Training & Development

Identifying the positive traits of great bosses

Quint Studer at the public input sessions for the future Studer Community Institute building. Credit: Barrett McClean.

I announced a contest in hopes of spotlighting great bosses in this very column recently, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the nominations.

Complaints travel much faster and are more likely to be sent than compliments. This is just human nature. While research shows that it takes three positive comments to one negative comment to have a good relationship, it appears that many of us are programmed to notice what is wrong. Since I started writing this column, the warm reception is very appreciated.

I look forward to announcing the results of the boss contest soon.

When it comes to work environments I am much more likely to get this question: What do you do if you feel your boss is the issue? I have addressed this in the past and will again in an upcoming column on toxic work environments. For today though, I want to stay on the positive.

In the past few weeks I have read the many positive emails describing why some one feels their boss is one they appreciate. This has increased my own attention to examples of good leadership.

Here are some of the most consistent qualities you mentioned: Approachable, will work side-by-side, concerned about the individual as a person, provided feedback, committed to person’s development, sets clear expectations, treats each person fairly, etc., were common place. In the coming weeks I will use specific examples in these columns. I am also planning to send the notes to these nominated bosses. Often bosses don’t hear the good things. If you have a leader you enjoy working for, take time to let them know that. It will make a difference.

Here are some examples I noticed this week of people in leadership who showed good leadership traits. While some are or were in elected positions, this is not meant to endorse any person or position. We may even disagree with the stance of the person. My goal is to point out certain aspects of actions that show a good leadership characteristic.

In Jim Collins’ research that became the book Good to Great, he noted that “Level 5 leaders” (level 5 are the best of the best) take ownership of the mistakes or losses and give credit to others for the gains and wins. After the top-ranked Alabama football team lost to Auburn, Alabama head coach Nick Saban was quick to say he needed to coach and lead better. He did not blame others or make excuses. Real leaders own the losses and mistakes. Summarily, Gus Malzahn, the Auburn coach, complimented the Alabama team and then gave full credit to his coaching staff, players and fans after the win. Real leaders give credit away. What would you have thought if Saban said: “I know the coaching was good, but it was the players who did not execute as I coached them to do.” Or what would you think if Malzahn said, “Yes, ever since I arrived the team has been better. This win is another indication of my great coaching.” I bet not much.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve met with some current and former politicians, Allan Bense, Marco Rubio and Bob Graham, who discussed some of their thoughts on quality leadership.

Bense, the former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, has had success as an elected official and as a business and community leader. He explained that his philosophy is that “I work for them, they don’t work for me.” The Florida house speaker gets a special parking spot. They can park in this special spot, a short walk to the building, then take the elevator to their office. Bense never parked there. He took away the parking spot from himself and made sure hourly staff members were the ones who used it. In addition to good role modeling, a leader can learn lots when they don’t park close to the where they enter the building. He parked like everyone else.

I spoke with Graham, the former U.S. senator, who will be in Pensacola in January for a CivicCon presenation. He will be speaking on civic engagement. He shared his interest in speaking here on Jan. 16 with the goal of creating more engaged citizens and his love to teach. In addition, he would love the opportunity, while in town, to visit a school and speak with students. Certainly, for Sen. Graham it is not about the money or a need to be relevant, it is about giving back and making a difference. Being a teacher and giving back are leadership traits mentioned in the nominations I received.

Lastly, Rubio stopped by my office last month. We talked a great deal about early learning and workforce development. We also discussed how hard it is for a leader to change course. We agreed it is sad how the public and media at times can criticize a person for changing positions. Yet, when studying successful leaders, it is a good characteristic to be willing to change course due to more information, better knowledge, new facts and more experience.

This week the Wall Street Journal previewed a new book about Arthur Vandenberg, The Man in the Middle of the American Century. The main theme was Vandenburg, a senator, was an isolationist and was against the U.S. being involved in an overseas conflict. He was a very influential Republican leader. The president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, was a Democrat.

The book shares how, based on new information and his own development, the senator ended up being a supporter of the U.S. and its World War II involvement and how vital this was to the USA. Instead of calling him a flip flopper or inconsistent, he was commended for changing his position. He took heat for it, however, he did what he felt was in the best interest of the country.

Many of the nominated bosses were described in positive terms as not being afraid to admit mistakes, take feedback and change their positions.

I am looking forward in the coming weeks to share specifics on many good bosses who were nominated for the contest.