How to: be the best boss

In the first of our 'how to' series: tips on how to excel at leadership.

You've been placed in a position of authority at work. You're in charge. This comes with a higher salary but also a greater capacity to impact people's lives on a daily basis for good or for ill. There's a moral and professional responsibility to get it right - to be a good boss.

Fortunately, something as simple as remembering to say “well done" or to smile can have a positive impact on the culture of your workplace, particularly if you're a middle-order boss such as a manager or team leader.

Whether someone loves coming to work is determined more by their immediate supervisor than anyone or anything else

And if you're a leader at the top of the rung - a board director or executive officer - it can be as straightforward as allowing those in the lower orders permission - and the time - to be human, while setting the example.

Treating people respectfully and talking and listening to them are key to being a good boss.

“Emotional intelligence is the biggest thing a boss should be working on to motivate people," says James Adonis, a specialist leadership consultant. “Build relationships. Your words and actions influence other people.

“Whether someone loves coming to work is determined more by their immediate supervisor than anyone or anything else. What a leader says, does or thinks, impacts on whether someone has a great day at work or a rotten day."

John King says it's important to get to get to know the individuals who work for you. King chairs several boards including the Australian Tourism Export Council, and until recently, owned a consultancy business. He says communication must be two-way.

“You really need to allow individuals to take responsibility and to bring out their own personal strengths rather than try to slot them into roles," says King. “Talk to the individual about their role within that organisation and help them feel part of achieving (the organisation's) vision.”

Marketing specialist Murray Chenery has long worked by these principles. “You've got to respect the people who work for you and never take them for granted," says Chenery, who has been general manager of several big brands - and had several key staff go with him with his career moves. “Part of a leader's role is to take the barriers out so that people can excel. People want to come to work and do a really good job if they're valued. They'll walk over hot coals for you."


Chenery recommends gaining feedback “that's open and honest" and being “fair and consistently fair" so that staff trust you will react in a consistent way. A bit like parenthood, really.

“Surround yourself with people better than you in their respective disciplines because you can't know everything. Harness that information. Ingest it. Instil it. You can never do it all yourself; you've got to work with people.

“To inspire and motivate is critical."

People are looking for people to lead, Chenery says. “Make a difference. Give people a purpose and clarify that purpose and people will work hard for you.”

But how to develop the empathy, the patience and the other social or 'emotional intelligence' skills to do this and become a good boss?

It takes a bit of work but it can be learned.

James Adonis says: “Become a genuine student of leadership. Read the books, do the courses, find a mentor to inspire you. See yourself as a professional. Become a master of leadership without doing a Masters.

“If it's in your own time or at your own expense, so be it. You've been placed in a position of high salary and power and with that comes responsibility. You have a big effect on the quality of people's lives."

Recommended reading:

  • The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins

In your opinion, what makes a great boss?