5 Traits of a Good Boss


Most of my writings have been about the positive influences in my life over the years. And one of my bosses early in my career told me that I would learn more from bad bosses than the good ones. I thought it was a good one liner at the time. And however, little did I know just how true that would be over the next 46 years.

The gist of that comment was that the good bosses are normally so smooth and good at what they do, it’s easy to learn from them. You emulate them without realizing you’re learning. But the bad bosses’ behavior and their detrimental traits are so seared into your mind that you truly do learn more from them.

You learn what NOT to do. Obviously, I’ll leave out names, but bad bosses have taught me a lot over the years. Below, I’ve listed the traits that every good boss should have.


Trait number one: be consistent.

By far the single most important thing I’ve learned from bad bosses is to be consistent. For goodness sakes, be the same person today that you were yesterday. Nothing drives your team crazier than inconsistency. One day you’re up, the next day you’re down. One day you want something done this way, the very next day you want it done differently. differently. And as John Maxwell says, when you do that, you put your team in a tailspin. And if you know me at all, you know that all my business lessons work at home.

If you’re a parent, trust me, this is a big one at home. You need to be consistent. If you reprimand your kids for not cleaning their room or doing their homework, do it every time or not at all.

Another parenting tip, when milk is running off the table, nobody needs a speech, just a towel. Give your kids a break on the speeches. They didn’t do it on purpose. And I learned this one the hard way.


Trait number two: have true compassion.

The second most important quality that you won’t see in a bad boss is true compassion. They are typically selfish and are diminishers. Diminishers have these five negative qualities as the in the book by Liz Wiseman, Multipliers:

  • One, you’re an empire builder. You hoard resources and underutilized talent.
  • Two, the tyrant. You create a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability.
  • Three, the know -it -all. You give directions that showcase how much you know.
  • Four the decision-maker. Make centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization.
  • And five, the micromanager. Drives results through their personal involvement.

Do any former bosses come to mind after hearing these? Most of us have seen the quote from Maya Angelou and it’s one of my favorites. I have learned that people will forget what you said.

People will forget what you said. did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Again, whether a boss or a parent, this quote has the inspiration to change you.

Most of the time, you can’t remember what a bad boss said, but man, do you remember how they made you feel? Emotions are truly at the heart of whether you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy working for them.

Sadly, you probably won’t realize how much oppression you’re under working for a bad boss until you’re no longer working for them. And we’ve all heard this before, people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. I’ve shared with my team on more than one occasion that as a boss, you will be the topic of your direct reports, dinner table conversations. At some point, and most likely will be the subject of one of the first few questions they’ll be asked when they get home. Give them something good to say is my constant challenge to them and myself.


Trait number three: teach people how to do their job better.

The third most important quality is the ability to teach people how to do their job. Bad bosses don’t teach you anything about how to do your job better and it’s because they probably don’t know themselves.

In my early years in the grocery retail space, my work life was so challenging because the guy making the main decisions didn’t have a clue about the details of what made the business successful or not.

That’s why in most organizations, the best leaders have come up through the ranks and held enough different positions that they truly do know the key details of how to run the business.


Trait four: have a backbone.

The fourth most important quality that you won’t see in a bad boss is a backbone. I’m sure many of you have experienced a boss who was terrible at making a decision and sticking to it.

You always wanted to be the last one to speak to them about something because whoever got the last conversation usually won the verdict. They were all big and bad and acted like they had a backbone until someone else on the team talked to them, then they’d cave over the smallest detail and reverse the previous decision. If you truly want the respect of your team, gather information, determine the potential short- and long-term outcome, and then make your final decision and stick to it.


Trait number five: Give credit where credit is due.

The fifth most important quality that you won’t see in a bad boss is giving credit where credit is due or taking blame.

If you watch any professional sporting event, you’ll see the coaches get interviewed at the end of the game. And you’ll never hear a coach stand there and tell you the team won because of his coaching.

They will always give credit to the other team and insist that their team won because of the players and the other coaches. In a loss, a great coach will take 100 % of the blame.

This is called class. Praise in public, criticize in private.


And there you have it. The five key traits of a good boss. These five traits are not something that you are born knowing. They are learned behaviors and can be adopted and embraced. Some people may have to work hard and to be able to exhibit these traits, but they are achievable for everyone, even those folks who are currently bad bosses.