Ten Traits Employees Want in Their Bosses

By DeEtta Jones

Do you ever feel overwhelmed as a manager? Being overburdened by the responsibility of having to figure out what others want and need of you is a feeling shared among leaders. Fortunately, there is a best practice for obtaining just the kind of information needed to increase your leadership effectiveness – ask those who report to you what they want.

The following ten traits have emerged when frontline staff, supervisors, and middle managers have been asked to describe the traits they look for in a boss. As you read through this wish list, think about the kind of boss you are, the kind of boss you want to be, and what you look for in a good boss.

Employees want bosses who are:

  1. Innovative: Good bosses have good ideas, but their role in innovation is more as a facilitator than a consummate mastermind. They are not threatened by their employees’ talent, and they cultivate a working environment that allows each person’s creativity to come forward. They facilitate innovation.
  2. Coaches: Good bosses provide important guidance that helps employees see how their work is contributing to the larger goals of the organization. They help employees build confidence by giving stretch assignments that require demonstration of new skills and right-sized risk. Then they provide feedback that allows needed course corrections to be made early enough to avoid a major failure. When employees do fail, good bosses encourage reflection of what was learned that can be applied to future endeavors.
  3. Caring: Good bosses listen to their employees and show an interest in their opinions. They provide opportunities to talk openly, showing interest in their employees’ feedback. They encourage personal and professional growth, sometimes by giving access to resources and sometimes by removing barriers.
  4. Strategic: Good bosses can make hard choices and have the finesse needed to get people behind even unpopular decisions. They are able to secure resources for important initiatives that are worth pursuing. They use analytical frameworks for guiding change, promoting transparent processes, and enhancing communication. Strategic bosses are decisive but not closed-minded or dogmatic. Once a decision has been made, they stick with it and avoid changing directions quickly or sending mixed messages.
  5. Visionary: Good bosses are also visionary managers, able to clearly see and build a commitment toward a compelling future state. They articulate a sense of direction, map out the path, and shepherd the process.
  6. Demonstrate Trustworthiness: A good boss is genuine, has integrity, and behaves with consistency according to his or her word and values. Employees trust bosses they know to be intelligent, capable, and having a record of acting in their best interests. They give, receive, and invite feedback that is affirmative and constructive. They are fully aware of their scope of power in the organization and in their relationship with employees. They know how an off-handed comment or unpleasant glance may ruin someone’s entire weekend.
  7. Accessible and Adaptable: Good bosses are able to balance how they give support and direction with the freedom employees need to do their work, acknowledging the level of experience and expertise over his or her domain. They understand that each employee comes to the workplace with unique experiences, needs, and cultural lenses that require individualized attention and support; they can adapt their own style to ensure effective communication and levels of productivity.
  8. Passionate: A good boss is zealous, particularly about the vision and mission of the organization, the people they work with, and the customers who use their products and services. They are the first to roll up their sleeves to contribute, and they model the level of motivation and quality required for the achievement of organizational goals. They help employees stay connected to their own passion by encouraging the sharing of ideas and then helping to shape them to fit within and be supported by the larger organization.
  9. Champions: People want to know that the person they report to is on their side, even when mistakes are made. Champions look for opportunities to catch their employees doing a good job and go out of their way to point it out. They don’t take the credit for their employees’ work, and they don’t blame them when things go wrong. They “influence up” by being a conduit between their employees and higher-level decision makers, often helping their employees develop the strategies needed to take an idea to the top of the organization.
  10. Fun: Good bosses are willing to laugh, and they value a work environment that encourages meaningful relationships between colleagues. They inspire employees by making the connection between head and heart about the importance of their work and value to the company.

Reflect on this list and identify the qualities you are modeling. Think about where there is room for growth in your leadership practice – growth that will lead to increased levels of motivation and engagement. Finally, begin today by encouraging your employees to share their own needs, allowing for timely adjustments.

Remember, leadership is a journey. Bon voyage!

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate, and author. She has more than twenty years of experience working with leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. Her multidimensional background and fresh perspective leaves clients feeling empowered to take on some of the major organizational and workforce challenges of our times. For more information, visit www.deettajones.com.

[From the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue of AnswerStat magazine]