goals.
The best 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, or 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.
If you're a great boss, you know your employees well enough to tap the personal, not just the professional.
4. You support without seeking credit.
A client gets upset. A supplier feels shortchanged. A colleague gets frustrated. Whatever the issue, good bosses support their employees. They know that to do otherwise undermines the employee's credibility and possibly authority.
Afterward, most bosses will say to the employee, "Listen, I took up for you, but...."
If you're a great boss, you don't say anything afterwards. You feel that supporting your employees--even if that shines a negative spotlight on you--is the right thing to do, and is therefore unexceptional.
Even though we all know it isn't.
5. You 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.
You do it not because you want to avoid making certain decisions, but because you know you shouldn't make certain decisions.
6. You don't see control as a reward.
Many people desperately want to be the boss so they can finally call the shots.
As a great boss, you don't care about control. So your employees don't see you as someone who exercises control.
And that's great, because you would rather be seen as a person who helps.
7. You let your employees learn their own lessons.
It's easy for a boss to get heavy-handed and turn a teachable moment into a lesson learned.
It's a lot harder to let people learn their own lessons, even though the lessons we learn on our own are the lessons we remember forever.
Great 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.
After all, great employees don't need to be scolded or reprimanded. They know what they did wrong. That's why you know that sometimes staying silent is the best way to ensure they remember.
8. You let your 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 later, I 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 he had a larger 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."
If you're a great boss, you see the potential in your employees--and you find ways to let them have the ideas, even though the outcome was what you hoped for all along.
9. You always go home feeling you could have done a little better.
Leadership is like a smorgasbord of insecurity. You name it, bosses worry about it.
That's why the best leaders go home every day feeling they could have done things a little better, or faster, or smarter. They wish they had treated employees with a little more sensitivity or empathy.
Most importantly, they go home feeling they could have done more to fulfill the trust their employees place in them.
And that's why, although other people can't see it, when you walk in the door every day, you make a silent commitment to do your job even better than you did yesterday.
Why? Because you're a great boss.