Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good boss Bad boss!

My completely random thought for today has been about the features of the best and worst bosses I had during my long healthcare management career. So here goes ......

My best bosses
  • inspired confidence

  • were humble

  • had integrity

  • knew what they were talking about

  • let me get on with things

  • were always there when I needed help

  • usually said ‘yes, try it’

My worst bosses

  • never seemed to be around when I needed them

  • always asked me to justify what I wanted to do

  • always wanted to know what I was doing

  • often said ‘no, we can’t do that'

  • gave the impression of being distrustful

  • didn’t smile much

  • talked about themselves a lot

What features can you add to either list?


Anonymous said...

My best boss listened intently and mentored when asked.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Steve – I agree - any boss who is remembered as a mentor has got to be a good one.

Tom Peters says that one of the greatest compliments we can be paid is to be remembered as a mentor.

Steve said...

I think your lists say it all. Any boss who leaves me alone to just get on with the job without unecessary interference always gets a thumbs up from me!

Gaulin said...

There is a golden lining here for all the "bosses in training". Once you've had a handful of bad bosses you have the ammunition you need to be a good (or even great) boss.

When in doubt, just do the opposite of what the bad boss would have done.

Anonymous said...

Great post Trevor!

I have been doing an occasional blog on the nature of the transition from good manager to great manager - and many of the criteria you have listed are similar. Certainly providing opportunity and space to get on with job feature large.

The only thing that I would add is that great bosses know how to manage under-performance. They won't let mediocrity creep in for the sake of an easy life.

peter vajda said...

One of the best bosses I ever had said, "Go ahead, and let me know if you need me." Allowed autonomy and was always there for suppoort. A great mix.

Dmitry Linkov said...


What about you as a boss? How you act?

Anonymous said...

Good boss … one who just smiled when I said, “I am trying to save you from yourself”. In his absence I had countermanded an instruction he had given in my earlier absence from the office. Time did not allow me to wait for his return before making the final decision.

Trevor Gay said...

Wow – quite a few comments – this is what happens when I go away for 24 hours!!

Thanks guys - I will give some brief responses

Steve – we agree entirely!

Gaulin – You are right - I guess I learned more from bad bosses.

Mike – Managing under-performance is a great skill. I always like to approach that situation by finding out what is going on for the person. Sometimes under-performance is related to other things in the person’s life. Fairness is crucial.

Peter – I’m with you 100% !

Dmitry – Wow – what a great question! – I guess the best folks to answer your question are those I managed. I would like to think they would say I was very approachable, accessible, a good listener, a good coach, encouraging, ‘hands off,’ fair, and that I was competent and someone who works hard.

David – Having complete faith and trust in people who work for you is in my opinion one of the greatest qualities of any leader.

More comments/recations would be great from you guys – this post obviously got the juices flowing …. Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Best bosses come to take small risks in you; allowing you to stretch and take independent responsibility or similar.

I agree with Steve's comment.

I have to admit I prefer to admire an employer if I come to have regular contact (I freelance). So, I like a boss who isn't just full of rhetoric and who acts on social and environmental sustainability issues.

I like a boss who allows you to think differently on individual matters.

I LOVE a boss that understand that technology today allows many of us to work through computers and to all intents and purposes be in the next room.

I dislike a boss who thinks their view of the world is the only view.

I dislike a boss who can't understand that critique can often be intended for the benefit of the corporation or business.

I dislike a boss who overlays power struggles early in the interaction.

I dislike a boss (again as a freelancer) who uses quasi-subtle threats about the potentials of you losing work if you raise issues of concern.

I dislike a boss who doesn't actually know what they want and who changes your role week by week.

I dislike a boss who generates tension between staff and/or who shows favouritism.

I dislike a boss who makes you uncomfortable if you do not share their religion.

I dislike a boss who hauls you over coals for 'over-servicing clients because others will not provide the same level of service and you are setting unreasonable expectations in the minds of the clients for what they will get from this business".

And yes, this has been said to me - twice. And once I was told I would not get continuance for that reason.

It just so blows my mind that this irony of over-servicing exists. I must say, I do know the issue has union implications in some industries but this didn't apply in my case.

Trevor Gay said...

Great list – thanks.

‘Over serving’ is a concept we should reject completely whether Unions are involved or not. We can never ‘over service.’ I wish that was the aspiration of every employee. And I think it could be if we scrapped most restrictive middle management control methods that are designed to keep people down.

Some of the things in your list border on the illegal such as religious discrimination. I have been very lucky that I have never had a boss with whom I had fundamental disagreements about important things in life like our faith. If I did I would leave and report him/her to the appropriate authority.

Life is too short to work with jerks Susan :-)

And any organisation that employs bigoted idiots like that as managers is not worth working for anyway.

Jim Lange said...

Trevor, great post.

We can learn much from the good bosses we have had in our past.

Sometimes we can learn from those who have not been so good. I had an experience with a boss who truly believed in the adage, "The beatings will continue until morale improves!"

It was a very unhealthy work environment that taught me much. In fact, it inspired me to write a book which contrasted my bosses leadership style with the great leaders of the Bible ("Bleedership, Biblical First Aid for Leaders" -

This whole experience showed me how much negativity can come from a person of influence. However, I have also discovered that a person of influence is not just a boss.

Each of us is a person of influence - we are all leaders. As such, we can all choose the type of influencer we want to be, either a negative or positive one.

I just bring this up so that we as individuals are not always looking at and blaming someone else. We may have bosses that need to improve, but we also need to improve.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks for your kind words Jim and I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I am a committed Christian and I am fascinated by your Biblical connection with leadership.

I wrote a very short book called ‘The Nine Fruits of Leadership’ so I think we have things in common.

I have learned as much from bad bosses as good ones. I also agree with you that the easy opt out clause for all individuals is to blame things on someone else.

I remember once being given back an essay by my tutor when doing a management diploma. The question was about how to implement a nerw shift system on your staff. My tutor’s feedback on my 2000 words essay was something on the lines;

I have given you a B because anyone who puts themselves through such self examination deserves it’

I hope you will visit Simplicity Blog regularly Jim

Anonymous said...

Just a word on trying to be a good boss...although I am the littlest level of boss at my company (I manage a few staff, but not formally), it is quite tough to be a good boss. It is easiest when the person is well suited for the job. We had one new employee who was having a terrible time in her life, her husband had just left her and she had two small boys. She was working two jobs to make ends meet & fighting for custody. Of course we wanted to help her, but 1) she was absolutely exhausted by the demands on her time and not doing a 100% job 2) since we didn't want to fire her, she ended up in a job she wasn't 100% qualified for ***and*** she resented being asked to do tasks she felt were beneath her. It was very stressful for me to be trying to justify to my boss keeping her on, and at the same time feel she resented the job she had. I did my best to encourage her to seek more fulfilling employment, and was happy that she did get a better job before the ax fell. However, she only told me three days before she left, although she probably knew at least six weeks earlier, leaving me to scramble for a replacement and in fact to do a lot of the extra work myself until we found someone else. I am sure she will remember me as a bad boss, but in retrospect the only thing I would have done differently is to have the hard conversation earlier and be more forcefully (you are not a good fit for this job & need to move on).

Trevor Gay said...

Hi there – anonymous - What a great comment and thanks for it!

I think you were in fact a very good boss to this person. You acted in her best interests all the way along as far as I can see …. And she did not respect all that you had done for her... even if she didn’t know what you had done.

You are so right – it is ‘hard to be a good boss’ and often you will feel ‘let down’ by people 'above' you in the pecking order and/or 'below' you in the pecking order. That is the nature of being a ‘boss.’

I recognise so many of the issues you raise from my time as a manager of people. I often felt I had worked really hard on behalf of people only to be seemingly ‘let down’ because they left or they just did not realise what I had done on their behalf.

On reflection, as I am now a bit older, the only way I can justify these things in my own mind is …. ‘Yes it is hard work being a boss but then …surely being a boss should be hard work – if it were easier we would all be bosses.’

Don’t know whether that is a good answer but it’s my opinion.

Keep doing exactly what you did for this woman is my bottom line advice!

Take care – I hope you visit Simplicity Blog again

Andrew Hayden said...

Your lists pretty much cover it all. In my experience, the best bosses generally scared the crap out of everybody, not because they were tyrants, but because they wore their passions on their sleeves and cared so much about how well we did. They were more concerned with the successes of their employees and groups/company than their own personal appearance (though many of them have ended up doing extremely well in the long run.

My worst bosses have fallen into two categories: Idiots and Assholes.

The idiots have generally been people who were promoted because of who they knew, not whether they were capable of doing the job. They tended to be insecure, micro-managers who relied on their "champion" to save them every time they did something wrong, and never asked their professional staff for help.

The assholes were generally idiots who were so confident in themselves that they would take over high-profile projects from people who actually knew what they were doing. If the project succeeded the y took full credit. If it failed they blamed everyone and everything else for the problems.

Both of these types were world champion silo builders. The idiots because their insecurities saw any outside assistance as a threat and the assholes because no one wanted to work with them.

Trevor Gay said...

Brilliant Andrew – thanks

I saw an interview with David Beckham who said that he respected Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello because they scared him and that was a healthy relationship as far as David is concerned. I can see what he means – that fear was because of respect.

We both know Andrew that there is another sort of manager who generates a different fear which is not about their credibility but about their arrogance and vindictiveness. Those sorts of bosses are, to use your lovely description, a combination of ‘idiot’ and ‘asshole’ in my view!

Take care – hope you are well

Anonymous said...


Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dale - all employees have strengths and you are right - that's what good bosses will recognise and work on. In areas where employees need support a good boss will provide it for them. I always start discussions from the point of view that all employees have far more strengths than weaknesses.

Thank for your comment - where are you based?

Anonymous said...

Let me add something that doesn’t seem to be in the above list. With the good boss we got the job done. Empasis on "we." And with the good boss we all grew.

Trevor Gay said...

Absolutely Wally - how could I possibly not have included that! ... I just hate it when manager talk about 'my' staff ….. or ‘my’ team ....or ‘my’ department ...

'We' is the language I love to hear from leaders.

Thank you Wally for pointing out my important oversight! - Hope you are well - I haven't noticed you over at Tom Peters Blog for a while

Anonymous said...

Worst bosses: Will not train new people in complex procedures or explain departmental interaction; then, when they make mistakes, demean them as stupid, lazy, or malicious.

Will not really listen when problems are reported or solutions are proposed. Instead they resort to accusations and buck-passing, and employees quickly learn that the buck never stops.

Promote or reward "pets" with favoritism while ignoring or persecuting others who may be contributing but have less compatible personalities, or less brown noses.

Have no enforced policies for behavior or performance.

Establish an atmosphere of criticism, belittling, and backstabbing by example and by accepting that behavior from others.

Regard customers as objects of use; do not establish an atmosphere of caring about or trying to solve their problems (and so do not learn about the internal procedures causing the problems); do not mandate courtesy. I have worked in several offices where phone conversations are conducted in a professional manner, and when the connection is cut, the boss curses the customer or calls him/her "you stupid asshole", etc. That attitude permeates from the top down.

Think that computerized phonelines are adequate to deal with customers.

Trevor Gay said...

‘anonymous’ – What a fabulous list and so much wisdom in your thoughts. We share similar principles – thank you for making my day!

Where are you based?

Anonymous said...

quick additions,
-- communicates effectively (from vision to the specific tasks)
-- deligates well
-- justifies and inspires
-- has the wellness and the growth of the employee in mind
-- creates and maintains a great culture

Trevor Gay said...

Esfandiar - many thanks for your brilliant additions.

I am delighted to note that all your suggestions are about ‘people’ rather than about ‘processes.’

Great bosses know that helping employees feel good about themselves and their work is always the number one priority.

Hope you will visit Simplicity Blog again – where are you based?

Anonymous said...

My mom needs to tell her boss that "abuse is not the way to run an organization"...but unfortunately she is affraid of losing her job so she just remains a "Doormat". What doe your employees feel about you? Ck out at

Trevor Gay said...

My advice to your Mom would be to leave that job today – she is worth far more than that.

Write to the boss of the organisation telling him/her why she left. Threaten to send a copy of the letter to your local newspaper if she doesn’t get a satisfactory reply.

No one should to be treated as a ‘doormat’ and although I know it is not easy to leave any job when we feel our livelihood depends on it, your Mom deserves to be valued not abused.

Someone once said ‘Life is too short to work for jerks’ – I like that

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you are saying. I also found a website called that has some more tips about what makes a good boss. They also have some video interviews with CEO's of Citi group and Pitney Bowes which is kind of interesting.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks for the link to the website - fascinating. It is amazing to me that 'niceness' is seen as a ‘surprising’ quality of leadership ... kind of sad really don’t you think?

Being ‘nice’ does not mean being soft, always giving in and therefore being taken for granted.

Being nice is about being fair and understanding.

Anonymous said...

My is boss patronizing and demanding more productivity than she has a right to demand.

Anonymous said...

I dislikes who time on how fast you are going on a job and tell you, you need to go faster? I dislike bosses who make implied threats of being fired because they aren't fast enough or good enough at their job even when you show up every single day and do the job no matter how much of a no brainer it is.

Anonymous said...

I dislikes bosses who time on how fast you are going on a job and tell you, you need to go faster? I dislike bosses who make implied threats of being fired because they aren't fast enough or good enough at their job even when you show up every single day and do the job no matter how much of a no brainer job it is.

Nand Uncle said...

The list is simple but exhaustive. A good boss will be interested in development of his people and constantly motivate them to work for value addition to themselves and their jobs.Will allow them to fail but guide them for success.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Nand Uncle - glad you managed to find this posting - now over 18 months old. How did you come across it?

This posting sparked a lot of interest and led to an interview with me from London on Fox Business News live to the US in January 2008!

The power of Blogging is amazing

Anonymous said...

Wow. After reading, I have come to the conclusion my boss is beyond bad.

* Never around (gotta get the hair appointments and shopping done -- this is no exaggeration)

* Plays favorites within our department

* Rewards slacking off within my department and reprimands for extra work being performed. I was actually reprimanded for staying over my 8 hours (I do not get paid nor do I demand OT wages or compensation) yet my co-worker arrives at 9:00 a.m. and leaves at 2:00 p.m. half the time and is our manager's favorite. In fact, she and our boss go out for lunch or shop during business hours almost every day.

* Takes credit for my work

* Has a "my way or the highway" attitude with no explanation

* Expects people to follow direction without question

Great article? Really opened my eyes. I think it's time to find another job...

Trevor Gay said...

Wow! - Sounds like you have decision to make :-)

Good luck - Tom Peters once said; 'Life is too short to work with jerks"

Anonymous said...

Song Title: Sweetest Lemonade (Bad Boss,Block Negativity,Reach Your Peak)
Subject: Soul song pokes fun at the bad boss and inspires the under-dog to strive to improve his or her position in life. Song suggests that the table could turn, making the boss the under-dog and the under-dog the top dog.
Video URL:

Trevor Gay said...

Love it - thanks :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this blog regarding good or bad bosses. It increase my knowledge about bosses.