What Makes A Person A “Best Boss”?

For the past three years, I’ve been asking bankers “Who’s the best boss you ever had – and why?”  Recently I’ve been speaking to a number of banking organizations, and asking that question of bank CEO’s as well.  After tracking and analyzing the responses, we’ve come up with some initial, and admittedly unscientific, findings.

The five most common responses we’ve seen from all the participants is – to paraphrase – “The reason this person was the best boss I ever had was because…”

  1. Transparent, a great communicator
  2. Supported me
  3. Cared about me as a person
  4. Honest, had integrity
  5. Trustworthy

Those are pretty good qualities in a leader, don’t you think?

Communication is the single most important characteristic in leadership.  You can be the smartest person in the room, or the hardest worker, or the person with the most experience, but if you cannot communicate well verbally and in writing, you’ll never succeed.  Today, the word “transparency” is a buzzword to indicate that employees – especially engaged employees – look to leaders and organizations who are as transparent as possible, with few secrets from employees.  Communication and transparency are key to trust, in both a leader and a bank.

Support means lots of things to lots of employees.  But my experience is that “cared about me as a person” and “supported me” are intertwined.  People want a leader that will back them up and support them, and the first way to develop that relationship is to get to know that employee as a person.

I also believe that honesty, integrity and trustworthiness are interconnected as well.  More than ever, these are essential characteristics in great leaders.  Every mistake, every semi-ethical decision is now magnified because all of your employees are broadcasters, with the ability to post their thoughts (and your mistakes) on social media, glass door, and the like.  Doing the right thing is important because it’s always the right thing to do.

We’ve received over 700 responses in 50 different sessions, and are in the process of putting together a research report that shows what bankers look for in leaders.  But I can share two initial findings with you now:

There is surprisingly little difference between what younger and older bankers look for in great leaders.  With all the discussions about millennials in the workplace, and their needs, it surprised me that – with rare exceptions – the same basic responses were given by young and old.  One are that was different were that younger bankers look more for a mentor and more frequent feedback than more experienced bankers.  Older bankers indicated their best boss was a good teacher and coach, but there’s a distinct difference between a coach and a mentor.

Younger bankers also look for more frequent feedback than older bankers.

Bank CEO’s almost always looked for a boss that gave them freedom.  Inevitably at a leadership program, bank CEO’s will mention that their best boss “gave me enough rope to hang myself” (or some variation of that).  In other words, CEO’s remember their best boss was not a micromanager; trusted their good employees enough to let them make their own decisions; and gave them the freedom to work autonomously.  I don’t see that happening in banks (or any industry) much these days, and that’s too bad: the best way to develop leaders is to remove the leash and allow them the opportunity to fail or succeed on their own.

What are your thoughts on the components of a “Best Boss”?