Bosses can use a variety of leadership styles with their teams, but overall, which type of boss you are falls into just one of four major categories. That's according to brand and marketing expert Nancy Richardson, founder and principal strategist at Dragon Lady, and Rochelle Davidson, certified professional coach and Chief Embolden Officer at Rochelle Davidson Coaching. Together, the pair are co-authors of Work Freely: Love Your Job. Love Your Life.

The 4 types of bosses

Richardson asserts that bosses are smart, wise, new and nice. These categories are connected to your levels of leadership experience and functional expertise, as shown in the box diagram below.

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Richardson also breaks down each category in terms of their general characteristics.

New Bosses

  • Tend to be overpromoted and placed in leadership positions before they've shown the leadership acumen necessary for that role
  • Adequate level of intelligence
  • Focused on the status and power of their title
  • Tends to feel threatened
  • Leans on others for advice
  • Lacks experience required to handle adverse situations

Smart Bosses

  • Exist in most organizations
  • Work super hard to always be the smartest in the room
  • Tend to trump ideas and have the last word
  • Can be the most abrasive, usually because of insecurity, but don't realize how they come across

Nice Bosses

  • Typically offer extreme wisdom, life experience and perspective, so it feels good to work for them
  • Often far removed from the work due to being in their positions for a long time; can be no longer current

Wise Bosses

  • Calm, confident and egoless
  • Have earned their leadership from the ground up
  • Have been guided and coached by the best
  • Seek out massive amount of leadership training wherever they can

Becoming the boss you want to be

Richardson and Davidson point out that the type of boss you are can influence the loyalty, performance and effort of your team, which ultimately decides how healthy your company ends up.

The good news, says Davidson, is that you're not locked into being one type of boss. You can shape yourself into the boss you want to be. Because wise bosses rank high in both functional expertise and leadership experience, becoming one yourself is a good goal. And Davidson breaks down the process of shifting which type of boss you are into three steps.

1. Be honest with yourself and self-assess.

  • Who are you as a leader?
  • What are your current development goals as a leader?
  • What strengthens/energizes you as a leader? What weakens/exhausts you?
  • How do you deal with challenge/adversity/change?
  • When are you at your best (or worst)?
  • How would others describe you as a leader?
  • How do you deal with failure? What significant failure have you experienced? What did you learn from it?
  • What has been the toughest yet most helpful feedback you've ever received?
  • What would happen if others disagreed with you?
  • Why would people want (or not want) you as a boss?
  • What can your people learn from you, and what can you learn from them?

2. Have learning dialogues with your direct reports and peers.

Ask them to answer the questions above and listen carefully to their responses. This kind of conversation will strengthen how much they trust you and offer valuable insights to use on your continuous leadership journey.

3. Engage your people to be the most effective.

Real engagement that turns you into the kind of boss people actually want to work for means that you

  • Acknowledge your strength and where you are growing.
  • Stay humble; admit it when you don't have answers or have made a mistake.
  • Regularly ask for and act on feedback.
  • Have a development plan with specific goals for building both leadership experience and functional expertise.
  • Are kind, not nice. Nice means that you withhold important feedback for fear you'll hurt the other person's feelings. It usually doesn't bring out their best and can be harmful to their career in the long run. When you are kind, you have the tough conversations because you're committed to their growth and performance.

Employees now more than ever, Davidson says, are looking for bosses who inspire, respect, challenge and develop them. And the path to becoming one of those is continuous reflection about your leadership. The more you return to this process, the faster your evolution into a sought-after boss will be.