Mar 30, 2023 - Economy

Axios Finish Line: Studying good bosses

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

We've all had (or have!) crappy bosses — the arrogant, self-obsessed, know-it-all frauds who soil our work lives. That's why the good ones are worth studying and treasuring.

Why it matters: Hunt for an unusual combination of smarts, emotional intelligence, toughness and humility. Then you know you've truly unearthed one.

  • If you do find one, treasure them — and study the hell out of them. These skills are learnable and contagious... and applicable to every part of your life.

I'm not talking about great bosses as measured by financial performance or public image. Those are often mirages. We too often celebrate astonishing feats done by astonishing asses.

  • I'm talking about bosses who leave you not just better at your job, but a better person overall. This, to me, is the holy grail of managerial exceptionalism.

I'm talking here about managers or bosses, not necessarily leaders — the women and men with direct reports, offering daily guidance to individuals and giving regular direction, correction and compliments.

💣 Truth bomb: Too often, companies fail to train managers — especially those who were promoted because they did well in their individual roles — for excellence.

  • These managers wind up smooshed between high-achieving executives above and ambitious individual contributors below.

Some telltale signs of great managers:

  1. Smarts. This is usually a mix of subject expertise and street smarts. It's hard to be a mediocre mind or talent and a great manager.
  2. Humility. The job, by definition, is to serve others. Managers have to care more about the performance of others than about their own egos.
  3. Cool head. People are weird. They do unpredictable things for mystifying reasons. Strong managers don't allow temper or emotion to boil over.
  4. Tough mind. The best bosses are direct, clear and firm. They don't dance around tough feedback or duck tough decisions. They demand respect, not love.
  5. Tone-setting. They lead by example, never asking others for anything they don't deliver (or over-deliver) themselves. This spans work ethic, values and performance.
  6. Hungry. They're never fully satisfied, always pushing for you, the team and the company to be better tomorrow than today. A complacent manager dulls ambition.
  7. Involved. They're students of their staff. They teach, inspire and provide regular feedback and advice. It's not enough to simply lead by example. Most of us need more than that.

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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