Best Boss Newsletter

A Best Boss Is a Good Decision Maker & Deals Effectively with Conflict

Over the course of 2012, the world-wide media has interviewed, polled, analyzed, and dissected countless opinions and agendas with respect to the characteristics and qualifications, both desired from and previously demonstrated by, the various candidates for global leadership from Cairo to Washington and Athens to Beijing.During this same time, we, here at The RAD Group, have been broadcasting our own analysis of the characteristics we hope to see in today's leaders. Our Best Boss series has had one simple agenda and we hope you have found it valuable.

Our analysis will impact the results you are seeing wether you are a newly elected Prime Minister, a CEO, a night shift supervisor, or mom or dad. We believe that you and the other leaders in your organization can improve performance by listening to what your employees have been telling us over the last 20+ years. We asked thousands of participants in our performance management classes to describe the best boss they ever had. Though our polls are not closed, we feel confident to announce the results.

A "Best Boss":

#1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable #10 -- rewards / recognizes success #11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees #13 -- is friendly #14 -- is a good problem solver #15 -- is a team builder #16 -- is flexible and willing to change when necessary #17 -- is a good planner / organizer and #18 -- shows respect to others.

This month we close out the series with a look at how a Best Boss:

#19 -- is a good decision maker and #20 -- deals effectively with conflict.

A Good Decision Maker

Scores of books and articles have been written on the best way to make decisions and many of the processes described include valuable assistance for decision makers. In actuality, we are all decision makers and make decisions many times each day. Some decisions are just more important than others, in that they can lead to more significant (both positive and negative) consequences.

Understand the Facts The key to good decision making is a complete (or as complete as time and information allow) understanding of the facts and potential consequences of each possible decision. Without question it involves an examination of any and all ethical consequences of the decision. For simple decisions, little or no input from others may be needed. These are the routine daily decisions that don’t require a lot of “buy-in” for execution to occur. But complex, high impact decisions are different.

As we have said several times before in previous newsletters, getting input from team members and other experts is invaluable when gathering facts, understanding consequences and making the final decision.

Recruit Help Best Bosses understand that they can’t have all of the information, knowledge and experience needed to make all important decisions, so they recruit help. They treat important decision making as a team-based problem solving exercise. Once they have gathered the relevant information, they then “pull the trigger”, make the decision and then stand behind both the decision and the team.

Prepare for the Next Decision If success follows a decision, Best Bosses share the “glory” with the team and if “failure” follows, they accept responsibility and go to work determining why the failure occurred so that it won’t happen again. In other words, they engage in team-based problem solving to correct the failure. Regardless of the outcome, how the boss responds to the results of a decision making process will dramatically impact the ability to recruit help next time, the willingness of recruits to communicate facts and consequences, and the confidence with which future decisions will be executed.

Deals Effectively with Conflict

Conflict is a naturally occurring issue anytime you have people working or living together. We define conflict as unresolved differences of opinion or perceptions regarding some issue. Conflict by definition is required for improvement and innovation to occur and is completely healthy if managed correctly.

Foster Positive Conflict Best Bosses understand the value of conflict and foster opportunities for conflict-based conversation that leads to creative improvement. Best Bosses also know that conflict can lead to reduced productivity, quality, safety, etc. and work to keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum.

Collaboration and Communication Best Bosses keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum by understanding that the best way to resolve conflict is through collaboration. Collaboration requires an understanding of the problem solving process and how to communicate by listening effectively before any decision concerning action is taken. All parties must have the opportunity to “state their positions”, but must also be “respectful” enough to listen to the other person to gain a complete understanding of their position. Best Bosses create an environment of respectful openness where disagreement is encouraged and the skills to collaboratively resolve conflict are learned by every team member.

Best Boss Bottom Line - Series Finale

We have created a name for best bosses; we call them “Facilitative Relational Leaders”. Facilitation is defined as the accomplishment of results by making it easier for other people to express their views and achieve their objectives. Relational is demonstrating respect and care for others. The skills and characteristics identified in our research are the same skills needed to facilitate and build relationships. You may have noticed that the Best Boss skills/characteristics tend to tie together and demonstration of one involves application of others. Best Bosses understand this and continuously attempt to improve in the use of each of the skills that we have been discussing. Maybe it is time for you to evaluate or re-evaluate where you stand.

A Best Boss Is Flexible and Willing to Change When Necessary, Is a Good Planner/Organizer, & Shows Respect to Others

The holiday season brings us to the final two installments of the Top 20 Characteristics of a Best Boss. As you prepare for the potential stress of family and out of town guests, take the time to look back at the characteristics we have described so far and imagine how they might influence your relationships with friends and family. #1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable #10 -- rewards / recognizes success #11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees #13 -- is friendly #14 -- is a good problem solver and #15 -- is a team builder.

This month we will examine how a Best Boss:

#16 -- is flexible and willing to change when necessary #17 -- is a good planner / organizer and #18 -- shows respect to others.

Flexible and Willing to Change When Necessary

“I’m the boss and we will do it my way” is not something you would hear from a Best Boss. That being said, this a common expression heard in many workplaces and a powerful undertone in the culture of many of the organizations that don't necessarily say it out loud. The consequences of this expressed or implied sentiment are dramatic, the least of which include employee apathy, disengagement and a potentially profit forfeiting reduction in creativity.

Fear of Losing Control One of the fundamental issues is that some managers/supervisors view flexibility as a sign of weakness. Common expressions like "give them an inch and they will take a mile" and "too many chiefs and not enough indians" reinforce the belief that the supervisor must exhert unquestionable authority or risk losing control. Quite the contrary, it is often the rigid dictator that incites the desire for revolution.

Fear of not Knowing all the Answers Another driving force in the tendency toward rigidity is that many supervisors don’t want to admit that they don’t have all of the answers. I once heard a really great manager say “I am willing to learn from anyone, even the newest person on the team because they don’t have the years of bias that I have.” If you remember that the job of a supervisor is to get results from the efforts of others, it only makes sense that you would leverage the creative brains of others to get results as well. Flexibility does not mean giving in to all suggestions but rather is the willingness to entertain other views and make decisions on the basis of that evaluation.

Flexibilty & Problem Solving The ability to apply the problem solving skills that we discussed in our October Newsletter is critical to becoming flexible. Good team-based problem solvers will have the opportunity to seek input from team members and then collaborate with them on solutions, thus making flexibility much easier to demonstrate. Repeated practice with collaborative problem solving will reinforce the desire to be flexible as you observe the solution optimizing benefits of additional perspectives.

A Good Planner / Organizer

Planning/Organizing, problem solving and time management go hand-in-hand.

Expectations Good bosses know that their team members need direction so that they will know “what” is expected of them. They must have a clear understanding of the results that they must achieve. A good plan, especially as the result of collaboration, will provide those expectations for each team member.

Reading from the Same Page It really doesn’t matter if the plan is the result of problem solving or simply daily work objectives, the resulting product is the same, namely a plan that everyone understands and supports.

Time and Priorities Additionally, team members must have a clear understanding of “when” those results are expected. This is where time management comes in. Best Bosses help set priorities as part of the planning process. They gather information about the current action items for each team member and then in concert they prioritize them. This helps the team member control his/her time and as a result manage their personal stress.

Shows Respect to Others

What is respect anyway? Respect is defined as “a feeling of admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” So showing respect is a demonstration of this definition in some way.

Listen to Show Respect How does a person “show respect” to another? If your answer is “by listening to the other person” then you are in agreement with just about everyone to whom we have asked this question over the last 30-years. Listening does not require that you “respect” every “ability, quality or achievement” of the person, but it does require some very important skills.

You may recall that we discussed listening in detail in the "Good Communicator" installment that kicked-off this newsletter series.

The key is to genuinely show interest in the other person through how you listen with both your words (questions) and with your body language.

Delegation Additionally, the skills that you use as you delegate to your team members demonstrates that you respect their “abilities, qualities and achievements” and allows you to “respectfully” help them improve in those areas where improvement is needed. To refresh your memory, check out some of the blog topics we have written on Delegation. Best Boss Bottom Line

You may have noticed that these three skills are related in that flexibility, planning and respect all require that you listen effectively. Make sure that this is your top priority and you will have a much better chance of being seen as a “Best Boss”.

A Best Boss Is a Good Problem Solver & Team Builder

Through the first nine installments of this series, we have seen that a 'Best Boss': #1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable #10 -- rewards / recognizes success #11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees and #13 -- is friendly.

This month we will examine how a Best Boss:

#14 -- is a good problem solver and

#15 -- is a team builder.

You may have heard it said that “if this job was easy, everyone would be doing it.” It’s true. In reality, supervision, management, leadership and other roles defined by the ability to produce desired results through the efforts of others is genuinely difficult. The job of supervision is a minefield full of problems and people. The corporate battlefield is littered with human resource casualties and lost productivity and profits from the scores of “supervisors” that just weren’t Best Bosses.

The best bosses, the ones described in our research, thrive in complex and challenging environments and are often described by those they have influenced over their careers as good problem solvers and good team builders. These two characteristics clearly work in tandem. A problem solved by “Throwing the team under the bus” does not qualify for best boss status. Nor does building a great team of lifelong friends that consistently fail to solve the problems they face. These two characteristics go together.

Good Problem Solver

Best Bosses are not only good at solving problems, but they are good at teaching their employees how to solve problems. They understand that employee’s who can recognize problems and then bring thought-out solutions to the table are much more likely to take initiative and exhibit creativity in other ways.

While not all supervisors use/teach the same problem solving techniques, most keep it simple and focus on no more that 5-steps.

These 5-steps usually include:

Problem Identification

Knowing that you have a problem is the first step and this involves the monitoring of results relative to standards, listening to coworkers, clients, etc. In other words, it involves the identification of “pain”.

Problem Exploration

Best Bosses know that problems can arise for a multitude of reasons and make sure that they have evaluated each possibility before deciding on a solution. They also involve their team members in this evaluation because it both teaches and increases the chances that the “real reason(s)” will be identified.

Objective Setting

Best bosses know that well stated objectives will increase the chances that an effective plan will be created. They therefore ensure that every objective is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (SMART).

Action Plan Development

As important as development of a workable plans is, ownership of the plan is equally important. Best bosses involve the appropriate team members in plan development to both create the best plan possible and to increase the willingness of the team to implement the plan effectively.

Measurement and Correction (as necessary)

If the objective is stated correctly, then measurement is simply the evaluation of the results against the stated objective.

If failure occurs, then best bosses avoid blame and begin the problem solving process all over again to make sure that each step was completed successfully.

While best bosses are skillful at solving problems, they are equally skillful at involving team members in the solution process.

Team Builder

Best bosses know that success is more a function of team work than it is individual skill, so they work just as hard to develop team work as they do to develop individual skills.

Team building first requires bosses to assess their team’s interaction so that they can determine what if anything is creating less than desired teamwork. There are five critical issues related to teamwork that all best bosses evaluate on a regular basis. The specific team building plan will be driven by this evaluation.

How well do the team members get along on an interpersonal level?

  • It is not necessary that team member become best friends, but civility and courtesy are a requirement for having a successful team.
  • Best bosses are quick to identify any conflict within the team, determine the cause(s) of that conflict, and address those causes effectively.

Do team members work together to accomplish tasks or do they compete with one another?

  • While competition is appropriate at some levels, it is never appropriate within a team.
  • Competition leads to someone winning at the expense of another team member and this almost always leads to the desire to get even.
  • Best bosses know this and create an environment where teamwork is recognized and competition is eliminated or at least minimized.
  • Best bosses also know that their attention or lack of it can lead to competition, so they make sure that attention and recognition is provided equally within the team and is not contingent on being better than each other.

Do they share information with each other?

  • Failure to share information within a team can be the result of several issues, only one of which is keeping information to increase power or position.
  • Much of the time failure to share information is simply due to forgetting to do so, not realizing that the information is needed by others, or not having the opportunity to do so.
  • Best bosses make sure that all team members understand their role in information sharing and create an environment where information hoarding is not allowed and certainly not reinforced.

Do they provide support for one another when under pressure to get the job done?

  • Best bosses know that high levels of stress negatively impacts an individual’s ability to perform and also reduces the desire to work together on issues.
  • They also know that they have a lot of influence on the stress level within the team by the way that they manage time and stress for both themselves and for their team members.
  • Best bosses also know that increasing skills through training can help reduce the negative impact of stress on a team, therefore they spend time helping employees develop the skills needed to respond more effectively when stress increases.

Do they focus on solving problems or on blaming each other when problems arise?

  • While blame seems to be a natural human response when problems arise, it is really a response to the prediction that the person will receive blame him/herself.
  • Best Bosses understand that if they focus on “why” the failure occurred rather than “who” failed they will then avoid contributing to the development of a blame culture within the team.
  • Best bosses understand that if they don’t pass blame, they will reduce the need for blame to occur within the team and this will lead to the development of better problem solutions.

Best bosses know that failure in one or more of the areas above can lead to decreased teamwork, decreased productivity and failure to achieve results.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Problems don’t solve themselves nor do teams build themselves, rather it takes someone in charge to see to these efforts. Even more so, it takes a Best Boss to see to these efforts sustainably. Fail to both deliberately solve problems and intentionally build your team and you might have a short life on the corporate battlefield. Strive instead to build a team capable of tackling obstacles effectively using all of the resources they collectively bring to the fight.

A Best Boss Leads by Example, Is Loyal to Employees, & Is Friendly

To recap the series, so far we have seen that a 'Best Boss': #1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable and #10 -- rewards / recognizes success.

This month we will look at:

#11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees and #13 -- is friendly.

Combined, these three characteristics of a Best Boss help create workplace climate. It makes a lot of sense that the factors that make up workplace climate would make the list when we asked employees to describe the best boss they ever had. The saying goes that, "People don't quit companies, they quit people." The flip side of this is true as well. When employees talk about loving to work for a great company, they are really describing that they love working in a great work climate. That work climate is created, intentionally or unintentionally, by people -- by bosses. As we look closer at each of these characteristics, reflect back on your own work climate experiences. Better yet, examine the one you are creating or experiencing right now.

Leads By Example

Have you ever heard the statement “Do as I say, not as I do”? It's hard to imagine being motivated to follow the leadership of someone who is not willing to apply the same rules/expectations to him/herself that are placed on the rest of the team. As a supervisor (or parent) we always set an example for someone and it is either a good example or a bad example. In the workplace that example helps to create the expectations that our team members have. Those expectations help to determine the workplace climate in which your team operates.

Bosses, to a very large extent, set the workplace climate through what they say and what they do. Workplace climate includes all the rules of conduct and operation including those formal and written (policy and procedure) and those informal and unwritten (what is acceptable). If a boss works outside the written rules, then the communication is that it is really alright for everyone else to do so, too. Best Bosses understand their role in determining the “real” workplace climate and therefore strive to always set an example of adherence to the written policies and procedures as they expect their team members to do also.

The workplace is inherently complex and stressful enough without the compounding effects of frustration and resentment that accompany a perception of organizational or leadership hypocrisy. Ultimately, there is no amount of personal utility, comfort or privilege that outweighs the detriment to work climate from not "walking the walk."

Loyal to Employees

Loyalty is defined as faithfulness to commitments and obligations that one has to another person or group, so Best Bosses honor the commitments and obligations that they have made to their team members. But how is this loyalty shown?

  • It does not mean “turning a blind eye to failure” and
  • It does not mean supporting team members with upper management when the team member has defiantly violated policy.
  • It does mean supporting team members when the team member has done everything that they were expected to do, but failure occurred anyway.
  • It does mean defending team members when they are challenged by other leaders about their efforts and results when the team member has met the boss' communicated expectations.
  • It does mean defending team members when they are not present and can’t defend themselves. Best Boss loyalty is not blind but it is fair and dependable as long as it is deserved.


Some people think “weak” when they hear that a boss is “friendly”, but this is not what we mean by this term at all. Friendly simply means “not hostile or antagonistic” to their team members. Best Bosses are not usually “best friends” with their team members and they certainly don’t put themselves in positions where they could show favoritism.

Best Bosses understand the difference between being serious about results and showing concern about those things that are of concern to each team member. They take the time to listen to those concerns and to help team members evaluate approaches to dealing with them. They show appropriate humor and never demean a team member either to his/her face or behind his/her back. Friendly simply means creating a relationship that helps to make it easier for each team member to express their concerns and ideas while accomplishing their agreed upon objectives.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Workplace climate is critical to effectiveness and to a large extent is determined by what the boss does, how he treats and supports his/her team members and the relationship that is developed with each person.

A Best Boss Is Competent and Knowledgeable & Rewards/Recognizes Success

This month marks a milestone in this series, as we are now half-way through the Top 20 Characteristics of a ‘Best Boss.‘ That makes this a great time to remind you where we derived this list and offer a suggestion to help you get the most out of this resource. We compiled the data for our Top 20 over the last 30 years by asking students in our performance management courses to describe the best boss they ever had. A consistent leadership image emerged with only minor variation from decade to decade or continent to continent. We call this image the “Facilitative-Relational Leader.” If you grow in likeness to this image, this “Best Boss” we have been describing, our experience tells us that you will create an environment that produces deeper employee engagement and predictable attainment of team and personal objectives.

Consider using the topics we have already explored to engage your team in an ongoing discussion about the leadership characteristics they value most. Helping them develop into the kind of leaders they already instinctively admire will demonstrate your interest in their long-term success and go a long way toward developing the leader you will need to replace you when it is time for your next promotion.

Now back to the list. A ‘Best Boss‘ is:

#1 -- is a good communicator

#2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results

#3 -- enables success

#4 -- motivates others

#5 -- cares about the success of others

#6 -- is honest and trustworthy

#7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively and

#8 -- is fair and consistent.

This month we will look at:

#9 -- competent and knowledgeable and

#10 -- rewards / recognizes success.

Competent & Knowledgeable

What does it mean to say that best bosses are competent and knowledgeable? Competent and knowledgeable in what? Does it mean that they are competent in every task under their supervision? Does it mean that they are competent and knowledgeable about how to oversee the actions and results of others? Does it mean that they know enough about the tasks under their purview to assist in setting objectives and evaluating results?

Oversight not Execution

When we challenged our class participants to define competence and knowledge, they consistently said that their best bosses understood the results that were needed, had knowledge of the skills required to achieve those results, and were good at overseeing the execution of those tasks.

Best Bosses are not necessarily those who are the best at execution of each task. As a matter of fact, those who are the best executors are more likely to micromanage because they “know the best way to do it”.

As you move up in supervision/management, the breadth of activities under your control increases. As this happens, your ability to have total competence and knowledge of every activity decreases.

Find the Right Talent

Knowledge of the desired results leads best bosses to locate the talent and competencies needed for success.

Best bosses understand what results must be achieved and what skills are needed to achieve them. They know how to evaluate the skills of their employees so as to match skill sets with objectives and they know how to communicate expectations to others so that employees can achieve results.

Rewards / Recognizes Success

Best Bosses understand the importance of skilled, motivated employees in the quest for great results. They also understand the connection between rewards/recognition and those results.

They understand that rewards, while potentially motivating, are not just to make people “feel good”, but rather are an integral part of the process of strengthening desired action and results.

The Feedback Loop

Decades ago, psychologists scientifically demonstrated what animal trainers and parents have known for centuries, that positive feedback following an action increases the chances that the action will occur again in the future. In other words, the action will become stronger when followed by reward.

Best Bosses understand this principle and look for opportunities to allow employees to be successful. They then follow that success with positive feedback, either in the form of a reward or simply recognition for the success.

The Right Recognition

They also know that the reward should fit the situation. Simple accomplishments such as completing a task successfully and on time might only receive a “good job....thanks!”

Providing a suggestion that saves the company significant amounts of money might require a financial reward to be effective. Best Bosses know the difference and apply the positive consequences effectively.

Five Simple Rules for Effective Use of Reward/Recognition:

Do it publicly when possible, but not in a way that embarrasses the person. Make it appropriate to the accomplishment. Focus on the action/result and not the person. Provide the positive feedback as soon after the completion of the task as possible. Be genuine and sincere. Following these five rules can help you create a workplace where employees are learning new, stronger skills and increasing their motivation to use those skills all at the same time.

Best Boss Bottom Line

By all means, strive for competence, but know your role while you are doing it. As a supervisor, the key is not to know how to do it yourself, but instead to know how to get the results that you need from your team. If you understand the role that rewards and recognition play in motivating performance, your “out of the trenches” competence will embolden your team and provide you plenty of opportunities to recognize their performance.

A Best Boss Shows Trust by Delegating Effectively & Is Fair and Consistent

Since we introduced the Top 20 Characteristics of a 'Best Boss' back in January, we have seen that a 'Best Boss': #1 -- is a good communicator

#2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results

#3 -- enables success

#4 -- motivates others

#5 -- cares about the success of others, and

#6 -- is honest and trustworthy.

Now for the month of July, the newsletter and will dig into:

#7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively and

#8 -- is fair and consistent.

In our May newsletter, we discussed how 'Best Bosses' genuinely care about their employees' long-term career success and that they selflessly demonstrate this care for the success of others with career / performance coaching. To be truly effective, coaching requires honesty and trustworthiness. This theme of trust transitions our discussion nicely because, 'Best Bosses' are not only personally worthy of receiving trust, but they also demonstrate trust - in their employees. One of the primary ways they accomplish this is through effective delegation.

Shows Trust by Delegating Effectively

In the workplace, as we have discussed in previous newsletters, the role of a supervisor is to get results through the efforts of other people. Therefore, by definition, success in this role requires that the supervisor delegate to his employees. We generally define delegation as empowering another person to act on your behalf, but to qualify as not simply delegation, but Effective Delegation, more is required. At the end of the day, it will be difficult to walk away feeling "effective" in your delegation effort if the effort failed to produce the intended results. It is critical, however, that supervisors take a wider horizon view than just the discomfort experienced in the moment. Unintended results don't necessarily constitute failure as a delegator, so long as the conditions for success were reasonably created to begin with. Ask yourself these general questions:

  • Did the delegated task match the competency level of the individual?
  • Was necessary support provided for success (which could simply mean getting out of the way once an assignment has been made)?

To avoid the regret of answering these questions negatively, follow these 6 Basic Steps to Effective Delegation:

  1. Identify tasks that need to be accomplished and the competencies required for success.
  2. Evaluate the competencies of your employees relative to the competencies required to accomplish the task.
  3. Determine who on your team has the requisite skills for success.
  4. Determine if you want to delegate the complete task or only components of the task.
  5. Clearly communicate your expectations to the employee and provide necessary resources for success.
  6. Provide positive feedback following success or redirect performance if success has not been achieved.

Our willingness to delegate a task is determined by two primary factors:

  1. Our evaluation of the person’s competence and
  2. Our trust in their ability to achieve success.

Employees instinctively recognize these factors, so understand that when you delegate you are communicating that you have trust in their ability to produce the agreed upon result. However, just the opposite is communicated when you “delegate” and then “look over their shoulder”.

If you don’t have trust that the person will be successful, then focus on training to allow you to build that trust.

Fair and Consistent

There is a story about the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. One of his players was asked in an interview about what made Lombardi one of the greatest coaches of all time. The player responded, “He treats us all the same...just like dogs!” There is nothing to say that this is really a true story, but it does relate to fairness and consistency. We certainly don’t recommend treating your employees like dogs, but fairly evaluating performance based on clearly articulated criteria is critical. Coach Lombardi’s players knew that he had their best interest in mind and would do what it took to win, but he also didn’t play favorites. He fairly evaluated the performance of all of his players.

Equally important is the predictability of treatment. Treating all team members consistently, no matter who they are, allows for predictable consequences and thus increases motivation to succeed.

Best Boss Bottom Line

There is a re-occurring theme in our descriptions of each of the last four characteristics used by thousands of employees to describe the best boss they ever had -- Trust. You can feel it when you trust someone and you really feel it when you don't. The most compelling relationship to glean from this look at trust is that trust is reciprocal and re-enforcing. When an employee feels trusted by a boss, they are likely to return the sentiment. Also, if an employee trusts that they will be treated in a fair and consistent way, the 'Best Boss' can trust that the employee will be motivated to give any task their best effort, unencumbered by the fear of unpredictable consequences.

A Best Boss Cares about the Success of Others & Is Honest and Trustworthy

We are now nearing the halfway point of a 12-month series describing the 20 Characteristics of a “Best Boss.” To recap, so far we have examined how a “Best Boss:

#1 -- is a good communicator

#2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results

#3 -- enables success, and

#4 -- motivates others.

This month we are tackling two topics that are integrally tied to one another:

#5 -- cares about the success of others, and

#6 -- is honest and trustworthy.

Supervisors are paid to get results through the efforts of other people so it seems obvious that a supervisor would care about the success of others. The fact that this is so obvious is why it is also so critical that we examine success and trust together.

Plenty of the supervisors that wouldn’t be described as “best bosses” think they care about the success of their employees. The problem is that they care about the success for all the wrong reasons -- and for the benefit of the wrong person -- themselves.

In order to fully understand this month’s characteristics, we will first need to examine what we mean by the success of others and then look closely at how honesty and trust in the process distinguish a boss from a “Best Boss”.

Cares About the Success of Others

In our April newsletter we discussed how best bosses “enable success” by leveraging their understanding of how Motivation and Ability create successful performance.

Caring about the success of others is an all together different issue than purposefully creating the conditions for successful performance of specific tasks.

Obviously career success is related to daily performance, but the “Best Boss” characteristic we are describing this month is best understood in the broader context of an employee’s long term career growth --something that requires a plan and effective execution of that plan.

This requires that the supervisor serve as a “coach” rather than as a “boss”, so let’s look at the role of a coach in career planning.

The Role of Coach in Career Planning

Coaching is a relationship in which one person directs the personal/professional development of another by providing instruction and ensuring that the other effectively follows that instruction.

Coaches are responsible for:

  • Helping the other person identify areas to develop
  • Discovering barriers to the other person’s personal/professional development
  • Providing instructions for the other person that lead to progressive development
  • Holding the other person accountable to following those instructions

In other words, in career planning the coach helps the person identify career goals, identify areas that must be developed to realize those goals, identify barriers to those goals and helps develop plans to overcome those barriers, and then holds the other person accountable for the accomplishment of those plans.

In order to meaningfully execute these activities, the coach must be:

  • a skilled communicator (February newsletter)
  • a skilled enabler (April newsletter)
  • a motivator (May newsletter)
  • effective at holding the other person accountable (March newsletter)

While all of these skills are important to successful coaching, the one factor that is absolutely required is “Trust”. This leads us to the second Best Boss characteristic that we will discuss this month.

Is Honest and Trustworthy

The person being coached in the development and execution of a career plan bears responsibility as well. They must:

  • Explain personal/professional challenges and aspirations to the coach
  • Genuinely entertain the coach’s suggestions about ways to improve professionally
  • Follow the coach’s instructions

The potential improvement derived from the coaching relationship is directly related to the degree to which the person being coached fully gives themselves to this process. Here is where trust comes in.

To see this more clearly, ask a few questions from the perspective of the one being coached.

  1. How can I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to share my aspirations?
  2. How can I expose my professional weakness without tarnishing my image?
  3. How can I know that this energy and time I am expending is truly for my benefit?

The answer to all of these questions is clearly trust. As a boss or as a coach, it is something that is earned over time and is based on three critical factors.

Shared Purpose

Both parties must be interested in achieving the same thing in the relationship, and believe that the other person shares that same purpose. This is true whether you are talking about a supervisor/employee relationship or a coach/coachee relationship. If either party thinks that the other is not interested in or actively helping with the achievement of a common purpose then trust is diminished.

Mutual Respect

Each person must respect, and believe he/she is respected by, the other person. One of the primary ways that respect is demonstrated is by taking the time to listen to each other in an attempt to completely understand before giving advice.

Additionally, any perception of condescension from the coach will drastically undermine the willingness of the coachee to be vulnerable and share the existence of shortcomings or obstacles that reside below the surface.

Confidence and Confidentiality

This is the willingness and ability to confide in each other and depend on the candid, truthful feedback from the other. Failure to maintain confidentiality is a sure way to diminish confidence and trust in a relationship and is very difficult to overcome.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Best Bosses understand the critical need for employee trust as a basis for maintaining a position of influence in both supervisory and coaching relationships. Unfortunately for some, trust cannot be purchased and the factors that lead to trust cannot be faked. In order to impact long-term employee performance, the way only a Best Boss can, you must genuinely care about the success of others -- for the sake of others. Only then will employees see that it is safe to open up to the process of being coached and allow you both to reap the rewards of their efforts.

A Best Boss Motivates Others

This series is about the Top 20 Characteristics that describe a “Best Boss”. You can follow the links below in case you missed any of the previous editions where we described how a “Best Boss”:

#1 -- Is a Good Communicator

#2 -- Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results

#3 -- Enables Success.

Let’s look closer at #4 -- A “Best Boss” Motivates Others.

Two Types of Motivation

Best Bosses understand that there are two types of motivation and they use both types to motivate their employees.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation includes all factors external to the person that impact performance, such as praise, money, corrective action,  or termination.

We all need extrinsic motivation in our lives. If you don’t believe that then ask yourself if you would continue to work at your current job if you weren’t getting paid, or if you would file and pay your taxes if it were not compulsory (with legal consequences) to do so.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation is from within and is sometimes referred to as “achievement motivation” or “self-motivation”. This is the desire to succeed simply because you value succeeding. We often describe intrinsically motivated people as having a great deal of “personal pride” or as having a “competitive spirit.”

Motivation and Self-esteem

The workplace is not a rehabilitation center and the boss is not a therapist, but Best Bosses understand how critical the development of self-esteem is to their primary objective of getting results through the efforts of their employees. People have different levels of intrinsic motivation and it is highly related to the person’s self-esteem.

High Self-esteem

People with high levels of intrinsic motivation tend to have high self-esteem and are much more willing to take initiative. They are willing to “risk success” rather than “avoid failure”

Low Self-esteem

People with low intrinsic motivation tend to have lower self-esteem and are less willing to show initiative. They are more likely to “avoid failure” rather than “risk success”.

Leverage Extrinsic Motivation to Generate Intrinsic Motivation

Best Bosses understand the relationship between the use of extrinsic motivation and the development of self-esteem. Remember from our April newsletter that self-esteem (confidence) results from “meaningful accomplishment” followed by “recognition from a significant person”.

Best Bosses use extrinsic factors such as praise and money (pay raise for example) to recognize success which acts to increase self-esteem. They also understand that they are significant to their employees and, as such, their recognition and praise are crucial in the maintenance and building of self-esteem and thus intrinsic motivation.

4 Keys to Motivating Like a Best Boss

1.) Build the type of relationships with employees that allow you to understand what motivates at the individual level rather than trying to motivate based on hasty generalizations like which generation the person was born into.

2.) Learn to judge the self-esteem level of each employee.

3.) Engineer meaningful opportunities for successful accomplishment followed by positive feedback for success.

4.) At all costs, strive to protect self-esteem when giving negative feedback of any kind.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Best Bosses understand that communicating with each employee is crucial to knowing their aspirations, their likes and dislikes, their views of the various types of extrinsic motivators, and how they value various aspects of their jobs. This information can then be used to create meaningful opportunities for success and guide the types of recognition used to build self-esteem and thus intrinsic motivation.

A Best Boss Enables Success

In this series, we are looking at the list of Top 20 “Best Boss” Characteristics. So far we have seen that a Best Boss: #1 -- Is a Good Communicator

#2 -- Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results.

Now let’s examine #3 -- A “Best Boss” Enables Success.

Defining Success

To understand how a Best Boss enables or creates the conditions for success, we must first describe what we mean by success. For our purpose, success and failure are measures of performance against clearly communicated expectations or standards.

This means we will need to look closely at what drives performance and how best to give feedback that will sustain excellent performance or make necessary improvement more likely.

Performance = Motivation + Ability

Ability and motivation are inextricably tied together and are both required for success. Best Bosses understand that:

Ability contributes to motivation through increased confidence Intrinsic (internal) motivation increases as self esteem (confidence) grows.

The Role of Motivation

Confident employees are more likely to show initiative and to achieve desired results, so what should a Best Boss do to build confidence in his or her employees?

First off, recognize these two steps for building self esteem:

Successful accomplishment of something meaningful to the individual Recognition for that accomplishment from a significant person. Bosses are significant to employees, so Best Bosses “engineer” situations that allow employees to be challenged (meaningful) but successful (accomplishment) and then follow that accomplishment with appropriate positive feedback (recognition by a significant person).

The Role of Ability

Delegation and training are tied directly to ability. Best bosses know the skill (ability) level of each employee and either provide...

Appropriate delegation to those who are able, or Training (usually on-the-job) for those who need more development. Best Bosses are constantly looking for new opportunities to provide meaningful challenges to employees, but are also aware that employees need success for development of self esteem and the motivation that comes with it. They use delegation and training to create an environment that enables success.

The Contribution of Feedback

After delegating or training, Best Bosses follow-up with the employee to ensure that the plan is continuing to work. The feedback the employee receives in that moment is going to impact their immediate performance and also their future performance.

Feedback for Meeting or Exceeding Expectations

If performance meets or exceeds expectations, Best Bosses give appropriate, positive feedback (a form of extrinsic motivation) to increase the chances that the same good performance will occur again in the future.

Feedback for Not Meeting Expectations

If performance is below expectations, Best Bosses re-direct to get performance back on track and reduce the chances of failure in the future.

Best bosses never set employees up for failure, but when failure occurs, they use it as an opportunity to evaluate what caused the failure without immediately blaming the person for the failure.

Best bosses don’t assume that failure is always the result of poor motivation, but take the time to look for other factors such as knowledge, skill, support, pressure from others, etc. Once they find the real reason behind the failure, they work with (re-direct) the employee to develop a plan for eliminating the failure in the future.

Best Boss Bottom Line

The work place is not a feel-good, kids’ sports league where everyone gets a trophy for showing up. In reality, success and failure in the performance of our jobs have real consequences. That is why Best Bosses are intentional about creating the conditions where their employees can be successful. They understand how motivation and ability impact performance and they use appropriate feedback to influence future performance.

A "Best Boss" Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results

To start this series we asked you to evaluate yourself against the list of Top 20 “Best Boss” Characteristics. Let’s look in more detail at #2 -- A “Best Boss” Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results.

People often associate accountability with negative consequences, but in our definition there can be either positive or negative consequences that follow action. It is important to notice that a Best Boss doesn’t just hold employees accountable for results, but also himself.

This is what we mean by accountability:

An examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting) Then application of appropriate consequences for the actions and results.

Accounting for Results

Many bosses (not Best Bosses) assume that failure (and success) is determined by the person’s motivation and they then “hold them accountable” by trying to motivate them to perform better in the future. Remember, motivation is only one aspect of the individual and may have nothing to do with the results observed.

Best Bosses understand that people don’t try to fail and that performance and the results that follow don’t happen in a vacuum. This means that results need to be evaluated and understood in light of a complex environment that includes Others, Surroundings, Sytems, and Self.

We have used the term local rationality in some of our other articles to describe why it makes sense for a person to do something that may not seem logical to someone (including the boss) who is either observing performance or evaluating the result after the fact.

Best Bosses begin with the “account” component of accountability and gather all of the facts/reasons why the person's actions made sense in the moment. They ask questions to evaluate each of the contextual components (self, others, surroundings, systems) that might have impacted the person's actions and led to the results observed.

Once they determine why the person performed this way, then they can develop a plan (we call it the “Fix”) to help the person succeed in the future.

Applying Consequences

Here is where the consequence part of accountability comes into play.

The purpose of a consequence is to either:

Weaken an unwanted behavior through negative consequences or Strengthen a desired behavior through positive consequences. Best Bosses understand this and apply consequences accordingly.


When success occurs Best Bosses apply appropriate positive consequences. This may involve a simple “thank you” for the result, or it may involve some form of public commendation or reward. This should be determined for each result as appropriate.


When failure occurs, the form of negative consequence should also fit. Many times the process of accounting and determining a fix will be consequence enough to change performance in the future. If failure continues, then some form of formal discipline may be required. This should be determined in concert with your organizations policies and with guidance from internal Human Resource professionals. As we will discuss later on in the Top 20, Best Bosses are also fair and consistent, so make sure that the consequences you apply are both fair and consistent.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Finally, Best Bosses also hold themselves accountable for results. They are constantly evaluating the impact of what they do on those around them and on the organization. They question themselves to determine the impact that various contextual factors are having on their own performance and adjusting decisions as appropriate. If they fail, they are quick to admit that failure, determine why and step up to the consequences. When success occurs they are usually also quick to pass the positive consequences on to their time we listed the Top 20 “Best Boss” characteristics and asked you to evaluate yourself against the list.

A "Best Boss" is an Excellent Communicator

Last time we listed the Top 20 “Best Boss” characteristics and asked you to evaluate yourself against the list. Now let’s look at #1 -- a “Best Boss” is an Excellent Communicator.

By excellent communicator we mean that “Best Bosses”:

(1) Send clear, understandable messages to others (2) Listen to understand the meaning behind the messages sent by others.

So, how do they do it?

Communication Roles

It is helpful to think about effective communication in terms of roles.


The talker is attempting to communicate some intended meaning to the listener with:

(1) What is said (words) (2) How it is said (tone of voice, body language, etc).

What is said

Best bosses use words that are easily understood by the listener or are effectively defined to allow for understanding. They don’t leave room for misunderstanding because they know that misunderstanding can lead to failure.

How it is said

Best Bosses know that how you say something may be even more important than the words that are actually used. The way words are said communicates much of the intent of the message.

Interpretation of intent can impact motivation, so Best Bosses try to help the listener interpret by:

- Showing energy - Maintaining appropriate eye contact - Using appropriate facial expressions.


Excellent communicators take the time to listen so that they completely understand others. This is especially true when:

- Helping another person solve a problem - Giving an assignment.

Best Bosses want to make certain that their instructions have been clearly understood so that the employee has the best opportunity to succeed. They don’t make the assumption that all of the message got through to the listener.

Do you Validate?

Really good communicators always “validate” that the message is clear. They don’t just ask “Do you understand?”. Most of the time the listener will say “yes” whether they really understand or not. They might think they understand or they may know they don’t and don’t want to look foolish in the moment.

Best Bosses may say something like:

“I want to make sure that we have covered everything so can you review for me what you are going to do, please?”

This simple question will communicate respect and either:

- Validate understanding or - Clarify what the employee didn’t hear or didn’t understand.

Best Bosses want to make sure that they are not inferring that the listener has failed but rather to communicate that their primary desire is success for the listener.

Tools for Listening

“Best Bosses” attempt to understand the real meaning behind what others are saying by:

(1) Showing interest through appropriate eye contact, posture, facial expression, and other aspects of body language. (2) Not interrupting the speaker to judge what they are saying, but only to ask clarifying questions. (3) Paraphrasing to better understand and also to communicate a desire to understand exactly what the person is saying and, when appropriate, why they are saying it. Using empathic reflection to gain understanding of emotions that could be part of the talkers message.

In other words, “Best Bosses” and good listeners in general do what is necessary to respectfully understand the meaning and the intent underlying the talker’s message.

The “Best Boss” Bottom Line

Through the use of these communication skills “Best Bosses” attempt to facilitate discussions rather than dominate them. This leads to greater success for their employees and more caring relationships with those around them.

What is a Best Boss?

In our December newsletter we announced that we would be discussing the characteristics of a “Best Boss” throughout 2012. Our data comes from 30 years of asking course participants to tell us about the best boss they ever had. A picture of an individual who facilitates rather than dictates and builds lasting relationships emerged as a best boss. Beginning in this edition of The RAD Group Newsletter and continuing in upcoming editions, we will look at the skills and characteristics of this type of boss. Let’s begin by listing the top 20 characteristics of a best boss. 1. Excellent communicator (Sends clear messages and listens effectively) 2. Holds himself and others accountable for results 3. Enables success 4. Motivates others 5. Cares about the success of others 6. Honest and trustworthy 7. Shows trust by delegating effectively 8. Fair and consistent 9. Competent and knowledgeable 10. Rewards/recognizes success 11. Leads by example 12. Loyal to employees 13. Friendly 14. Good problem solver 15. Team builder 16. Flexible and willing to change when necessary 17. Good planner/organizer 18. Good decision maker 19. Shows respect to others 20. Deals effectively with conflict

While these characteristics are not in any rank order, all are viewed as important and the first four are seen as critical to successful leadership. For this reason in our next four newsletters we will focus on each of the first four characteristics individually. But for now, we recommend that you do an evaluation of yourself. You can do this by evaluating how you think other people that you work with (direct reports, coworkers, etc.) would rate you on each item. You can use a 10-point scale where “1” means “doesn’t describe you at all” and “10” means “describes you very accurately”. Items on which you score 5 or below indicate areas that could be impacting the results that you get as a supervisor. If you are not already a supervisor, then these would be areas that you might want to focus on in case you do get the opportunity to become someones “boss”. Our hope this that this ongoing discussion of best boss characteristics will help you as you attempt to get results through the efforts of other people.