I started working at the age of 16 and officially retired at 65. Over those 49 years, I had 29 bosses. It took a while, but I think I counted them all. The longest I ever worked for a boss was 11 years. The shortest was one month. Fortunately for me, the boss I worked for the longest was the best boss I ever had. Another fortunate thing, I probably had only two or three really bad bosses.
All bosses are a mix of some good and some not so good traits. But I learned something from all of them. The following list includes the personal traits I observed in the good ones and the bad ones over the years. The list is mine alone. It’s not out of a book but from my own experience. Hopefully it makes sense, and you can take away some attributes to emulate and some to avoid.
The Good Bosses
Tough as nails, but always fair. The best boss I ever had was the epidemy of this trait. When I first went to work for him, I lived in fear. I soon found out that he was tough for a reason. I learned more from him than any boss I ever had—kind of like a strict parent. They are tough on you, but you know they love you.
The defender. This boss stands up straight and accepts responsibility for things that may not have gone so well. They defend their people. They may council you in private but, publicly, they never throw their people under the bus.
The fighter. This is the boss who, in a good way, fights for better budgets, better raises for their people, and even better people.
The expert. This boss is a master of their trade, is universally recognized as such, and is willing to share their knowledge with all who work with them and around them.
The truster. This is the boss who realizes they are not an expert in your job but trust you enough to let you run your business as you know best. But they are always there to lend support and clout if it’s needed.
The great communicator. No, I am not talking about Ronald Reagan here. I am referring to the boss who is clear, concise, and extremely articulate. They are easy to work for because you are always very clear about direction, expectations, opportunities, and consequences due to their ability to “paint a picture.”
Mr. or Ms. Congeniality. I never worked for the person I am taking about here, but I knew him well. He was very capable but sometimes not as tough or direct as he could have been. But he was a very nice guy and well liked by everyone. He often got things done just because of that.
The converted. This is the boss who, originally, is not interested in your department. But they are very good at listening and learning. Often they end up being one of your biggest supporters. One of the best and most supportive bosses I ever had was a “convert.”
Cool, calm, and collected. This is the boss who is always calm and supportive under any circumstance. They never yell or show anger. If they are not happy about something you did, they discuss it with you and talk alternatives. You know they are unhappy, but they never really show it. You get the message.
The professor. This boss loves what they do and loves to teach and nurture those who work for them. Young people, just starting out, are fortunate to have this type of boss.
The Not So Good Bosses
Clueless. This was the dominant trait of probably the worst boss I ever had. A political appointment, he was a nice person but had absolutely no idea what he was doing. And it showed. Our division became an embarrassment, and the boss really was kind of a joke. Fortunately, others recognized it, and he only lasted a year.
Face to the boss, ass to the cast. Employees at Disney are referred to as cast members. This phrase was often used to refer to one particular type of poor leader. One executive was once quoted as saying, “I find out who my boss likes, and then I like them, too.” They are always looking up. But when you look up, guess what you see?
The Ice Man cometh. I quit a very good and high paying position because of this one. No emotion, no relationship, no feedback, no fun—I quit!
The White Rabbit. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” And that date is rarely you. This boss has little time and little interest in you, your issues, or your career. They’re too busy!
He or she who plays favorites. This boss is tough to work for if you don’t happen to be in the favorite category. Not only will you or your department get little or no recognition or support, the great raises and other perks will go to (you guessed it) their favorites.
The victim. This is the boss who has been promoted to the level of their incompetency and is in way over their head. They are truly a victim but working for them is difficult. Their department or division often loses credibility and everyone suffers.
Grumpy. This boss may be grumpy for a reason, but they are hard to work for. I once had a boss that decided he had made a mistake; he didn’t like his job and eventually didn’t like the company. We actually got along pretty well, and I told him, “Then quit, already.” He did. We’re still friends, and now he’s a much happier guy.
The ghost. Similar to the White Rabbit, this boss is very busy. You almost never see them, get little feedback, and almost zero support. And when you do get an appointment to see them, it is usually postponed or cancelled.
The glory hog. This boss is an expert at taking all the credit for successes. Conversely, they are very quick to place blame for things that didn’t go so well.
The Cowardly Lion. This boss shies away from the truth because sometimes it hurts. It may hurt, but unless a boss is willing to give tough feedback or constructive criticism, their reports suffer.
He or she who surprises. This boss doesn’t communicate well and rarely gives feedback. Then, at review time—surprise! One boss was so bad at this that a colleague of mine, after getting his review, asked the boss, “Whose review was that?”
Up jumps the devil. This person is someone you have known and worked with for a long time, but you have never really liked each other. And now, guess what, they’re your new boss! The lesson here is be careful how you treat people in business because you never know.
There you have it. Hopefully, there are some takeaways you can use. One thing is for sure, you can learn something from every boss you’ll ever have—good or bad.