Eight little secrets of being a good boss

Oct 12 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

So you have just landed your first management job. Congratulations. But before you get too excited, remember that newly-minted managers are much closer to being reviled than revered - and how to be a good boss is one of the most challenging aspects of any management position.

"BOSS has become a 'four-letter word' in the workplace," says Jim Concelman, from HR consultants Development Dimensions International (DDI).

"Many new leaders are inheriting the bad feelings created by their predecessors and other less-than-competent bosses in the organisation," he added.

"These pioneers have a chance to repair these attitudes and change the preconceived idea that all bosses are bad - but it needs to be done quickly while the person is new to his or her leadership role."

So what do managers need to know as they embark upon his or her new job? A survey by website Badbossology.com and DDI, asked workers to speak out about their bosses and what they could be doing better.

Here are eight little secrets that every new leader needs to know.

You're not really their friend anymore
In fact, most workers said their greatest hesitation about becoming the boss would be supervising their friends and the resulting change in the water cooler culture.

"This is uncomfortable because suddenly, the boss can't ignore a teammate's weaknesses or poor performance, and harder still, many bosses are responsible for employees' pay," Concelman says. The new manager has to hold his or her former peers accountable - and treat the whole team equally, friend or not.

It's not your jokes they're laughing at
Your team actually compares you to prime-time boss caricatures such as "You're Fired" real estate mogul Donald Trump, domestic diva Martha Stewart or "Lost's" reluctant leader Jack Shepherd, according to the most recent Badbossology survey.

These famous bosses poke fun at the most extreme examples and serve as fodder for workplace gossip. New bosses need to be effective from day one to prevent being 'Dilberted,' according to Concelman.

"Once you've been tagged as the pointy-haired boss, it takes a lot of time and effort to recover respect," he says.

Your suspicions are right - employees are wasting time
But it's because they're complaining about you! Nearly one third of all employees spend at least 20 hours a month lamenting about the boss, which adds up to a lot of negative energy.

"This is the kryptonite that sucks away a manager's power, and it can't be ignored," Concelman says.

It is best addressed head-on after identifying if it is truly a leadership issue or the rantings of problem employees. "Experienced managers know that poor performers often complain the most. Still, it raises real concerns from other team members about the skills and behaviours of the boss," he adds.

Employees will accept change - if they're consulted first
The majority of workers responded that the most important thing a new boss can do is ask them what they think should be different. If change creates stress, a new boss can foster a fear of the unknown in employees.

"Giving them some input helps them gain control and feel less apprehensive about the change," Concelman says.

It's not about you looking good now
In fact, 60 percent of employees said the most respectable quality in a boss was their ability to help them succeed.

"Effective leaders relinquish the spotlight and put others there instead," Concelman says. "It is a stressful transition, going from being judged on your own accomplishments to those of your team, and leaders have to help employees shine by putting their success ahead of his or her own."

Your team doesn't share your goals
A great disconnect between a boss and his/her team is in their priorities. According to DDI's 2005 Leadership Forecast research, bosses put the bottom line on the top of their priority list, while employees in the DDI/Badbossology survey rank it as the least of their worries.

"A leader has to connect everyone's priorities and help individuals understand their contribution to organizational goals," Concelman explains. "At the same time, they have to listen to what is important to employees as well."

Not feeling up to the task? You're not alone
More than one in five workers surveyed said their greatest hesitation about becoming the boss was being perceived as incompetent, and nearly 25 percent said they would feel unprepared for the responsibility.

Why such hesitation to jump in? "There is a lot more at risk once you're in a leadership position," Concelman says.

Don't worry about having employees who don't like you - they'll just leave
There is no honeymoon period for new bosses - workers won't stick around once they realize they have a bad boss, with nearly half finding the door within six months.

Ten percent said they would quit immediately and 36 percent said they would give it three to six months.

"People vote with their feet, and if employees don't feel valued by the new boss, they'll quickly find someplace that will appreciate them," Concelman says.

"While some of this turnover is the result of increased accountability or personality clashes, a bad boss is a leading cause."

Some bosses deserve praise. But too many others don't, and are just desperate to be a good boss. If you've got a story about a boss - good or bad - let us know and we'll publish them here.

Older Comments

There's only one secret to being a good boss. Listening.

Steve Jones

How can we define a good boss? My boss had been trouble with one of my collegues and my collegue resigned. My boss is respected by employees but some others do not like her characteristics. I think being perceived as a good boss can be very subjective.


Nice read. Good values and good performance is the key for any newly-minted managers to make themselves revered by their people. Cheers!

vkn inspiringwords.blogspot.com

VK Narayanan Muscat, Oman

I think a good boss does at least three things well; leads by example, knows how and when to praise or admonish and knows the best person for a given task. To this last point, a team is a group of people who complement each other's skills; a boss is someone who knows who to assign to which task in order to maximize the team's effectiveness.

Bill Brown

I think a good boss is an active listener. He listens, understands and then do the needful. He is a visionary and tries to fulfill the needs of his subordinates

Neha India

My Boss is a bad boss he never lets you discuss anything or have an opinion. He doesn't really want to listen to you and if you do try to tell him something his favourite saying is 'Magic job done' as he slaps the desk, in other words shut up!

Jerry Can

My boss constantly takes control of my projects -- even the littlest ones. He does not listen to me when I propose something, he cuts in, ignores what I have to say or worse, patronizes my input. I don't even get to have authority over the job I was hired to do. He has to approve everything. It is insanely time-consuming. He does not appreciate my background and education in our field. He does not coach or mentor; he does not reward initiative. He is supposedly getting 'fired' in a month or two -- but can I stand him until then?

Maureen Anne New Jersey

My boss has been caught in so many lies and contantly having to explain himself to upper managment of the company.

He has also had a sexual harrasment charge brought against him, and upper managment bought the person off that charged him. He has gotten rid of several employees that have ten years and more of service in the company!

gj spingfield, mo

This is extremely subjective. A good boss may only be trying to change a poorly performing department; the change itself may generate the 'voting with their feet'. In other incidents someone who is perceived as a good boss is actually just someone that the employees feel they can bowl over any time they want. How valuable is that to an organization? It's more important as a boss to recognize the challenges and objectives ahead of you and identify those who will come along and those who won't. It's too naive to believe everyone will follow; they won't. Different people have different expectations about what is good or bad. Even when communication is clear and obvious to everyone...it can be that bad employee who says 'It was never articulated to me that way.' The grayness with which this topic gets into is only mitigated through experience and time.

Steve florida

Sorry, but a bad boss is just that, a bad boss, and there is nothing subjective about it. I can't help but agree with much of this article, particularly the section about staff 'wasting time' because they are complaining about their boss. This must be the single biggest time waster there is, and it's almost completely down to poor managers. Regarding Steve, Florida's point about a good boss being 'just someone that the employees feel they can bowl over any time they want', I can only say that he must not be very in touch with what staff actually think, because in my experience staff actually percieve such a boss as not being a good boss, and in fact may even hold them in comtempt. A good boss values their staff and their contribution, and actively supports and nurtures their staff. A good boss sees their own role as facilitating the work of their staff, to enable and empower their staff to work better, smarter, and more productively. A good boss is honest, open, and fair. Unfortunately there are just too few good bosses around.

Chris England

Someone mentioned that there is only one good trait of a boss...listening. I agree, but I believe they also have to take action. If you express your concerns to them and they don't do anything about it, then it is time to find a new boss.


I had a boss who was so out of control that she got angry at me and HIT me. She did not even get fired. She got scolded by the District Manager. Later I found out she hit someone else. Other people have complained about her to Labor Relations but she is still with the company. She pretty much gets away with these things because nothing is ever done to her. Women bosses are the worst!!!


Your 8 tips for a good boss is so far off it's funny. You do not even talk about respect and how to earn the employee's respect. You never talk about how to tell your employee that they did a good job, People like to hear that they did good!!!! I think you need to re-read you tips. I sure would not want to work for any boss you trained.

Deborah Wagner Tulsa, Oklahoma

The thing that was said about employees wasting time talking about how bad the boss is would apply to my place of employment if we didn't have to work off the clock all the time to get the job done. I am sure my boss thinks we are lazy but she doesn't have a clue as to what we do (my bigger fear is that she does and doesn't care). My boss is the worst-a dragon lady in the disguise of a blonde bimbo. She talks and asks so super sweet but then her true self comes out. If you go to her about something and even have a solution she gets passive agressive and says things like 'I'm a true believer that if a person doesn't like their job a person should find a new one.' As if things are so black and white. I love my job and am very good at what I do but she is not a good manager. She is only about the bottom line, she just adds more and more to our load without any more compensation(we already get paid too little for the amount of responsibilities we have) and never shows true appreciation. She says two things in her fake cheerleader voice: 'You're a keeper' and 'I appreciate you'. She has told us all this at one time or another. When I go to her about something she doesn't even understand me, it goes over her head completely half the time. I like everything about my job but the leadership. They are lazy and do nothing. I should mention that I work for a non-profit. You should not expect this in a non-profit. We have like 5 or 6 VP's and even our Human Resource person is a VP. I would leave but I am a single mom and do not have that luxury especially in this economy. I have days where I don't have to deal with the incompedence of my boss and I like my job on those days and I think I want to stay around and hopefully move up. Then I have many days when my boss does things and says things that are stupid and even bizarre and I want to run! Then I go home and look at my son and know that I have to make a living and just hope for my shot and pray that I am not a bad boss!


Once had a boss who would intentionally leave their ATM receipts on their office table, apparently to demonstrate to their colleagues just how much money they had in their bank account. Arrogant and innapropriate to say the least.


I agree about the fact of being revered. I firmly believe in team work and assigning the right person right assignment. The employees must not tell their boss what should be the strategy unless asked. They should concentrate on their work. This sould be put in their minds at the very onset.

ABID Pakistan

My hubby is self employed and he has most the qualities of a good, no, an excellent leader. We often have little talks about 'bosses' or leaders, especially after being serviced some where. The one topic he seems to bring up again again is that in todays work force most managers are being picked for their large stature, a bully mentality and the lack of product knowledge. Our experiences have found that this seems to be a growing epidemic in American culture.


I think a boss should have a relationship that is 'not too close and yet not too far',to his employees.This will enable him to be fair on his judgment towards the employees,etc.He has to be very patient and must be able to perceive the consequences of his instructions by being able to know the personalities and backgrounds his employees.

Shelly Philippines