When I wrote about the worst boss traits last month, I wasn't expecting such an intense reaction. Dozens of readers told me they felt the list revealed a lot about their own situation working for a boss who didn't quite understand their motivations or skills.
It hit a soft spot, and in a few cases, readers even told me they had decided to look for a different job. (My guess is there are a lot of really horrible bosses out there--shame on you!) A few even said "that's me" and expressed a desire to change in one or two areas, which is even more amazing.
Of course, it got me thinking--what makes a great boss? Why do employees stick around in a company and even choose to rise in the ranks and choose a leadership position? The "worst boss" list was based on a survey, but from what I've seen and observed at startups and in my own working life, there are several "best boss" traits that help with retention. Here they are, starting with the most important trait first.
I'm convinced the ability to see the perspective of the employee is crucial for overall retention. Why is that employee even working here? What are his or her goals? When a boss can show empathy to an employee, it creates a deep connection of trust. Employees want to stick around because they know they will be understood, motivated, and appreciated.
Empathy and trust are closely tied. When a boss trusts, it is an act of retention because the employee feels he or she will be valued and not overlooked. "I trust you to get this done" is almost the exact same thing as saying "I want you to work here."
A terrible boss sends the employee up a river without a paddle. Or even a canoe. A great boss is loyal because he or she knows what the employee really needs. We all want to work for someone who trusts us and wants us to achieve great things. And, we hate working for someone who steals the credit or doesn't have our best interests in mind.
The best bosses in the world are discerning. They know how to make smart decisions, and we all know when that isn't the case--the "dumb" boss who makes random decisions without thinking is not someone who can retain employees. If anything, they flee in all directions.
Closely linked to discernment is this idea of providing insight in the workplace. We all want to be around people like that. It's like a constant brainstorming session when you have an insightful boss. She comes into the room...and the insight flows. That reflects on the employees as well; they suddenly become insightful, and that's a wonderful springboard for their own growth.
A lying boss is a terrible boss. Who can trust someone like that? Yet, when the boss sticks to the plan, follows up with action, handles conflict, and jumps into problems on behalf of the team, it reveals character. Employees know the boss is on their side.
Let's be honest, a great boss is someone who rewards good work performance. This is not a volunteer effort. Yet, we're not talking about compensation as a primary motivator. A great boss rewards with words of encouragement and affirmation, with a clear explanation, and with communication that makes the employee feel valued.
I'm convinced a great boss knows how to be relationship-driven. The first question you hear when you return from vacation is not--when will you finish that project? It's always--did you get a tan? It's a keen awareness that you're a person and have a life outside of work.
Honor is not just something you show in the military or formal settings. A boss can show honor to an employee. The word literally means esteem. You see the value of hard work, you honor an employee by not constantly nitpicking and criticizing.
One last "best boss" trait is conviction. A great boss sticks to the plan. Employees love that because a shifting purpose and an evolving (or revolving) set of ideas puts them on edge. They never know what to expect. We might put up with inconsistencies with family members, but when a boss is wishy-washy, we start looking for an exit plan.