What kind of boss would you rather work for more than anyone else?  Who would you lay on the tracks for?  Who would you run into the fire for?  Who would you take the hill for?  Run through a brick wall for?

I haven’t had a perfect boss.  I haven’t been one either, not even close.  The perfect boss doesn’t exist, however, if you could define one, what would he or she look like?  What would they be like?

I’m guessing you measure a boss by “how” he or she makes you feel, how they treat you, how they interact with you, the opportunities they provide you, and the impression they leave on you, in addition to what they’re able to accomplish.

Bosses leave an indelible impression in our minds that we literally hold onto the rest of our lives.  They forge a path for us, or they don’t.  They help develop us, or they don’t.  They have our backs, or they don’t.  They can literally determine the trajectory of our entire professional career and to some extent, the degree to which we are successful.

I want you to think back and reflect over your career.  Think about all the bosses you’ve had and some that you’ve seen and observed from afar.  What comes to mind when you think of the best boss you’ve ever had?  What about the worst?

I pulled together the traits and characteristics of all the great bosses I’ve ever had and I’m going to share them with you here.  I’ll then follow that with a brief summary of what the worst bosses are like to work for.  This is not intended to be all inclusive and I’m sure you will be able to add to it based on your own personal experience.

The Best Bosses

The best bosses challenge you.

They drive you out of your comfort zone.  They assign you the most challenging projects, issues, and problems.  They send you to difficult locations with hard cultures.  They set lofty goals that at first glance seem unattainable, yet convince you that you have the capabilities to achieve them.  They take you where you need to be.

The best bosses set the bar incredibly high.

They have high standards for themselves and those they lead.  They set targets that have never been achieved and commit to them without really knowing exactly how to get there.  They have confidence in themselves and in you.

The best bosses respect you.

They respect you by valuing your opinion, listening to you, acting on your recommendations, and by making you feel that there are no limits to what you can achieve.  They defer to you to provide your perspective on an issue.  They provide you opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, abilities, and accomplishments.  They don’t talk down to you.  Their language and tone is conversational with you, not demeaning.

The best bosses appreciate you.

They acknowledge your contributions by telling you so individually and in front of others.  They recognize you monetarily, through promotions, and by providing character-building opportunities.  They tell your family members –  your wife, your father, your kids – how valuable you are to the company, and they mean it.

The best bosses give it to you straight.

They level with you about everything – your performance, your behavior, and your competencies.  They tell you when you knocked it out of the park and when you struck out.  And although the latter hurts, they would be reneging on their duties by not telling you so.

The best bosses inspire you.

They’re visionary, defining a future state you once thought impossible.  They stick their necks out, commit to a level of performance never achieved, and inspire you to not only join the effort, but to help lead the cause.  And then they provide the guidance you’ll need along the way.

The best bosses support you.

They trust in your experience, and they provide the resources you need to achieve extraordinary results.  They laud you when you accomplish a task and achieve great things, and they share it with others.  They have your back when things don’t go well, when results aren’t achieved, knowing that you’ve done great things before and that you’ll do them again.

The best bosses help develop you.

They are genuinely concerned about your growth and professional development.  They are interested in where you want to be and what your goals are, and will help you get there through challenging you, providing opportunities, supporting you, and through coaching and feedback.

The best bosses are vulnerable.

They aren’t omniscient.  Nobody is, not even the experts.  Is it so bad to admit you don’t know something?  We all have blind spots and gaps in skills and knowledge.  The best bosses show their vulnerabilities and aren’t afraid to ask for help.  They rely on you to fill in the gaps that they have.

The best bosses are empathetic.

They’ve been there and done that.  They understand what you’re going through.  They’ve been overwhelmed with work and assignments and know enough to listen to you when you feel the same way.  They know that everyone has personal issues to attend to at times that may affect performance.

The best bosses are accessible.

They are always or nearly always accessible to you, whether you want to walk in their office for a quick chat, have a brief phone conversation or have an email exchange.  They’re even available outside normal working hours.

The best bosses are responsive.

They answer the phone, respond to email, provide sound advice, set boundaries, and always make you feel like you can rely on them for guidance.

The best bosses set clear expectations.

They couldn’t be more clear on what’s expected of you.  You walk away from a meeting or conversation knowing exactly what needs to get done and the role you play in making that happen.

The best bosses are prepared.

They always have an agenda, for the meeting with the team or for the meeting with you.  They’ve thought through the issues and are ready to hear you and your ideas.  They have done their homework and always deliver the goods, usually staying ahead of their boss.

The best bosses are open to feedback.

They are not only open to it, but they routinely ask for it, both formally and informally.  They know their perspective is just that – theirs.  They’re smart enough to to know that people see things differently than they do and want to make sure they are addressing the needs of others.

The best bosses are effective communicators.

They are always out front communicating proactively in writing and verbally, unafraid to communicate direction and their point of view.  They are skilled and practiced in both communication forms, which inspires others to do the same.  They are also active listeners, committed to understanding your perspective and responding appropriately.

The best bosses build relationships.

They communicate often, even daily – in person, through email, in meetings, and other venues.  They get to know you and allow you to know them.  The more they do this, the easier it is to do business and feel comfortable discussing almost any issue, sharing concerns, and providing feedback.

The Worst Bosses

The worst bosses are inaccessible and unresponsive.

Heck, you can’t even find them half the time.  They don’t respond to email, they don’t return phone calls, and worse yet, when you eventually do see them, they act is if there are no issues and don’t even acknowledge any of the items you wanted to discuss with them.

The worst bosses seldom provide performance feedback.

They don’t set expectations.  In fact, mid-year and end of year performance reviews, if they even do them, are usually the only time you ever receive performance feedback.  And then you’re surprised at what they think and how they’ve assessed your performance.

The worst bosses don’t communicate.

They do it poorly or hardly at all.  They don’t listen, are always talking, don’t ask your opinion, and never ask for feedback.  They’re omniscient in their own minds.  They are self-absorbed, narcissistic jerks.  They embarrass you, yell at you, insult you and your team, and sometimes they offend you personally.

The worst bosses aren’t concerned about you.

They are solely focused on themselves and what makes them look good.  They don’t develop you or anyone else for that matter, and that’s why their replacement almost always comes from outside the department.

The worst bosses aren’t trustworthy.

They don’t build a relationship with you nor anyone else, and will sell you out and abandon you in a heartbeat if they think it will help them in their own career.

Learning and Fulfillment

So why is all of this important?  Because people seldom leave jobs or companies, rather, they leave bosses.  Hard to imagine, but some corporations are either blind to these tyrants or look the other way for various reasons, until it’s too late.  As I’ve said before, at some point the worst bosses are found out, and then it all comes crashing down.  And when it does, you’ll be happy that you’re off somewhere else fighting the good fight.

And that’s the best thing of all about bad bosses.  I’m convinced that everything happens for a reason, and even though you may love the company that you work for and don’t want to leave, you are better off at times moving on, and you only realize it later since the company supported that terrible leader and boss.

But now your world is different.  You gained experience and knowledge, certainly a great deal of what NOT to do, and how NOT to be as a leader and boss.  Your life path changed and new opportunities opened up for you, personally and professionally, and you’re better off for it.

Check out my latest podcast episode of this critical topic right here!