What Great Bosses Know about Best Practices in Leadership

Let’s say your New Year’s resolution is to become a great boss in 2010. Not just a pretty good boss, but a manager people love working for and with. What would you need to know? What would you need to provide more or less of to your staff? What would you do differently?

My “Great Boss” columns and podcasts are designed to help you reach your goal, one topic at a time. But today, I’ll give you a primer on what really impresses employees and colleagues. I’ve pulled some direct quotes from our Personal Development Questionnaire forms. These are the 360-degree feedback reports that participants in our leadership and management seminars receive from coworkers.

Because the feedback comes in narrative form rather than numbers or letter grades, the recipients see specifics. That’s what makes the information so helpful. Take a look at what a dozen people wrote in 2009 about boss behaviors they appreciate and applaud. I’ve changed names to pronouns because our focus is on behaviors rather than individuals. That said, can you envision your name in these messages of appreciation?

  • She edits with a light hand and surgical precision. She makes my writing better without altering my voice.
  • He’s a tireless advocate for his reporters’ best work — just the sort of advocacy reporters respect in their editors. Most important, however, is his ability to encourage collaboration among people who might not always work together, and his ability to raise the quality of work of people I would have written off.
  • Sad but true, sometimes we online producers find our news judgment questioned by colleagues who mistake us for technicians instead of the journalists we are. She is always willing to stand up for us in these situations, and that’s a big help.
  • He could be a diplomat were he not a journalist. He offers quiet praise for work that he likes and is sensitive in criticizing the work — but not the person who produced it — in stories he finds fault with. When a story has problems, he quickly comes up with ideas and suggestions for fixing them. His calm demeanor is a settling influence when disagreements occur and tempers occasionally flare. People instinctively want to please him and do good work for him.
  • Her biggest strength, both as an individual and a supervisor, lies in treating each and every person with the utmost respect and kindness.
  • He does an amazing job with scheduling … which is a gigantic pain no matter where you work or how many people you have. … He is very organized and never misses an e-mail.
  • What I admire about her the most is that she is very clear, very direct and doesn’t shy away from expressing her point of view, and does so in a way that is matter-of-fact but not offensive. Because she is young, a lot of people may be tempted to dismiss her. But she carries herself with such authority that you don’t question it. I have seen her discipline people twice her age, and she does it without belittling someone, and by the end, they are apologizing.
  • She values enterprise, hustle and the freedom for a reporter to responsibly design his/her own beat. She inspires her team to work hard for her. She runs the most unified and esprit de corps-filled newsroom I have ever worked for, after 10 years in the business.
  • He has the rare ability to truly keep a clear head in high-pressure situations and stay focused on what is most important during critical moments when time is short and emotions are running high. I believe this has a very positive effect on those around him.
  • I feel I have 100 percent of her attention when I’m talking to her about a story and I can tell she is interested in getting the best work possible out of everyone, herself included.
  • She is the perfect partner/editor — supportive yet challenging, open yet with a memory of what has worked well in the past, aware of all the details without losing sight of the big picture. I feel respected by her and thus want to do my best for her.
  • He’s good at “rallying the troops,” making you feel like you’re part of something important. …He’s also a natural teacher, able to explain things in a way that’s easy to understand and easy to implement, without the BS, which we all appreciate.

Before you feel too intimidated, realize that even the people who were the subject of these comments still had areas in which they could improve. After all, being a great boss doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It means you’re doing the right things intentionally, choosing those laudable behaviors and values. It means you also do your best to shore up any weaknesses that could undermine your leadership.

I see some trends in employee feedback this past year, and I talk about those in today’s podcast: “What Great Bosses Know about Best Practices”:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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