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What Every Employee Wants From You as a Leader

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

The following list has 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 their “wish list” think about the kind of boss you are, what kind you want to be, and what you look for in a good boss.

Common Traits

Employees want bosses who are:

1.  Innovative. Good bosses have good ideas, but their role in innovation is more as facilitator than consummate mastermind. They are not threatened by the talent of their employees, and they cultivate a working environment that allows each person's creativity to come forward. They facilitate innovation.

2.  Coaches. Good bosses provide important education and guidance that help an employee see how his or her work is contributing to the larger goals of the organization. Good bosses help employees build confidence by giving stretch assignments that require demonstration of new skills and right-sized risk. They follow that with feedback that allows needed course corrections to be made early enough to avoid a major failure. When employees do fail, good bosses encourage reflection and identification of learning that can be applied to future endeavors.

3.  Caring. Good bosses listen to their employees and show an interest in their opinion. They provide opportunities to talk openly, showing interest in their employees’ opinions. They encourage personal and professional growth, sometimes by giving access to resources, such as professional development experiences, and sometimes by removing barriers.

4.  Strategic. Good bosses can make hard choices and have the finesse needed to get people behind even sometimes unpopular decisions. They are able to secure resources for important initiatives worth pursuing. They use analytical frameworks for guiding change, promoting transparent processes, and communication. Strategic bosses are decisive — not to be confused with being 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 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 in a manner consistent with his or her word and values. Employees trust bosses they know to be intelligent, capable, and have a demonstrated track record of acting in their best interest. Good bosses give and receive (even invite) affirmative and constructive feedback. They are fully aware of their scope of power in the organization and in their relationship with employees; they understand 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 will require individualized attention and support, and good bosses can adapt their own style to ensure effective communication and levels of productivity.

8.  Passionate. A good boss has a fire in his or her belly about something — particularly the vision and mission of the organization and the people with whom they work, inside and outside of the organization. Good bosses are the first to roll up their sleeves to contribute and model the level of motivation and quality required for the achievement of organizational goals. They help employees stay connected to their own passions 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 to whom they report is on their side, even when mistakes are made. Champions look for opportunities to catch their employees doing a good job, and they go out of their way to point it out. Good bosses are champions who don’t take the credit for their employees’ work, and they don’t throw an employee under the bus — ever. They “influence up” by being a conduit between their employees and higher level decision makers, often helping their employees develop the language and influence strategies needed to take an idea to the top of the organization.

10.  Fun. Good bosses are willing to laugh and value a work environment that encourages meaningful relationships between colleagues. They inspire us by making the connection from our head to our heart about the importance of our work and our value to the company.

Start the Journey

Here’s the leadership’s next step: reflect on this “good boss” list and identify qualities that you are already modeling. Think about where there is room for growth in your leadership practice — growth that will lead to increased levels of motivation and engagement in your employees. Finally, begin today by encouraging your employees to share their own needs and allowing for timely adjustments.

Remember: leadership is a journey. Bon voyage!

About the Author

DeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate, and author. She has more than 20 years of experience working with individual leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. Her multidimensional background and fresh perspective leave clients feeling heard and empowered to take on some of the major organizational and workforce challenges of our time. For more information, contact: DeEtta Jones,

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