Let’s draw on our magical powers to locate some awesome bosses and their defining traits. These are the people we aspire to be, or work for. So let’s sprinkle some faerie dust and see what our potion has delivered!
I’ve worked with so many bosses over the past 15 years that I can pretty much nail the best traits that float my boat (and will likely float yours). My first job was at Swinburne University in the Astrophysics Department, as a work-experience student. I ended up working part-time in the Department for another six years until I got to university.
My first bosses, I can say with certainty—were awesome. There is something special about working with research scientists. They thrive on being around other people with intelligent ideas, and are not threatened by it. Due to the nature of their work, they are open to questions and constructive criticism. You wouldn’t survive a PhD thesis defence, or academic conferences (known as ‘colloquiums’), if you took offence to everything.
I’m thankful that I saw early on what having a fantastic boss looks like. My very first boss was female and an incredible astrophysicist. She was intelligent and firm, but fair. While I never ended up becoming a scientist, she was a real champion for other female scientists. When someone says that they can never work for a female boss, I always think—you’re wrong—because I’ve seen how good they are.
So let’s fast forward in time to see what the magic ingredients are for a fantastic boss. Here’s my secret recipe list, based on smushing all the best traits of bosses I’ve ever worked for:
1. Gets the basics right
It’s so boring, but hey—you can’t start running when you haven’t learnt how to walk, or crawl. Fantastic bosses understand that they need to lay the right foundations before they talk about anything else. This includes:
- Giving you lots of awesome work (i.e. the reason for why you went to uni).
- Equal pay for equal work (none of the guy vs. gal nonsense).
- Rewarding loyalty and hard work (don’t pay the new person 20% more than everyone for doing the same work).
- Being freaking good at what they do technically (but know they’re there to lead, not only to do the technical work).
Sounds basic? The real world data tells us that it isn’t.
2. Nurtures growth
Now it starts getting exciting. This is next level stuff which is… the stuff of legends.
Fantastic bosses will challenge you in the right ways. They throw you in the deep end to see you swim, not sink. (Note: They take their pastoral care obligations seriously.)
Most importantly, they will be your champion or sponsor (not just a mentor). There’s a difference. No-action mentors only talk the talk, because it sounds nice to their ears. Your champion-sponsor will show you where the new opportunities are to level up, and give you the chance to grab it by the horns.
3. Sees the big picture
Now if you think fantastic bosses have a micro-view on life by focusing on the individuals who work for them, you’re quite wrong. They have a special zoom-out lens capability and don’t get snagged on the details (cough, me-tails).
Fantastic bosses want fantastic people. They’re not threatened by more intelligent people on their team. They know their limitations: and that they’re not always going to be the smartest person in the room. They’re happy to for you to challenge them if they’re wrong, and change their mode of operating.
In short, they take feedback and leave room to be self-critical.
4. Builds an A-Team
If someone paid me a gold coin for every time I saw ‘great team player’ (or some variant) on a job advertisement, I would be a rich person. Aside from my clearly delusional fantasy, we know that fantastic bosses build A-teams. These teams are dedicated, purpose-driven, but not obnoxiously proud of their own magical powers.
To build an A-Team, first start out with magical potions #1, #2 and #3 above. Then move on to this hearty concoction… Fantastic bosses:
- Make you feel valued and part of the team (not by throwing around useless platitudes and catch-phrases—it’s not a game of Jeopardy!).
- Stands up for their team (i.e. they have your back and fight for you. Take responsibility for problems, not throw you under the bus when things go wrong).
- Have a ‘no woman/man left behind’ policy (they are the first to arrive in the office and last to leave).
5. Capable of quick, decisive action
A business owner I respect once said this to me, ‘in my 30+ years of running a business, very few people know how to make decisions quickly’. If you’re a great decision-maker, you might want to drop yourself in our magical potion brewing up right here!
Fantastic bosses also have great LISTENING skills and take your opinion seriously. They don’t leave you hanging though. You can be sure that they will take action quickly using an evidence-based approach.
6. Is human. Likes humans. Understands humans.
If aliens landed on Earth, they would be greatly amused by the species called Homo sapiens. Fun fact—did you know that ‘Homo sapiens’ is Latin for ‘knowing man’? Unfortunately, the knowing man knows very little about itself most of the time, or what makes others tick.
So, where do fantastic bosses sit on the evolutionary tree? They have developed:
- A keen sense of humour.
- Human empathy sensors which actually work (wow!).
- Knows what makes other people tick (and how to provide the right incentives).
- An ability to lead by example.
Now, an important part of this evolution—ironically—is that fantastic bosses see you as a whole person. They understand that paying you a salary doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to your entire life. Ipso facto, they understand that life isn’t only about work. Work calls at 2 am, even to discuss magical court documents, are so no-go.
Finally, Aretha Franklin—you’re my superstar. Fantastic bosses don’t see you as a serial number item to pull out of the staff library when convenient and for a specific purpose.
Now, ready for the last part of our magic potion? Watch out, it’s potent!
- Are transparent and open with you (not secretive about their purposes).
- Stick to a meritocracy (no favoritism, no funny business).
- Always encourage you to be your best self, and never tear you down in front of others or for no good reason (there is never a good reason).
With the last dot point of this potion, it doesn’t mean that everything is always going to be hunky dory. Fantastic bosses will give you the straight serve and be direct with you if you do the wrong thing. But without any nastiness or passive aggressiveness.
And so you have it—the potion for Fantastic Bosses… and Where To Find Them.
P.s. Think my potion is missing an ingredient?
P.p.s. Don’t forget to take this potion when you’re a #BOSS!