5 Leadership Lessons Learned From Remarkable Bosses

At some point in our lives, we’ve all had The Boss From Hell: the control freak, the personal-email snoop, the guy or gal who times your bathroom breaks and deducts the time you spend at the water cooler from your paycheck.

But what about the other kind of boss? The kind who actually treats you like a real human being instead of warm body?

Truly exemplary bosses are few and far between, but the good news is, like true love, they exist. And also like true love, a really remarkable boss might come your way once in a lifetime.

What Makes a Truly Remarkable Boss?

One thing that separates a remarkable boss from an ordinary boss is that they have a personal code of ethics that they stick to, come what may. We’re not talking about the boss who walks around the office in a ‘Save the Whales’ T-shirt, rattling a collection box and singing Kumbayah. But rather the boss who, when the going gets tough, proves that they are worthy of their title of leader.

I’ve been lucky enough to have several truly exceptional bosses in my life. Those bosses embodied leadership, and led by action rather than words. I feel lucky to have met them, and years later, I still count them as an inspiration.

So what makes a truly remarkable boss? Here’s a rundown of lessons I’ve learned from top bosses.

1) Remarkable bosses actually listen to your ideas

New hires usually come to a company bubbling with ideas on how to make things better. Even the old deckhands can be coaxed into revealing a few pearls of wisdom they’ve been nursing over the years.

A great boss is one who gives every employee face time – not just the big players, but also the little guy who makes the coffee -- who may have just had a brainstorm on how to make the company a million dollars. The worth of the idea is irrelevant; being taken seriously by your boss is a valuable perk you won’t find listed in the employee handbook.

2)    Remarkable bosses have your back

My first boss earned my undying loyalty during my first week on the job, when he stepped smoothly into the firing line between me and a screaming customer. Was she having a problem? No problem. A free product materialized out of a bag, the customer stopped yelling, everyone went away happy.  I was spared being the newbie who got torn to shreds in front of everyone on her first day.

I never forgot the lesson my boss taught me, which is that a true leader always protects his followers, even if that means taking the heat themselves.

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll never forget (or forgive) the boss who, during my first month at a new firm, had me personally do the “letting go” of a popular long-term staff member who had been slacking. The experience itself wasn’t as traumatic as the loathing glares I got from from his co-workers for a few short months after that until I mercifully managed to find a new position.

My boss saved face by asking me to do his dirty work, but in the process he lost my respect for him as a leader. It is easier to hire a new employee than it is to get back the respect of an existing team member you’ve thrown under the bus.

3)    Remarkable bosses practice what they preach

Remarkable bosses lead by example. They don’t see themselves as being above the rules just because they made the rules. If your boss takes you to task for being 5 minutes late while he ambles in around lunchtime reading the paper and holding a breakfast wrap from Panini Garden, he’s sending mixed messages to the team, which can quickly grow into morale-ruining resentment.

The truly remarkable boss acts as if he himself was an employee at his own company. If he asks employees for openness, he may set his desk out in the open, eschewing the traditional office. If he wants his workers to go above and beyond, he will stay late alongside his team and order them pizza when they work overtime on a big project. In doing so, he earns that priceless commodity: his employee’s admiration.

4) Remarkable bosses learn your name and use it often

One thing that both psychologists and the owners of Starbucks have in common: they both know the power our own name holds over us. Call out “Order number 173!” in a bustling coffee shop and you may have to call it five times before the order is picked up. Call out “Suzanne!” and ten bucks says that Suzanne will have her coffee in hand in five seconds.

I once had the demoralizing experience of being laid off by a man who didn’t even know my name after three years working at the company. If it had been a large firm, that might have been forgivable, but we only had 30 employees. And that man was our CEO. Being laid off was bad enough, but being laid off by someone who apparently hadn’t even registered my presence in three years of full time work was nothing short of soul-crushing.

Learning someone’s name equals respect. So memorize your employee’s names, even if you have no direct contact with them. How can you lead your company if you don’t know who you are leading?

5) Remarkable bosses make time for you

The demands of the average workday can push even the calmest of us to the ends of our rope. We get snippy with people, we hunch over our computers and scowl at our bulging physical or email Inboxes, we groan when we get yet another meeting request.

Whenever I find myself starting to bristle at the new hire who has just bumbled up to my desk and is asking me ten thousand questions on my lunch break, I take a deep breath and visualize the welcoming smile my last boss would give me whenever I entered his office. Whether I’d planned a formal meeting or had just shown up unannounced, he would always react the same way. He’d motion me to sit down, give me his full attention, and smile with a gruff, “Now, what can I do for you?”

Maybe I’d walked in just as he was getting ready to leave for lunch. Maybe his Inbox was as scary as mine. The point is, he never let that show. He always made time for me, and in return I always felt like like I could talk to him, no matter what the subject. In any company, large or small, good communication is the cornerstone of a healthy and long-lasting boss-employee relationship.

Some of us are born to be great leaders; others have to work at it. If you are struggling with a boss who may not be treating you with respect, ask yourself this: would I work for this person if I wasn’t being paid to do so? Bosses who treat their employees as they themselves would like to be treated earn their undying loyalty and respect, which can literally make or break a company when times get tough. In this day and age, that is a rare thing indeed.

Your Turn

What was one leadership quality you admired from a present or old boss?

Reyna Ramli is a writer for CareerBliss.com, an online community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. When Reyna is not writing, she enjoys cooking, working out, and reading fashion blogs and magazines.

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