Top 10 traits of the perfect boss

Nine to five, they're the person many of us love to hate.

Whether they're ruthless Gordon Gekko types or control freaks, a la Miranda Priestly in The Devil wears Prada, executive suites are full of folk who wouldn't win an office popularity contest.

Top bosses, on the other hand, are a rarer breed – and what they've got, companies want.

So what traits make a great boss?

"They're a resource in their own right," said organisational psychologist Julie West, the founder of Canberra-based Workplace Research Associates.

Managing director of property consulting firm Urbis, John Wynne, thinks they're easy to spot.

"Not withstanding the nature of the business undertaken, I think that people recognise and respond best to leaders who they know are genuine, balanced, human in their approach and care about more than just the here and now," Wynne said.

"People are good at picking a phony and it is difficult to fake these important attributes over the longer term."

Research suggests maturity is a key ingredient in the winning mix. Executives in their 50s discharge their duties with the most passion, vigour and confidence, according to a study released last month by the University of Haifa.

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But their younger counterparts can also have what it takes. Dynamic leaders in their 20s are frequently seen in the fast moving high tech and advertising sectors.

So aside from being young, or in your prime, what are the top 10 traits of a great boss?

1. Why are we here?

Understanding the purpose of the organisation and being committed to its goals is the numero uno trait for any boss. "A surprising number of people don't have that," Inspirational Workplaces founder Helen Crossing said. "It's one reason why HIH collapsed – the boss had forgotten what the organisation was there to do."

2. Where are we going and are we there yet?

Setting goals comes a close second to knowing what you're there for. Bosses who don't have a vision or strategy and a goals list to match are on the highway to nowhere. "The world is changing so fast – if you're not actively driving change then the whole world is moving around you," Crossing said.

3. Works well with others:

Lone wolves or corner office dwellers who pop out once in a blue moon to mix with their crew need not apply. The best bosses are those who enjoy collaboration and working in a team, says Team Leaders founder and Fairfax blogger James Adonis. "With corporate structures becoming flatter over the past decade, it is necessary for leaders to work more effectively with their colleagues," he said.

4. And here's what I expect from you…

Being able to tell the people in your team exactly what they're meant to be doing scores a big tick from West. "Leaders give role clarity and make it clear what's expected," she said.

5. Shiny happy people:

Getting things done is easier if your staff love to coming to work. The best bosses make sure of it by creating an environment that's fun, even if the work is dull. "If you have a dry as toast person as a boss, there'll be no celebrating and you won't have happy people," Crossing said. "Some people are total killjoys and others are good at creating an optimistic environment."

6. Steady as she goes:

There's chaos on their home front, their ex is kicking up and someone did a scratch and run on their Beemer at lunch time ... No matter. Good bosses remain even-tempered and resilient and don't inflict their moods on staff, even when things aren't going their way.

7. Fair treatment:

One rule for the masses and another for Susie in accounts who has the manager's ear…that's not how good bosses operate, Crossing said. "Inequitable treatment is one of the most disruptive behaviours for an organisation. You need to have measurable objectives and no favouritism."

8. Thanks very much!

Good bosses understand the importance of recognition. When they think someone's done a great job, they let them know.

"It can be as simple as a team-wide email [praising someone's efforts]," said Jon Chapman, an executive headhunter at Robert Half. "This can be highly powerful."

On the flip side, they're all over slackers and chain draggers. "It's important for a boss to respond to and address poor performance," Crossing said. "Otherwise the high performers get annoyed that someone is getting away with stuff."

9. Teach me:

Good bosses don't know it all. But they're always willing to learn, and keep learning. As well as formal studies, they tap into networks and seek out mentors who can help them fill in the blanks.

10. Let me help you:

It's not enough to be great at their own job; top bosses see part of their role as helping staff get better at theirs. They're willing mentors and are happy to promote the promising up-and-comings.

"One of the best ways for companies to retain staff is for them to be able to feel that they're growing in their role," Chapman said. "It's not just about pay rises; they need to feel that they're held in high regard."