have you ever had a great boss?

We’ve had a bunch of reports of good bosses this week — from the boss who dealt deftly with a coworker stalker situation, to the boss who jumped on reports of a bullying nurse, to this comment left just an hour ago:

This same situation (too much work) happened with my and my coworkers a year or so ago. We began to be assigned WAY too many reports to our caseloads, and people began taking work home at the end of the day, working weekends, etc. I refused. I’m already being grossly underpaid in comparison with other organization’s same positions. I’m not working after my day is over. So I convinced the rest of my coworkers to stop taking their work home with them. We did the best job we could in the hours provided, and any reports that could not be completed by the end of the day/week, a memo was filed stating basically “Due to time constraints, the report for so and so could not be completed. I respectfully request an extension of two weeks” or whatever.

This memo process got to be so prolific (apparently bosses finally got the picture that we were understaffed and overworked) that all the head honchos got together and enacted new policy. They hired four additional staff (yay!), and even instituted a caseload tracking function into our computer systems. If, in the future, we had to file our “extension please” memo, we checked boxes why it was being requested. Vacation, time constraints, sick, subject of report failed to appear, etc. Its been great since! Our report caseloads went from 15-18 a week (20+ page social reports mind you, needing interviews, follow up, interagency cooperation, etc), to roughly 7. My job has been almost zero stress, I get home on time EVERY day, and don’t even THINK about work until I get up for work that week. I wish every situation could work out like this!

We hear so many stories of awful managers here — which makes sense, because (a) there are tons of them, and (b) people are more likely to write in about a bad situation that they need help with than about a good situation that requires no fixing. I thought it would be interesting to devote a post to talking about good bosses, for a change.

So… if you’ve had a good boss, tell us about them. What made them good? How did it impact you at work? Did you ever tell them?

(And let’s set a baseline for “good boss” here — it can’t just be someone you liked personally; in fact, it’s even more interesting if you didn’t. We’re defining “good boss” as someone who was good at the job of managing.)

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. Connie Hayek*

    My best boss was one from early in my career. She was reasonable about workloads, provided insightful feedback and suggestions, and was always polite and professional in dealing with employees, colleagues, outside professionals, and (child welfare) clients. We knew she ‘had our backs’ but also would deal with problem employees with empathy and professionalism.
    I once ran into an employee she had fired who told me that they admired and respected this supervisor and felt their performance deficiencies had been dealt with respectfully and professionally. The person said she was given every opportunity to be successful including extra training and mentoring but ultimately, lacked the skills needed to do the job. How many people would say that after being fired?
    Every manager should take lessons from my former boss. She worked (and continues to work) in a high stress, extremely difficult field and does so with the utmost skill (in managing) and professionalism. I would work with or for her again in a heartbeat.

      1. Connie Hayek*

        I don’t recall if I ever specifically said this to her. We now live and work in different states and I have not talked with her for years. I did share my opinion with a mutual colleague several years ago who passed along the accolades. It was reported back that, in typical fashion, the former boss attributed her success to the quality of people she supervised, refusing to take full credit for the compliment.

  2. Anonymous*

    I had a fantastic boss several years ago. I was in law school, and I worked in the law library at the circulation desk. The law school got put on probation by the bar association, and as a result, the school panicked and kicked out about 50% of my class. I was one of the unfortunate ones who got kicked out.

    The school administration, without consulting my boss, terminated my employment. So, I got kicked out of school and lost my job on the same day. Not the best day of my life. My boss was really upset at the administration for firing me, and he went to bat for me. I don’t know what he said, but the next day I had my job back. I worked there for a few months after that, until I went back to school somewhere else.

    I was surprised by this because my boss and I didn’t really have a close relationship. I worked the evening shift, so I really only saw him for a few minutes at the beginning of my shift before he went home for the day. But I’m so glad he had my back, and if I end up in management, I’ll make sure to have my employees’ backs.

    1. Anonymous*

      When you got kicked out of school, did they refund any of your money? Sorry, just never heard or someone getting kicked out of school before like that.

  3. Meaghan*

    I have! Before I started permanently where I am now, I was an intern (in a different section of my huge organization). I really lucked out, because the boss I had was great. She thought that people who used interns and co-op students to do menial tasks were way off track – if you’re looking for potential new recruits, it makes sense to give them *real* work to see how they do. So I was given a lot of responsibility, but she took the time to guide me through everything and checked in with me frequently to make sure I was handling everything well (which was definitely not micro-managing in this case – I was incredibly green!).

    The only thing I found interesting was that she seemed to be a very polarizing personality – some people had great experiences with her, like me, but a few others in our office really clashed with her (professionally speaking). I think some senior people bristled at her checking in, because for them it *did* feel like micromanaging… that’s just conjecture though.

  4. animaux*

    My current boss is truly excellent. We recently hired a few new team members, and while describing my boss to them, the word I kept using was “reasonable.” He’s just a reasonable guy. When it comes to vacation requests, workload, assigning projects, it all comes with a common-sense approach that I find so easy to deal with.

    He’s also extremely great at giving negative feedback. Our jobs require a high level of attention to detail and precision. When mistakes occur, he focuses solely on the task at hand and how to fix it. He never blames the person, only addresses the problem. Really amazing.

    Lastly, he cares about his employees as people. When my dad was hospitalized recently, he was very caring when I explained I may need to take time off and checked in with me regularly, as a friend, to make sure I was doing OK.

    1. Blinx*

      “When mistakes occur, he focuses solely on the task at hand and how to fix it. He never blames the person, only addresses the problem.”

      This describes one of my previous bosses. It was a quality I admired, especially since it was opposite to my natural tendencies. I’d want to find out what happened, how we could prevent future errors, but my boss didn’t want to look back, only forward. She also didn’t take a lot of time to make decisions (another of my failings), just quickly weighed her options and made a move. There were a ton of projects moving through the department with a lot of quick turnarounds, and she was always on top of it all.

      Sadly, her boss was lacking, which might be one of the reasons why she went to another company.

      1. Lily*

        I’d also want to find out what happened, because one reported problem can mean discovering many unreported problems and I think why not fix them all at once instead of waiting for each one to be reported? However, some reports have not liked this. Would your boss have waited until the same mistake happened several times in a row before examining the process? Or would she have expected her reports to notice that the same mistake was being repeated and to self-correct? And did the reports figure it out?

        I like that I have had bosses who don’t refer to my past mistakes, but I tend to examine processes myself and not make the same (serious) mistake twice. If I wait until my report makes the same mistake again, and then ask questions about the process, it means that I am not considering the past past, am I?

  5. Rin*

    My boss now is very accomodating with my schedule and lets me work from home one day a week, as long as I get in my 40 hours. I work at an accounting firm, and, when I was pregnant and due in May, she promised me that, as long as I could out until April 15th, she’d drive me to the hospital herself.

  6. Joey*

    It’s interesting to me that most people who describe great bosses usually can’t point to any particularly exceptional. I think there’s just so many bad bosses out there that as a result the bar for being great isn’t that high.

    1. Anonymous*

      I think that often, the truly great bosses are exceptional in the little things they do. One does not have to make ‘grand’ gestures to be a great boss.

      1. Joey*

        My point is when people describe a great boss what I typically hear sounds more like what I consider the standard expectations.

        1. Kris*

          Yeah but there’s so many horrible bosses that one that meets all the starndard expectations is a rare and wonderful thing.

          1. Catherine*

            Exactly, like the person who described her great boss as “reasonable.” There are so many unreasonable, illogical people out there who somehow make it into management positions, it makes me want to cry.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The thing is, though, that it’s not something about bosses. It’s something about people. Most people, regardless of their job, are unreasonable, not always rational, and driven by emotion and ego. They really are. So it’s no surprise that there are a lot of them in management jobs — there are a lot of them in almost every job!

              It just sucks more when they’re in the role of your boss.

              1. Lily*

                What a great point! It is like becoming a parent. Every child has said when I am a parent, I am going to (not) do …. and then discover it is harder than it looks! Don’t we also expect managers to act like our ideal parent? Unfortunately, a personality transplant or a software upgrade is never part of a promotion to manager!

  7. some1*

    My 1st boss (B) at my first office job was great, but I didn’t realize how great she was until she left and her replacement was such an inferior manager.

    I was the receptionist in a law govt dept, B was the Office Manager supervising all the support staff. She had worked for that govt agency for 30 years, I believe, so she was invaluable as a Go-to person because she knew every dept & almost everyone. She treated all her employees fairly. She learned and performed the job responsibilities of everyone she supervised, including the records management systems. The reception desk had to be occupied at all times, & she would fill in for my breaks & lunches as needed, even though many people in her position would consider themselves above that. I started as a temp and she helped me get hired as full-time employee (which can be a lot of hoops to jump through in govt). If one of the professional staff complained about one of the support staff, she always gave her people the chance to tell their side & gave the benefit of the doubt.

    I came from a retail job, and with my inexperience, thought “dressing up” in an office was the most important thing. My boss had to tell me some of my outfits were inappropriate, and I was really angry at the time, because there was another woman in the office — different supervisor– who also dressed in the same kind of outfits and I thought I was being unfairly singled out & wanted to know who complained about me (I knew better than to ask, though). However, now I know B was right and I’m glad she had that tough discussion with me, because it was a lesson I needed to learn.

    1. Jamie*

      “My 1st boss (B) at my first office job was great, but I didn’t realize how great she was until she left and her replacement was such an inferior manager.”

      It’s tough in a weird way when your first boss is so great. Mine was, and unfortunately it made He Who Came After (aka MicroBoss from the other thread) all the more horrible in comparison.

      I can tell a million stories about my first boss, but they can all be summed up in that he knew how to lead and (sappy as it sounds) inspire. He absolutely wanted to surround himself with what he felt were great people. He was there for guidance, but he let you run with your strengths regardless of whether or not something was in your job description. Working for him you just felt more capable, smarter, part of a team.

      Not everyone liked him – as someone up thread mentioned about their boss – he was polarizing. But without exception the higher performing people loved him for the opportunities and those just trying to do as little as possible would have burned him in effigy.

      I truly don’t believe what he had can be taught. I’ve tried to model my management after his and some things I’ve brought with me to other companies – making sure that achievement is recognized, high but doable expectations, open door policy without hovering. Kind of his legacy, in a way.

      But he had this magic where he could just make you feel like you could do absolutely anything. He instilled confidence like no one I’ve ever known. There is a lot of lipservice every day to team players – but at the risk of sounding like a cliche he really had a way of making you feel like you were part of a team. You knew what you did mattered. It mattered to the company and it mattered to him.

      I don’t have any idea how he did it. No effusive compliments, no empty praise, no weekly luncheons or gift cards. When he said “thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you” you just knew he meant it. There was never a question that he had your back.

      He engendered a loyalty that’s rare. I haven’t worked for him in years, but if he needed a kidney I’d see if I was a match.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “Not everyone liked him – as someone up thread mentioned about their boss – he was polarizing. But without exception the higher performing people loved him for the opportunities and those just trying to do as little as possible would have burned him in effigy.”

        This has always been part of my test for whether I’m doing my job well.

        1. Catherine*

          My very favorite college professor was exactly like this. Those who worked hard and put in effort thought she was awesome. Those who didn’t hated her.

          1. Anonymous*

            Heck, my favorite high school teacher was like that too, although I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time.

        2. Heather P.*

          OK, I do take some exception to this. Though I’ve never gotten this sense in my career, the times I have been labelled by a teacher as someone who in their mind “wasn’t trying hard” and felt like I could never overcome that perception and was treated poorly compared to their “favorites” who “tried harder” it made me try even less because I felt like nothing I could do would ever get me out of their bad books. Obviously this is the vantage point of a teenager but I think the same principle can be applied in the workplace.

          While I agree that people who go above and beyond should be rewarded and those who have had ample opportunity to improve and don’t should receive no reward, shouldn’t managers be careful not to have fixed perceptions of the people who work for them and very obvious biases ? If you were an employee who knew their boss thought they did the minimum and felt like they would always be treated badly because of this, would you be motivated to try and improve?
          You may be referring to employees who have had multiple chances to improve and don’t and that’s fair enough but feeling like someone assumes the worst and you are powerless to change it is never healthy for growth.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, I think that it’s more objective than that, if you’re talking about good bosses, which we are here.

            I’m not assessing employees on how much effort they’re putting in; I’m assessing them on the quality of their work. It’s not about effort; it’s about how well they do their job. And it is a manager’s job to pass judgment on that.

            Now, bad managers do that badly — their assessments are often off, they make it personal, they have office friends who they favor, etc. But good managers assess people’s work as objectively as humans can, and respond accordingly — rewarding high performers and dealing with low performers. The former is generally pleasant, and the latter often isn’t … which often leads to low performers not particularly liking that manager.

            (That shouldn’t go on forever though — if someone isn’t meeting the bar they need to meet, a good manager will coach them for a while but resolve the situation pretty quickly — either through the person improving or by moving them out of the organization. You shouldn’t get people languishing forever, hating their manager because they’re stuck in a cycle of low performance and critical feedback.)

            1. Heather P.*

              Got it. That sounds fair.
              I do think teachers are a more subjective topic because they base part of their “grades” and perceptions of their students on effort, participation, etc. whereas manager (good ones) are more results-based. But “bad” teachers do remind me of “bad bosses” in the sense that when there is favoritism involved it often has nothing to do with results.

              My current boss gives clear privileges to the person in our office out of three of us who has a child and has told myself and my other co-worker we must accept this and be “flexible”. Ironically this is the person who is leaving our office to go work elsewhere in the organization. My boss is trying to get her to stay until November to train the new hire. Yes, November. As I am writing this on break at my desk my co-worker is freaking out because my manager left for vacation for her second three week vacation of the summer and didn’t bother to tell us how to do something pretty major. I don’t mean to sully this positive thread with bad stuff. Now I’m just rambling so I’ll go.

              1. Anonymous*

                I know exactly what you’re referring to– teachers that give bonuses to people who don’t do good work/don’t understand what’s going on because they try so hard, and penalize people who don’t have to struggle to do good work because they’re not working hard enough. It’s essentially saying all work is good work regardless of quality, and quantity is most important.

                An extreme example being a teacher I had who assigned a book and told us to put post-its in it on every page with a word we didn’t already know. We were to look it up and write the definition on the post-it. I was reprimanded for having only two post-its, whereas the girl who sat next to me was praised for having a book that was just FULL of post-its.

                1. Heather*

                  My high school strings teahcer was like this. I went to an arts high school and my major was violin. This teahcer had clear favorites namely the people who had been playing longer and she knew would get us to win Kiawnis Festivals. She once sent me to the office to get scossors to cut off my nails because they were too long (in strings you have to have your nails short similar to guitar). The favorites could be out of uniform every day and she wouldn’t say anything but the rest of us would be immediately sent to the office for that. She was incredibly unfair. I sincerely think she had fixed perceptions of how everyone was and you were stuck with that for the five years of your high shcool career regardless of how hard you practiced. It was so demoralizing. But it’s been about ten years now. I’m very over it. I do still get detachedly upset about it when I get talking about it though haha These things just stay with you sometimes.

                2. Heather*

                  lol reading this back there are SO MANY TYPOS. Sorry about that! I do know how to spell teacher* and scissors* ;-)

            2. riley*

              “Now, bad managers do that badly — their assessments are often off, they make it personal, they have office friends who they favor, etc.”

              This is what I deal with everyday. My manager has her clear favorites and if you’re not one of them, she treats you like an enemy. There’s 3 of us in the same role and I used to be the one she’d come to for random, one-off requests (which evidently is a good sign). After I did something (no clue what) to lose her favor, she has stopped coming to me entirely and goes to my co-worker, who mentioned off-hand the other day that it’s so weird that manager is going to her all of a sudden for the random, one-off requests. Hm, I wonder why. It’s depressing to deal with and quite frankly I thought I left that kind of drama behind when I graduated from high school.

            3. Lily*

              As a result of judging performance, I am now behaving in a way that I would have thought was outrageously unfair several years ago. For example, I give everyone a deadline. If Amy doesn’t deliver, I immediately ask, because she needs time to respond and does not consistently agree with my suggestions and we may need time to debate and she will need time to make changes …. If Joe doesn’t deliver, he has probably told me the problem and I wait because I know that he does respond promptly to my feedback. I treat them differently in order to end up with equivalent end results. So I think I am fair when it comes to performance, but Amy could accuse me of picking on her.

        3. Anon2*

          One of my better bosses was the same way. She really felt that as long as the work was getting done, then she wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff. However, if you weren’t a team player (ie, if you went off on your own to do non-work stuff even though part of the job is monitoring eqipment all in one room – you could do non-work stuff, just not away from the room) or the work wasn’t getting done, then you hated her because she would get on your case. As. She. Should. lol For conscientious workers, she was great. No complaints about a coworker not pulling their weight while the manager turned a blind eye. ;)

      2. some1*

        I agree. Like Joey said, nothing about B that I mentioned probably seems that spectacular…but when B’s replacement openly favored certain employees and never learned anyone’s job that she supervised (how do you evaluate someone if you don’t know what they do??) I realized how valuable B was.

  8. Lisa*

    My last boss was fantastic! The biggest thing: ZERO EGO and 100% trust. I could tell him if I didn’t like something, if I disagreed with him completely, or if I was just frustrated and needed to vent. Having a relationship where I never once felt like an adversary was amazing. He was even completely comfortable with how ambitious I am and actively helped me work toward a future where I would hold a higher position than he (at the time) did. I miss him so much. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be such an understanding and nurturing boss, but if I can be, it’ll be because of his example.

    1. Catherine*

      My last boss was like this. I loved him and he was the only thing that would have made me stay at my last job. He helped me with my job search when I told him I wanted to leave and he gave me a great reference. He is now about to launch a start-up and he has asked me to be his first employee! I’m thrilled to work for him again.

  9. Lee*

    I have one presently!

    I’m a department coordinator with dreams of moving to bigger and better things eventually. Over the past few years working for him, he has taken the time on several occasions to sit with me and talk about my career goals, and figure out how I can achieve them.

    He gives me more and more responsibility in our department, checks in to make sure I’m doing okay when something is out of my comfort zone, and regularly gives me constructive feedback.

    Strangely, he’s not particularly well liked within the company, which is so surprising to me. He runs our department really well, keeping projects on time and under budget. He is kind of socially awkward, but a very friendly and easy-going guy.

    I tried to tell him a few months ago how much I appreciate his guidance and how much I enjoy working with him, and he was pretty awkward about it and quickly turned it around to say that I was doing a good job. I suppose he’s just not one of those people who appreciates compliments/thanks like that. I actually wish he was because I’d love to tell him again one day :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Tell him in a written note when you leave. He might be awkward about compliments, but if he’s like most people, he’ll cherish that note.

  10. Malissa*

    My best Boss gave me guidance with out really giving me guidance. At least I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back I can see it now. But for the most part he left me alone to do my job and complemented me on it regularly.
    My current boss is pretty good. But that only came after we had a blow-up about him micro-managing a major project of mine. He called me at home to ask me to think about how I was going to handle a certain part of the project that I had already handled. He would have known about this if he’d asked somebody other than the temp about something. Anyway, long story short I came into to work the next morning and confronted him about the call. We hashed a few things out and now we have a great working relationship and he trusts me to keep on top of my projects.

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    I adore my boss. I love him so much that not only have I followed him to 3 different companies (for a combined total of about 6 years), I actually asked him to be in my wedding party. (There’s nothing like a fabulously turned out gay man to complement a gal’s bridesmaids!)

    Even though I consider him a friend (obviously), he’s never held back in terms of managing me. Granted, I’m good at what I do, so he doesn’t have to give me negative feedback often, but if he’s hearing complaints about me, he’s really good at telling me, “The perception at the office is XYZ, you and I know that’s BS, but you need to do ABC in order to make sure that people perceive you differently,” or, “This is a genuine issue, and you really need to fix this.”

    He also lets me alone to do the things that I’m good at (the nonmanagerial aspects of my job), and gives me advice on the things I need more help with (how to manage a problem child, office politics).

    I will follow him to the ends of the earth!

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Oh yeah, and when I bring an issue up with him, he doesn’t just make sympathetic noises, unlike a lot of other bosses I’ve worked with. I’ve had bosses where I show them, “these are the 20 things I have on my plate, and I have bandwidth for about 10 of them. What can we do?” and I just kind of get, “Oh, that’s too bad.” When I do that with my boss…he moves stuff off my plate or gets me freelance help, whatever it takes.

  12. Anonymous*

    I don’t know if I’d call my boss great across the board, although she’s pretty good. I will say that even though my title isn’t anything impressive at all, she has never been afraid to pass on more important responsibilities (or a raise) to me as long as I show I can handle them.

    But in the vein of the stalker co-worker, I had a difficult situation that was handled commendably. I had been at the firm for roughly five or six months, and another woman joined after that. She had been there about a month when we had a firm after-work “happy hour” come up. A lot of people went, and I was friendly with this woman, so at the end, we left to walk to the train station together. Well, she ended up seriously sexually harassing me and borderline assaulting me.

    I was terrified. For one, I’m not confrontational. Two, I hadn’t been there very long. Three, she did this after I told her I wasn’t interested in men (she had brought it up). Four, this was after happy hour (even though I had only had two small drinks). Basically, I was doing a LOT of self-blaming. But after a serious talk with my girlfriend and a friend, I went to my boss, who was the office manager/HR.

    I was believed immediately. She told me that my situation was no different or no more my fault than if my harasser had been a man. She consulted with the firm’s employment lawyer to make sure what she planned to do was the right course of action, and let me know what was happening every step of the way– I was told when they’d talk to the other person, so I could be prepared, and told that if I perceived anything as retaliation I should let them know immediately. I felt that everything done was truly about making sure I felt safe in my own workplace.

    I know how it could have turned out so I’ll always be incredibly grateful for how she handled that.

  13. Heather P.*

    A former boss of mine managed a team of really chatty 20-somethings of which I was one. That summer we had all been extremely social, chit-chatting often and one day I asked him if overall it was too much. He responded with: “As long as work is getting done and deadlines are being met I would rather people are happy when they get up and come to work. It makes them want to keep working for you and do their best.”
    I think he recognized with that demographic that the most effective way to get results from us was to allow us to have our socializing within limits and that in turn also made us interact as a team. He would give you a kick if your performance was slipping but otherwise he trusted you would do the job until proven otherwise and check in often but not constantly. He was also a great goal-setter and motivator in what could be considered a relatively mundane field of health and dental claims. He spoiled me I think for future bosses.

  14. Ashleigh E.*

    I have the best boss ever. It’s a small company, just 4 of us including him and his brother/partner and he is really great about never micro-managing and giving feedback in a constructive way. He allows me to have a flexible schedule and is of the opinion that if my work is getting done, I should be able to manage my own time. He was very understanding and flexible with me when my father in law passed away and actively works to help me be better at my job. He is liberal with praise for when I do well and has a “well, let’s just learn from it and move forward” attitude when I make a mistake.

    I will seriously work for him for the rest of my life if I can. He is a mentor and someone that I genuinely like and I can’t say that I have ever had a better boss.

    1. Ashleigh E.*

      Also, I handle his customer service and when we have a difficult client that is unfairly complaining about me (usually when I’m upholding the terms of the sale that they now find to be inconvenient), he 100% backs me up and has even told clients before that I am more valuable to him than they are and he doesn’t need their money that badly.

    2. Tax Nerd*

      My first boss was awesome. He was fine with allowing me a flexible schedule. If I came in a little late, but got all my work done (and them some) by staying late, he didn’t bat an eyelash. In fact, he probably defended it to anyone who said anything. The two of us were the only ones in our department in that city at the time, so it didn’t really affect anyone else.

      The best thing, though, was that his bad day was never my bad day. If a client or his boss was ranting and screaming at him about something, he remained cool and composed, and never turned around and dumped his bad day on me. He’d protect me from the wrath of anyone that got their panties in a twist. If it was truly something I’d done, he’d gently correct it, but he wouldn’t let a yeller yell at me.

      I vowed then that I’d always take any heat from above and shield my employees, and if any corrections needed to flow downhill, it would be done in a constructive/positive manner, without anger or blame.

      Another time, a client I’d been working closely with chose our firm for some payroll audit work, which is outside of my area. I forwarded her follow-up email to my grand-boss, to see if he could find out who was being unresponsive to her, since I didn’t even know about the project. Months later, my grand-boss sent her a courtesy email to thank her for the work, and she wrote back gushing about what a great working relationship she had with us. Grand-boss sends it to my boss, saying we must be doing something right to make a client so happy. Instead of taking any credit, my boss writes back that it was all my doing – I’d built the relationship and trust with the client, etc. And he cc’d me, so I got brought into the convo at that point. I received a bonus and promotion later that year.

  15. Analytic Chard*


    There was the one who asked me to commit insurance fraud. Then the one that who told me to commit tax fraud. And the one who was promoted and then said, “I’m too busy to manage you now…you’ll have to figure it out.” And the one who bounced paychecks. Oh, and the one who did tequila shots in the office at 10am.

    Any opening at the companies in the other comments? :-)

    1. Jamie*

      “Any opening at the companies in the other comments? :-)”

      Weirdly enough, they don’t always go hand in hand. My awesome boss was a harbor in a very dysfunctional and badly managed (imo) company. When he was promoted to corporate so was I – but in a different department. They didn’t want him to have his minions with him – which isn’t a paraphrase – there was a discussion about making sure he was coming in sans loyal employees. So I got stuck with MicroBoss. When I quit less than 3 months later AwesomeBoss wasn’t surprised and knew it was coming – he knew I’d be miserable once he realized he couldn’t get me transferred to his department.

      He knew when he negotiated my raise and promotion with corporate (yep, without me, usually weird but this was an exception) he got me the best percentage deal in company history to that point – in large part because he knew I wouldn’t be able to stay and this way I was walking into the next place with a much higher previous salary.

      My long winded point is – a good boss doesn’t always = a good company. But a good boss can make a lousy company bearable.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        He sounds like a gem. A boss who’s not only your boss, but your advocate, is the best thing ever.

      2. Catherine*

        That is certainly true. My most favorite boss was in a terrible company. He completely understood when I told him I wanted to leave and even helped me with my job search. We were working at a university that was very dysfunctional and micromanaging was rampant amongst the administration.

  16. Student*

    A good boss is like a good IT department.

    If an IT department is good, you won’t ever notice them. If they’re bad, you’ll curse them when your internet connection dies or your web server goes down.

    If your boss is good, you won’t notice because things just run smoothly and you don’t run into lots of politics or difficulties with co-workers, and you’ll feel like taking work home with you was your own brilliant idea. If he’s bad, you’ll dread meetings, wonder why your terrible co-workers never get fired, and curse all the work that you take home with you at night.

    1. Jamie*

      Even if the IT is good they still get cursed when they internet is down.

      Reminding people that we don’t control the weather and cannot go underground to repair T-1 lines is a major part of the job.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’ve worked with so many people (read: attorneys) who think every little single issue they could proably fix themselves if they tried is actually a major crisis that IT has to solve ASAP. IT could be run by god hirself and they’d still find something!

      2. Catherine*

        I just tell them I’ll wave my magic internet wand and make the problem go away. Some people don’t appreciate the sarcasm.

  17. Jessica*

    I used to have a good boss when i was telemarketing. He was very professional. I think what i respected most was his ability to keep his employees at a professional distance without coming off as rude. I have a dislike for bosses who try to be ‘friends’ with their staff and he was not like that. He gave clear instructions, gave praise as often as criticism (which was always constructive, never malicious) and basically just knew how to manage. Even when he had a problem with you, he would calmly pull you into his office, to talk and he never treated anyone like they were stupid. He held everyone to a high standard of conduct and held everyone accountable for their own productivity. I haven’t spoken to him in a few years and in light of recent events (with a very bad boss) i feel like i should get in touch just to say how much i respected his ability to lead. He was that good.

  18. riley*

    The best boss I’ve ever had (so far… I’m optimistic that I’ll have more in my career) was so good that I stayed in a role longer than I should have. What made him the best:

    1. Dealt with personnel issues swiftly and professionally. When my boss was promoted to Senior Director, his vacant Director position was filled with someone who’d been recommended for the job by a Director in one of our regional offices. This man ended up alienating his direct reports with crude comments, overstepping boundaries, and in general making them feel extremely uncomfortable around him. My boss addressed the issues immediately and when corrective action didn’t work, the Director was fired. This all happened in a 3-week span.

    2. Encouraged every employee to reach his/her career goals, even if it meant leaving the organization to do so. I was always very open with him about my career aspirations and when it finally came time for me to move on (current company didn’t have any career growth opportunities for me), he helped me with my resume and offered to do role playing for interview prep.

    3. Taught me how to be more assertive and how to effectively deal with conflict. I was still quite young at the time and starting out in the working world and one of things I hated was any kind of conflict with co-workers. He taught me that conflict is not necessarily a bad thing and it’s healthy to disagree with co-workers, otherwise the real issues would never get solved. He helped me to be objective and take the person out of the issue, and deal with the issue itself. It really helped to boost my confidence and to not be afraid of conflict anymore.

    4. Never thought any task was ever “below” him. This is such a small thing, but it really resonated with me. Most mornings, I would see him in the office kitchen emptying the dishwasher and putting on fresh pots of coffee. His reasoning was that he was usually the first one in the office so he might as well get the kitchen prepped for the day.

    The interesting thing was that most people in the department didn’t like him when he first joined the company, although some eventually warmed up to him. It was a non-profit and they saw him as “inexperienced” because he came from the corporate banking world, and often times mistook his direct, no-BS-approach as cold-hearted.

    I’ve told him numerous times what a great boss he is. It makes me want to go back and work for him again (he’s still at the non-profit) because I have TWO horrible bosses right now, one who has decided to start “meangirling” me because I did something (or said something???) that put me out of her favor (wish I knew what the heck I did but no communication because like I said, meangirling which includes silent treatment), and the other who is just so hands-off I have no direction on what I’m supposed to be doing. Sigh. I really, really miss working for him.

  19. Kris*

    I work at a state government agency. My last boss was a retired Highway Patrol trooper that had come out of retirement to be our director as a favor to our agency’s commisioner. One of the best things about him was that he didn’t care if you liked him. He was worried about getting the work done right and making the right choice even when it was unpopular. His main priority aftrer gettuing the work done was to take care of his employees. When he came here we were all doing a fairly complex specialist job and getting paid as data entry clerks. Under his administration we got two re-classifications that resulted in pay increase. Even after the second one he still said we were woefully underpaid (which we are) but that was all he could do. He was a great person to work for.

    Unfortunately he had only come out of retirement for a few years and has now gone back to be retired and was replaced by a tyrant. But since this post is meant to address the good bosses I’ll leave his description for another post.

  20. Sarah Fowler*

    My best boss was great at respecting his employees. He hired people for their expertise and talent, even if they were just secretaries, and he always listened to our opinions– and 99% of the time acted according to our advice. He was really careful about hiring, but he made our lives easier by letting us do our jobs (never micromanaging) and let his own life be made easier by not second-guessing us. He “pulled the boss card” (his term) when he needed to, but that wasn’t often.
    He was also reasonable with vacation and sick time, trusting us to get our work done and encouraging taking time to recoup or rest. I left him only to start my own business, and I gotta tell you I’m not as good a manager of myself as he was!

  21. EAC*

    The best boss I ever had, had the guts to fire me.

    Four weeks prior , she pulled me into her office for a “little talk”. She basically told me that my work product made it obvious that I was not passionate about the work that I was doing and while some people were fine to have a tolerable job in order to pay the bills, she didn’t think that I was one of those people. I was shocked that she had read me so clearly. She ended the conversation by telling me that I was young enough to do something about my dissatisfaction with my career.

    I was angry and embarrassed when I was terminated, but it did give me the motivation to search for what I really wanted.

  22. Tater B.*

    I haven’t had a great boss yet, but I have actually had some who I respected. So maybe that does make them great, in the sense that I learned from them while clashing with their personalities/styles of management.

    What I have learned A LOT in the past decade is that a lot of “bad bosses” simply have their hands tied by upper management. Some of them are just as afraid of losing their jobs as I am.

    And some of them are really jerks. Thankfully, they are not as plentiful as we tend to believe.

  23. S*

    In grad school I worked part time in the box office of a movie theater/performing arts center, and had the best manager. She was actually filling in for the manager who was on maternity leave and when the real manager came back, there was a more than 50% turn over in staff because the manager was terrible and we had all been spoiled by her wonderful replacement. She was the best communicator I have ever experienced, and she made expectations and feedback very clear, as well as providing us with all of the information we needed to do our jobs. She had high standards, but she made them easy to meet by making the explicit and letting us know when we weren’t meeting them – and when we were doing well. The box office was a pretty complicated place with a lot of part time staff, but it ran like a well oiled machine while she was in charge and then completely fell apart when the manager came back. I left within weeks, as did most of the rest of the staff.

  24. Laurie*

    Yay, it makes me happy just to be able to share the story of my great boss and immortalize it on the interwebs. This is going to be a long one.

    Here’s why he was the best boss I’ve ever had and why I can now recognize good managers, and why I also know that he is probably the best manager I will ever have. I hope I can be like him one day.

    1) Amazing ability to delegate –
    I realized his genius in this area after working for him for a couple of years. I had two other co-workers in my team, and yet all three of us found ourselves with a) projects that were challenging, satisfying and big impact in the company, b) separate areas of control where we could specialize and work towards becoming SMEs and not feel encroached on by the other two co-workers and c) seamless backups where I could do the most important parts of the jobs of the other two so that if they took a day off, the department would still go on.

    2) Self-confidence –
    Not in a personal sense, but in a managerial sense. He included us in every meeting that was not directors-only (EVERY MEETING). This included sales pitches from external firms, information-only meetings with suppliers/vendors, discussions with other teams on hot-button issues, discussions with teams on ‘how-about-if-we’ scenarios. We saw exactly what he said and how he acted in every scenario – whether he was doing the pitching or whether he was being pitched. He wasn’t afraid to be contradicted in front of his juniors.

    Again, I underestimated the importance of this initially. Eventually I realized that our team knew everything about everything because we were always informed and we saw what the directors saw (in terms of how important sales VPs from large fortune 100 companies act and what they say when they are pitching you… invaluable that early in your career).

    3) Ambitious vision with workable steps –
    Because we were in every meeting with every department, we saw the tiny pieces of the puzzle that combined into one giant and very ambitious vision. But the teams that were being pitched usually just saw one part of the vision – this sometimes led to heads of those teams complaining that my manager always wanted something new everytime they saw him. What they didn’t realize was, his vision was quite far reaching and he just gently chipped away at it every time he got a little farther with them.

    4) Knew the job of every one of his reports, and of all the other departments –
    He always knew what we were doing and how we were doing it (in a general sense). He could always chip in if one of us wasn’t there. He also knew what all the other departments did, and who was good at their job and who to avoid because they sucked at delivering stuff.

    5) Technologically and professionally informed –
    This was a major advantage because a) he knew what was going on in the world technologically, b) was excited about it and c) constantly looked for ways to incorporate it in every area of his personal life and his job. He subscribed to paid journals in the area he was responsible for, and attended conferences, and knew all about the bleeding edge stuff (and also why it worked or didn’t work). This didn’t mean he jumped on everything new and shiny – he’d have already considered why it would work or not work with the company’s culture and/or existing technology.

    6) Totally chill and laughed a lot –
    The man loved his golf and his beer, I tell ya. He always pretended to want to get his job done and get to the 18-hole, but he cared deeply about his job. Passion is infectious.

  25. CatB (Europe)*

    I had two great bosses. Three, actually, but one of them was great… in the negative (he is the one form whom I learned most, though: what NOT to do when I got to be somebody’s boss).

    The first had a paper framed in his office saying “Those who ask questions are not stupid. They are dedicated to understanding the tasks in order to perform better” and he lived by it. He was also great at motivating people. Many time we would have sales meetings that took away half of the weekend (precious time, since I was working away from home and got to see my wife and kid only on weekends), and these are so NOT full of praise… but still, after meetings, we all felt energized and ready to conquer the market. I didn’t get to tell him my feelings, unfortunately.

    The second was very into participative management. We were 5 Area Managers reporting to him and he called us to work together all the strategic planning that was usually not our responsibility (production forecasts, marketing plans, sales forecasts, budgeting etc – for the whole country, no less). He taught me a lot. We remained connected and still speak from time to time.

  26. AnonA*

    Yes! He was fantastic in managing down and up. The head of our agency was really ill-suited to the position, but he protected his team from her craziness trickling down. He explicitly stated to me that, even though the situation above was crazy, the situation he controlled did not have to be. Great management lesson for me!

  27. N.M.*

    My best boss? Gave me tons of feedback, forced me to get 200% more organized than I’d ever been at work before, helped me stand up for myself when I wasn’t going to do it, kicked my ass when I needed it kicked, coached me through tricky conversations that I had to have with co-workers, gave me projects that I thought I wasn’t ready for but helped me see that I could do it, made me a much more rigorous writer and taught me to be conscientious about deadlines, proofreading, and follow-through, which has helped me SO much in jobs since then. She also asked me for feedback about herself and she really listened when I gave it, which is something I’ve never had a boss do before or since then.

    She looked out for the work first, but she looked out for me too. More than once she made me take a day off when she could see I was stressed out and needed time away. She insisted that I fully unplug and not answer emails when I went on vacation. If someone did me wrong, she either intervened and set things right or coached me in how to address it myself and then she followed up later to make sure the problem was really solved.

    It’s no surprise she now runs a blog telling other people how to do these things!! Ms. Green, do you recognize yourself?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Aw. Thank you! That is awesome to hear.

      For anyone wondering whether they really should listen to me and tell their good bosses what they liked, let me tell you straight from the glow of this moment: Yes!

    2. PuppyKat*

      Wow, not only is this a wonderful testament—it’s like a checklist of “Stellar Boss” traits! Gives me something to aspire to.

  28. Sdhr*

    Great reflective question! It makes me realize that in 19 years I have had several really good bosses and a two nightmares.

    Good boss #1 was my manager when I worked fast food in high school! She was 28, had two you g children and the work ethic of a work horse. She was practical and fair and “got” that some of us were there for a little while and others there “for life” and treated us all with such respect while demanding top quality performance. (you could have eaten off the kitchen floor there. And we were happy to keep it that clean!)

    Good boss #2 was my boss at my first office job. She showed me the ropes and didn’t make me feel like an idiot. I credit her with my success now because of all the doors that job opened for me. She won’t take the credit, of course.

    The other good ones gave me flexibility when I needed it because they trusted me, fought for promotions at appropriate times, helped me see where I needed development, we’re available to answer questions, gave me exposure when I was ready and empathized with me when something happened to make me cry at work. (I will never forget his kindness.). One of them offered me career advice that I was dressing too young and when she told me that I understood how hard that conversation was for her and how valuable it was for me. How long might it have taken me to figure that out if she hadn’t told me?

    I am now in a position to professionally help many of my old bosses. I give back as much as I can because I wouldn’t be here without them!

    1. Jamie*

      “She won’t take the credit, of course. ”

      That’s a common thread.

      When I was settled into my new (at the time) company and doing well I emailed my former AwesomeBoss and thanked him.

      I thanked him for basically the stuff I’ve posted here – and let him know that once I stopped applying for jobs that didn’t scare me and started applying for positions he would have hired me for I ended up doing pretty okay.

      And I told him how I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to be half the manager he was.

      He also said he had nothing to do with my success – I think he just doesn’t want the blame if I spectacularly implode someday :).

      Over a year later I got an email from him – said he was going through a rough patch at work and kept pulling out that old email of mine to reread…as a reminder that stuff matters.

      1. Heather P.*

        I just wanted to say Jamie that you always have the most intelligent and hilarious comments. I love reading what you have to say.

  29. millefolia*

    I miss working for my Awesome Boss! He left us and was replaced by someone who I think may someday become an awesome boss, but isn’t there yet. Some of the things my Awesome Boss did that made him awesome:

    * regular 1:1 meetings with each of his employees. Sometimes the meetings were entirely about work stuff, sometimes we got through all the work stuff we needed to discuss and ended up chatting about miscellaneous stuff. I knew he was paying attention to each of us and our work even though we didn’t see him every day.
    * supporting employees’ career goals. Our organization has employees do a self-report as part of the annual review, and one of the questions asks about career goals. He made it clear that he did want to know about our career goals, and that if a special project came up that would be relevant to someone’s goals, he’d try to make sure the project got assigned to the person who’d be interested in it–both for the employee’s sake and because the work would be done better if the person doing it was especially interested in it.
    * letting employees know what they were doing well, and if something needed improvement, making sure they knew that too.
    * where possible, giving an employee a choice whether to accept a new assignment within the group or continue in their same role.
    * made a point of letting us all know that he valued feedback whether positive or negative.

    And one that may be particular to me, but that I really valued: I’m a woman in tech, and it’s fairly common for us to be complimented on our people skills and not as much on our tech skills, no matter how good our tech skills might be. I was really impressed and pleased when my boss, on offering me a new assignment that required extra good customer service skills, made a point of also recognizing my tech skills.

    (And Alison, I did tell him once that I thought he was an awesome boss, but I was woefully nonspecific about why–I think I may send him a version of this comment.)

  30. Sara*

    Oooo I had to thikn hard about this. the first person that came to mind was my boss at my first job which was in college. But i don’t know if he falls under the baseline though. I have had some really crappy bosses/managers and I’m not sure if he’s good in relation to them or on his own.

    Anyway, he was pretty nice. He had my back a few times which I really appreciated. That’s pretty much it….in fact if I could I would work for him again (but not in the same position/same pay).

    1. Sara*

      I just realized how vague that sounded…but that’s how it was! he truly was nice and likeable, I don’t think anyone had a single problem wiht him. I wish I had been more comfortable to go to him with issues I had with my other coworkers (one supervisor who shouted at me for my makeup)

      On the other hand, I was a manager in my last position (which was a temp/seasonal job). It was my first time in such a position and I admit I stumbled alot, but I did put a sincere effort into it. Two of my team members who were full time employees of teh company were incredibly rude and nasty (they actually screamed at me in front of clients/coworkers) and I think that affected my relationship with my own manager because I’m pretty sure she played favorites. If I could go back I’d do it all differently.

  31. Anon2*

    I’ve had 4 good bosses with my current company:

    B – Young, but very professional. Maintained a certain distance from employees which sometimes seemed like standoffishness but she was just naturally reserved until she knew someone better. She didn’t sweat the small, micro-managing rules (dept-wide) so long as the work was getting done well, she never let team-members with more slacker tendencies slack, she took concerns seriously and helped employees with learning and growth. Her only real flaw as a manager was her tone when giving negative feedback – sometimes she sounded condescending. Like others have said, a little polarizing – especially between employees who are internally motivated to do well versus those who are not.

    M – Just a great manager all around. Could easily transition from friend-manager to manager-manager with no hard feelings (someone once told me this also spoke well for us employees, and I have to agree, lol). He really advocated for us, tried to help us when there were disputes as to who was at fault with mistakes, he was very knowledgable and always generously shared his expertise. He was nice, funny, personable, professional and a plain talker. He wasn’t afraid to tell you where you were going wrong and help you get back on track – all with a forthright manner that let you know not to take it personally. One of the easiest, least stressful and drama-free managers I’ve ever had. Biggest flaw – sometimes felt he didn’t have to say something was wrong because it was ‘common sense’.

    P – Very similar to M. Different personalities, but still very much someone you could talk to inside and outside of work without any loss of authority. I could tell her any time I wasn’t happy with something going on at work and she would not take it as a personal attack. She was always open to suggestions and gave great feedback.

    A – Another polarizing manager. Some coworkers felt he was a little micromanaging – amazingly, same coworkers who weren’t doing their job fully. ;) He was great with feedback, really great at letting you know when you were doing well. He was very fair and so long as you were admitting your part in your mistakes, he didn’t beat you over the head with them. He is very conscientious. If you ask him a question, he always had an answer for you or got back to you with one. He really balanced his role as a representative of upper management and an employee advocate. Also, he and I just get along really well and are friends.

    I’ve had a manager or two who were just okay, but mostly I’ve been lucky to have good managers. Our organization once had a terrible, terrible person in upper management, but he was fired within the year. Our company and management certainly have their challenges on a macro level, but do pretty well overall on a micro level.

  32. Jennifer*

    Most of mine have been great! Okay, so I’m a little disappointed with the one who laid me off, but she was great before that and I kind of understood under the circumstances. But all things considered, I’ve really only had one “meh” boss and the rest have been excellent. My current boss and the one before her are particularly lovely and have my back and have made sure I stayed employed when I should have been laid off by now. So I love them :)

  33. Jen*

    I apologize that this is a little long…My last boss was so great that I’m worried that I’ll never have a boss that ever comes close. He was only a couple of years older than me, and we had a few common interests which made in and out of work social situations better, but for someone who was, at the time, in his late 20’s, he had pretty much all the qualities that everyone has mentioned so far, and that makes him that much more impressive to me.
    The job I was hired for was one I had interviewed for in the spring and was told it was between myself and one other candidate. The other candidate ended up getting it over me, but nine months later I got a call that she was leaving and they wanted me to come in and interview again. I ended up getting the job, but my predecessor gave me very little guidance or training in the week or two before she left, and because it was only my second “office” job ever, and very different from my first, I struggled to get a handle on it. Add to that the fact that I had some personal issues outside of work that were stressing me out and it turned out I wasn’t doing that great of a job. My boss came to me and simply stated that I was lacking attention to detail and it needed to be addressed. He wasn’t rude, he wasn’t accusatory, he just said what needed to be said and it was heard and understood.
    Flash forward a month or two and I’m finally starting to get a handle on how to do my job, when a different position within my team opens up which requires totally different skills, skills which I rudimentarily (because of some elective college classes) possess and my boss notices. After actually interviewing several candidates that he doesn’t particularly like, he approaches me and asks if I’m interested. YES, I was, it was a more creative position, much more up my alley, so he gave me that position and hired someone to replace my previous one (who did a much better job than I did once she got the hang of it). He taught me so much about how to do my new job, because it was basically a lower level of his job, and I am so thankful for his guidance. Eventually at one point he even went to bat for me with the owner of the company to get me a dollar an hour raise, which was unheard of there.
    I continued to work there for another couple of years until the company started laying people off left and right and I started looking for another job, in this new “field” that this boss gave me the opportunity to try. I now work in a new company, in the job he introduced me to, and trained me how to do. I now make better money than I did at the old company, and I’m GOOD at what I do, and proud of my work and my abilities. I basically owe the fact that I have a “career” now, (if it wasn’t for the job change I would have gone back to waiting tables as a result of or to avoid getting laid off) and the fact that I’m good at it, to this former boss, and I couldn’t be more grateful. He even called and asked if I was interested in a job at his new company, and if I could have made more money there than where I am now, I would have jumped through fiery hoops to work for him again. He knew how to be approachable, but he knew how to tell you that you were screwing up without making you feel worthless, and he made you want to do well. And he mentored me into a career when I was just looking to find a M-F 9-5 job just to get out of waiting tables and really didn’t expect to end up doing much more than secretarial work for the rest of my life in order to avoid being a waitress/bartender forever. I can’t give this guy enough praise for how he helped me. Oh, and he knew how to do EVERY job in the company, and treated everyone equally and fairly and there wasn’t (that I know of) a single person in the company that didn’t like and respect him. Did i mention that he was in his late 20’s? Yeah, I hope he gets all the great things he deserves in life.

  34. Lisa O*

    I had 2 very fabulous bosses in my career. One was right out of college. He was the Managing Director of the Chicago office and I was his administrative assistant. When I started, he introduced me to clients as “this is my Lisa. She helps me run the business. So you treat her right and I’ll treat you right.” Some people actually thought my name was ‘MyLisa’. We would laugh about that. He was very passionate about his job and “his people”. Very open to ideas, suggestions and if something was off kilter with someone, he wanted to know and what he could do to improve. A very brilliant man that never put anyone in a bad light. He remains my mentor/friend. He pulled me aside one day and told me that he planned to retire in 5 years and to start thinking about that. I did and went to night school to get my grad degree and the “book smarts” to back up everything he taught me in business. The day I graduated, he had a limo pick me up and take me his country club to have dinner with him and his lovely wife and we celebrated his retirement and my graduation. He genuinely cared not only about me but about all his employees and his clients. Very genuine. He still remains my mentor. Another boss I had after he retired and I took another job…another exceptionally charismatic business man. He was also getting ready to retire and he’d call me from home in the morning and ask “do you have everything under control or do you need me to come in today?” Usually everything was under control but sometimes I’d say “I think I need you in today.” He’d say, your wish is my command. Both of these guys were very passionate about their work and the people that worked for them. Micromanagement was the farthest thing from their minds. They climbed the ropes and they encouraged us to do the same thing in our own way. Mutual respect on both parts. They both listened, respected and encouraged. Yes, I most certainly thanked them both numerous times. I was so very lucky to have such magnetic and charismatic “leaders” in my life and both still remain in my life though they are retired. Good bosses are mentors and teachers who listen, care and are so passionate that it rubs off. And they let you go forth and grow.

  35. Yup*

    I’ve lucky to have several good and great bosses. (With a few truly wretched ones in the mix for comparison.) The things that stand out about the great ones:

    Even-keeled and consistent. With the great bosses, I never wondered where I stood or worried about what mood the boss is in today. I got consistent solid guidance on how things should be done, it didn’t change wildly from day to day. And even when they were tired, stressed, or having a rotten day, they never took it out on me. They were great role models for professionalism and grace under pressure.

    Kindness. I made two monster screw ups while working for great bosses, but neither made a huge spectacle out of it. Once I messed up the scheduling of an important event, which caused a lot of inconvenience for the boss. I was mortified and was positive I’d be read the riot act (understandably), but I actually overhead the boss defending me on the phone to an irate colleague. “She made a mistake. It happens. Calm down, it’ll be fine, we’ll fix it.” I had a good track record in both instances, which helped. But I always appreciated that they didn’t make me feel worse than I already did, and gave me the chance to just working on fixing the mistakes and overcoming it. That kind of loyalty and generosity makes people willing to work harder for you and go the extra mile because they know you’ll have their back.

  36. Vicki*

    My best boss was a former co-worker. As a co-worker (and as a boss, to be honest) he’s a workaholic. The difference, surprisingly, was that as a co-worker, he wanted everyone around him to share that “We have to stay and wrk on this! We need to work late!”, whereas as a boss, his attitude was “It’s 5:30. Go home. Work on this in the morning.”

    I wouldn’t want to work with him as a co-worker on project, but I would definitely work _for_ him as a manager again.

    Also, thinking about the years I worked for him as a manager, and then “under” him (he became dept director) I can’t recall any time that he resorted to “Command and Control” mode He occasionally asked for something that wasn’t what I preferred, but he always explained, always gave a reason, never “I’m the Boss and I Said So.”

  37. Vicki*

    My second-best boss (second only because I worked with him less so new less about him) was my first boss, in my first “real” job, after grad school.

    He’s the one who taught me that I’m paid for 40 hours/week. He left me alone to do my work (he was technically my manager but all of my projects came from the chief scientist in the department.)

    The most important thing I have learned in over 25 years: You’re paid to work 40 hours/week. Don’t overwork. There’s always tomorrow. Do your best work and be productive today, go home, come back tomorrow.”

  38. Vicki*

    Allison –
    I want you to know that I’m really glad you asked this question. I’m also not so glad you asked it.

    On the one had, it’s a Good Thing to remind us that not eery boss is a Dilbert cartoon boss. On the other hand, as I was thinking back through all of the managers I’ve had (29 at last count), I started to cry. The bad ones so outnumber the good, and some were so truly awful.

    Thank you for starting this community where so many others understand.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I know this isn’t what you intended, but … well, this comment made me pretty uncomfortable! I don’t want this site to be seen as a community for commiserating over bad bosses. It’s intended to be a site to help you understand what your manager or interviewer is thinking and how to use that information to get more of what you want from your career. I love that people often support each other here when they’re going through something difficult, but I don’t want readers losing sight of the aim here: It’s to improve your professional life.

      If you’ve had 29 awful bosses, something is going on. It might be your industry, or that you’re in a geographic area that gives you very few options, or that you’re not screening companies well before accepting jobs, or something about the way you’re interacting with employers. Maybe you’re in a field that really attracts crazy managers. I don’t know — but I do know that if it’s that much of a pattern, you’ve got to look what’s going on and figure out if it’s something that can change or not. If it can’t change, then you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to live with that going forward or not, and how to find some peace with it.

      I don’t want to sidetrack this thread because I’m loving how positive it’s been, and I want to keep it that way, but I did want to interject this here in response to this comment.

    2. Blinx*

      Vicki, I can can commiserate, and also take Alison’s comment to heart. I was at my past company for 11 years, and had 11 different bosses!! I only worked in 2 different departments though. Out of the bunch, there were 2 or 3 good ones. Some took other positions in the company, several were fill-ins, 1 retired, 1 died (!), and 4 were due to various reorganizations. Very wearying, trying to prove yourself to new people! I really liked the first guy that I interviewed with, and he was my manager for a few years, but then he left, and the parade of managers started.

      In contrast, one of my colleagues was there for 18 years. For the first 15, she had the same, wonderful boss, until she was placed into my department after another crazy re-org.

  39. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve had a few awful bosses, and mostly decent ones. I can’t think of any that stand out in particular, although kind of like Yup’s comment, they had certain traits in common.

    One of my biggest problems as an employee is that I tend to get bogged down in details, and often miss the big picture. Bosses with good communications skills have helped me pull back a bit, and not get so hung up on that ONE thing that isn’t quite right, and doesn’t really affect things overall.

    I’ve had some that were very flexible too. If you had to adjust hours for school or other issues, they were okay with it as long as you got your work done and the phone was covered. I wasn’t frightened about asking for time if I needed it, and as a result, I was eager to make it up rather than feeling as though that were a punishment.

    It all comes down to treating employees like adults, rather than wayward children who need to be watched every second. I think we’re more apt to police ourselves in that kind of atmosphere.

  40. Jessica*

    My current boss is amazing! He is fair to our entire team. If there’s a problem he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work on fixing it.

    I think everyone who works for him would say he is wonderful, but me personally, I have to say he is brilliant. The thing I like best about him is that he believes in me and trusts me implicitly. He has made it one of his goals to coach and mentor me with a goal of having me advance in our company. I would say he’s done a great job as in the most recent talent review I was one of only two people in our department who made the list.

    I could honestly say I would walk through fire for this man and I can’t imagine working for anyone else!

  41. human*

    I had a good boss, and I stayed in that job for a long time, about five years, even though it was fairly low level.

    She was really deliberate about making sure to set goals for professional development. We picked an area to focus on together every year at annual review time. One year, she got our employer to pay to send me to a conference in our field so I could network and learn more about the industry as a whole.

    Early on I was having a performance issue in a specific area. My probationary period got extended because of it and I was in danger of being fired. But she handled it in a totally fair way and made it really clear exactly what I needed to do to improve. So I did, and I didn’t get fired and went on to do some great work for them.

    She also was really receptive to feedback. At one point, she had been criticizing my work in a way that I felt was contradictory and confusing and unfair. So I pointed this out to her, and she didn’t get mad, but said, basically, “You’re right, and it’s because I was concerned about this other unrelated thing, but what I’m really after is this.” And so we cleared things up between us and I was able to deliver what she wanted. She was really good about communication in general. Occasionally, one of us got frustrated with the other, because that happens when two people interact with each other a lot, but we were always able to work it out in the end.

    Yay for good bosses!

  42. Eevee*

    I haven’t been working long, so I don’t have that much in terms of experience or interesting anecdotes to share. However, I had one truly fantastic boss, and director of that company, who have truly set my bar high for what I am looking for in a manager.

    My boss (the then artistic director, who has since moved on to a different city and is looking for another job; let’s call her “M”) was amazing. When I made mistakes, M corrected me in a way that didn’t make me afraid to keep trying, and actually made me work harder to meet her very high standards. M gave constructive criticism on my performance, and gave me lots of feedback when I first started about how I could improve my interactions with our festival patrons. She taught me little cues on how to understand what people were looking for, and how to provide the best experience for them before they ever asked for help.

    M also asked after how I was doing in my college classes to make sure I wasn’t too overwhelmed – at the time, I was taking full-time classes and working at the festival for 8 hours a day! She made sure that all of her volunteers took breaks for food, water, and absorb/enjoy the festival atmosphere. M and most of the foundation staff never treated volunteers like expendable, interchangeable people – they remembered our names, took care of us, and treated everyone like valuable members of the team.

    After that first festival, M would ask me to come help out during the seasonal events, and sometimes when there was extra stuff to do at the office. At the next two festivals, she gave me more and more responsibility – during my senior year, I was will call co-coordinator, along with another volunteer I had worked with in the previous years. She would tell us what she needed us to do, and would often ask us for our opinions on how we could do things better or more efficiently. If someone didn’t meet her standards for performance even after she tried to work with them on improvement, she had them shuffled out of the team.

    I truly appreciated her no-nonsense approach to management. She took it as given that we would accomplish the responsibilities she had given us, but she always seemed to know exactly how much was too much. (I remember that I was envious for a time when my fellow co-coordinator seemed to have “more responsibilities” than I did, but when she asked after my coursework and how I was doing with my extracurriculars (I was very involved with student leadership on campus), I realized that she really cared about my workload and stress outside of my work with her.)

    Interestingly, she never actually told me until after she resigned from her position how highly she thought of me. I became friends with many of the other folks staffing the festival, and they were the ones who commented on how much she seemed to trust me and value my work! I was blown away when she told me how she felt… I honestly had no idea!

    When she left, she offered to be my reference any time, and we’ve kept in touch even after we both left San Diego.

  43. Anonymous*

    My current boss is great. She develops people so that when a promotion or a move comes along, her employees are ready because they’ve been trained and prepared to move up. She knows our strengths and weaknesses. At conferences or other occasions, she makes sure we meet people we need to know. She gets an amazing amount of work done, but her door is always open if we need to talk to her. In difficult situations, she always keeps cool, is honest but kind, gives people the benefit of the doubt, and tries to come up with something that works for everyone. She is not afraid to ask hard questions or call you out (in private) if you did something wrong or made a mistake. She will work with people who have trouble with the technical or other parts of the job, but she will not tolerate someone who doesn’t treat customers or coworkers with respect. In this way, she’s built a strong team and a pleasant atmosphere to work in.

  44. mh_76*

    I admit…I’m very green with envy after reading these comments. I’ve been in the workplace for quite a while but have yet to work for one peron who is a great boss*. I could type out a long comment picking out good attributes from some of the past bosses I’ve had…and an even longer comment about their shortcomings as bosses… but it’s after my self-imposed commenting curfew…and I’d just be repeating the things that have been said about the other good and bad bosses.

    *the current “boss”…in quotes because I’m 1099…may be (still TBD) but I’ve been in this job for only 2 months and that + a few election days as poll workers isn’t enough time to know for sure. He did write me a very awesome LI reco. (I’m thinking about what to write about him beyond something to the effect of “__ is the first person I’ve ever worked for who has asked me if I am learning…” my brain freezes there.

  45. katinphilly*

    Late in here! But I have to unload – my mom passed away in May after a lengthy illness. My new boss couldn’t have been more understanding and flexible about me rushing home every few weeks and taking a week off when she passed. Why? Because he saw that I still managed to produce high quality work on deadlines in spite of my family crisis.

    In short, he immediately saw that I was self-motivated, knew what the hell I was doing, producing outstanding results that have been publicly recognized, owned my mistakes, and was accountable for each part of my work, from the mundane to the complex, even when mom was ill, and I was away from the office.

    The worst boss I ever had deliberately refused to recognize the value I bring to all tasks, and viciously undermined, stymied, and micromanaged me out of the best job I ever had. I just want to say how grateful I am to have a boss now who knows he can trust me to do a great job, and he vocally appreciates how good I make him look to the Board. Sounds so obvious, but it doesn’t happen a lot, I think.

  46. Jubilance*

    I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had 2 great managers at my last 2 positions. Manager 1 was very invested in my career development – from my first day he helped me find a mentor, approved my travel to professional conferences, and helped me make contacts within my company. When I came to him with my career goals, he helped me get stretch assignments & also entrusted me with big projects, like management of our laboratory infrastructure upgrades, which are normally handled by more senior people. His support of my career & teaching me helped me move faster in my career. Manager 2 has also been great in supporting my career. I’ve learned so much about how to “manage your manager”, manage expectations, work cross-functionally, etc. When I came to her & told her I didn’t want to be in a lab role any longer, she helped me develop my network outside of our department & she was very supportive of the work I did with one of the company affinity groups. My personal & career development grew immensely under both of these managers.

  47. Shawna*

    Is there a time constraint on answering? I’m loving this site, just found it today.

    I worked briefly (it was a 3 month seasonal position) for a photography studio. When I started, I was so nervous, thinking I couldn’t do the job. Well, I started working 1 or 2 weeks before they got busy so I could learn my job. On my 2nd day there was some down time between my job duties, so I asked if I could learn something else, help a coworker out… my manager first said no, because he’d rather not train me on something I’ll only help with for a week. But then he paused a moment, and said “what the heck? go for it!” Talk about FREEDOM! I was able to so manage my time that I did my work without assistance, but was helping all other departments–packaging, cutting, creating magnets and trophies, changing film in the black room; I was even learning color correction and blemish-fixing. My “official” duty was to print student ID cards, and apparently it’s normally a “1 person needs help” job, with no chance to even think of helping a coworker out. I blew their minds, and they gave me an unexpected bonus at the end of my 3 months, and upper management and the owner had meetings to try and justify keeping me year round, but they didn’t have enough work in the down seasons to justify it. They also only paid minimum wage, so financially speaking wasn’t worth it to me in the long run.

    I just so appreciated that he let me expand my wings. I still miss that job. Besides giving me the freedom to learn and grow and help anywhere and everywhere needed… the job itself felt like one giant craft project, and my constant thought was “I can’t believe they’re PAYING me to have this much fun!!” Funny thing… I had so much fun there, that my manager sometimes had to remind me to take lunch and even to go home at the end of the day.

    Maybe this doesn’t seem such a great management story to others, but so far it’s the glowingly bright spot of my working history.

    1. Jamie*

      I do think this is a great management story – because they ended up with an employee that increased their skills, felt valued, and was more productive. The results speak for themselves.

      I can honestly say I’ve never had a job where I felt it was so fun I couldn’t believe they’d pay me, but then again my idea of fun is watching Impractical Jokers and then taking a nap…so it’s kind of hard to find a job where that’s possible. But I have had jobs which were so interesting and challenging I felt lucky to be working there and was super grateful for the opportunity to stretch in the direction of my interests.

      You also got the collateral benefit of knowing there are excellent workplaces out there, so you won’t get as demoralized other places as those who don’t have that experience. Also the two best way to learn how to manage is to be managed very well or very poorly. So this will stick with you and make you a better manager than you otherwise would be someday.

  48. Dawna*

    I once had an amazing manager… In fast food of all places!
    He was fair about work load, always made sure that all breaks were done within the legal time limits, and never spoke ill of us when reprimanding our problems. He had complete faith that treating employees the way you wish to be treated would make for a healthy work environment.
    The general manager did not agree. When he made suggestions regarding how the law could be followed by all managers and supervisors, he was outed. Many of the girls I’d worked with became terrified of him when the GM contracted the help of two sandwich-makers to falsify reports of him acting inappropriately towards minor girls. He was not fired, but was put in a situation where he was no longer gaurenteed the work he had signed to in his contract- legally, on account of the falsified reports. He was no longer able to support his family, so he left. One of these girls actually confessed to me that it never happened, and she felt like crap for helping the results.
    This manager recognized good work, with a points system for free lunches, indoctrinated an employee of the month, even occasionally drove thirty minutes out of his way to pick up some of the non-driving age employees for their shifts. One time, I shared with him that I wanted to one day learn how to do grill… Within five minutes, he replaced my spot personally so that I could complete the online training!

  49. Charpenon*

    I read some of these and got very nervous-excited. I’ve been in two non-profit jobs post-college, with neither exceptional nor malignant supervisors, and on Monday I start a new job. From the entire interview process, I am so very excited. The entire workplace sounds fantastic–passionate and experienced co-workers, an inspirational ED, and a supervisor that I felt completely comfortable talking with during the interviews. I would love, Love, LOVE if this could be my first experience with a great boss. Fingers crossed!

Comments are closed.