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Want to be a good boss?

Then hone these 5 key leadership attributes

Posted on December 3, 2020
standard sign-shaped people standing in a pyramid formation with the first one blue and the ones behind in varying shades of gray.

I have written about good leadership in the past. Over the years, I have had a couple good managers, a number of mediocre ones, and a few terrible ones. When I think about each of these boss buckets, there are common themes and elements. While there is much to be learned, from a leadership perspective, from the horrible bosses, today I want to focus on the good ones, the great ones. There are five key consistent attributes that each of these good managers employed.

Active Listener

Good managers take the time to listen to those who report to them. They give their subordinates space to express themselves and talk about topics that are important to them or concern them. They avoid cutting people off and inserting their opinion or ideas, letting the employee outline their thoughts. And part of active listening is avoiding saying words like, “No” or “Yes, but…”


Every good manager I have had has been empathetic in their interactions with every person they encounter. Empathy requires good listening skills and it involves taking the time to understand the other person’s perspective and give it credence. Empathy does not mean saying yes to an employee to make them feel better, but it does mean listening and understanding where they are coming from, so when the manager needs to say, “No,” the employee can understand and hear and accept the response.

Recognize Successes

Good managers always take the extra minute to call out those who report to them for their successes and achievements. They sing the praises of, and give credit to, their subordinates. The old saying about working hard to make your boss look good, truly begins with the boss recognizing the achievements of those around them. When successes are celebrated, it motivates others to also strive for success.

Provide Support to Work Through Challenges

Look, we all make mistakes or mis-handle situations. First, it is imperative that a culture where people feel comfortable owning up to their mistakes is established. This is accomplished when a manager supports their employees through these challenges. Instead of yelling or screaming or yanking a project away from an employee, a good manager sits down with the employee and helps them work out a recovery plan. The employee then feels a sense of satisfaction and understands their manager is there for them, especially when things go wrong.


The good managers I have worked with are highly observant people. They notice subtle shifts and changes in those around them. For example, they might pick-up on a generally bubbly employee’s more subdued affect and ask them if things are okay, or if there is anything they can do to help. They will watch a meeting participant interrupt, be rude, or try and control the narrative and insert themselves to give others space and time at the table, even encourage ones who are more reserved.

Good managers can motivate and create an atmosphere of respect and inclusion; one where each employee feels supported and valued. A mediocre manager often creates an environment where people arrive in the morning to punch the clock, get their work done, and then leave at the end of the day, where these is little inspiration, innovation, or collaboration. And a bad manager can create a toxic environment where employees may be pitted against one another, feel oppressed, and lack any sense of support. Bad managers tend to approach their employees with a “my way or the highway” mentality, which never builds a sense of community or a common goal. Mediocre managers don’t really understand their role or have a good handle on how to lead those around them. Whereas good managers have a deep understanding of their role and the impact their actions have on those who report to them. They also actively work on being a better leader every day. They think about their successes, but more importantly they take the time to truly reflect on their failures, to understand them, so they don’t make the same mistakes again in the future.

When interviewing for a new position, take the time to get to know your potential new manager, ask questions about their management style and ask for examples of interactions with those who report to them. Ask them to describe a situation in which an employee screwed up and how they responded. Ask them about their relationship with their direct reports to get a sense of how the relate and manage. Much can be gleaned from their responses.

If you are a new or even a seasoned manager, take a little time to think about your leadership skills and how you interact with your direct reports. Go through these five elements and ask yourself how your subordinates would rate you. You may be highly observant, recognize successes and are a good listener, but lack empathy or have little tolerance for mistakes. You can change your outlook and approach with practice and time. It takes self-reflection and a desire to be the best you can be, something we should always strive to achieve.

Stay safe and healthy this holiday season,

Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Dept. Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in leadership-management-skills