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Mastering leadership: 10 must-have traits of great bosses


You could probably pinpoint the top traits of a rotten boss at the drop of a hat, right?

Everyone’s had one of those.

The arrogant show-off who takes credit for your hard work. The obsessive perfectionist who has to re-do everything you just did, twice. And then the one who’s just plain mean. You can’t change how they manage. But you can make sure you don’t repeat their mistakes when you’re in charge.

So what are the top traits of a great boss? It’s not difficult to offer up a few surface-level suggestions.

Cheerful demeanor. Lets you leave early on Fridays. Takes you to lunch when you achieve your goals.

But what about the things that really make a difference, that inspire employees to work harder, dream bigger and band together to drive a business to success?

Naming those is a bigger challenge, which is why we’ve enlisted our team here at Insperity for help.

Here’s what a few of them had to say when asked, “What’s the most important characteristic of a great boss?”

1. Honesty

Without honesty, there’s no trust.  Without trust, what do you have? Honest communication helps navigate roadblocks, provides clear direction and allows employees to have better confidence in their leader and the company. Integrity should be included along with honesty, as those two traits go hand-in-hand.

Dawn Motsiff, Senior Human Resource Advisor

2. The ability to mentor staff and provide resources

Managers strive to hire employees who are already skilled in the requirements of their positions. Seldom does a manager need to teach employees how to do their jobs, but rather they are tasked with aligning employees with the company and its culture. That often includes how things are done in the position, specific to company processes. When a manager provides the coaching necessary for successful execution of their roles, employees are far more capable, more willing to seek help when necessary and better able to identify and correct errors and problems than if they’re left to figure things out on their own.

Insperity Staff, Senior Human Resource Advisor

3. The ability to motivate

It’s important for a supervisor to be able to not only motivate teams to reach a productive outcome, but also to be able to motivate individual employees. That means they need to listen for what may interest their employees, effectively identify and capitalize on their strengths and partner with them to help them find opportunities for growth.

Insperity Staff, Senior Human Resource Advisor

4. A high EQ (emotional intelligence)

In today’s transitioning workplace, having a high EQ is the most important trait of a good boss. Bosses must be able to discern between their own personal beliefs and the thoughts and beliefs of others, and other generations (boomers, Gen X, xennials, millennials and now Gen Z). This is ideal when it comes to leading and motivating staff to achieve, and directly ties into the psychology of goal attainment.

Abe Turner, Manager, Brand Advancement

5. Trust

Employees need to trust their boss to have their best professional interests at heart (of course in combination with the best interests of the company). Bosses must trust their employees to make the best choices they know how to make, to ask questions when they are unsure and to have the best interests of the company at heart.

Insperity Staff, Technical Consultant

6. The willingness to deliver open and honest feedback

All of us have weaknesses and room for growth, but many will never recognize this unless it is brought to light by someone else. Too often, we are silent when we see room for growth in others, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. However, bosses are usually in the best place to see and speak to these weaknesses. It’s always best that they share this information, and share it as soon as they see it, so their employees have the opportunity to grow.

Leslie Lockhart, Manager, Recruiting Services

7. The ability to inspire

A great boss is someone who inspires their employees to be their best selves. They should be able to identify their employees’ best qualities and bring them out. Additionally, they should pinpoint growth opportunities, share them in a constructive manner and help develop a plan for improvement.

Keith Mishler, Human Resource Consultant

8. Self-awareness

The most important skill a leader can have today is self-awareness. This may seem simple, but just because someone has a title doesn’t mean they intuitively know how to lead people.  Leadership requires understanding that employees can be motivated differently, and that what personally drives them might not drive others. For example, a leader might love public recognition and, therefore, rewards employees in a public forum with crowds of people in attendance. It’s important to recognize there may be folks on the team who prefer a much different approach. Perhaps an email to the CEO expressing their accomplishments — quiet, yet powerful. Leaders must remember everyone is motivated differently, and the decision to be engaged is in the heart, not the mind.

Insperity Staff, Managing Director, Consulting and Development

9. The willingness to learn what employees need

We all have two kinds of needs, practical and personal. Our practical needs are ways to track our progress and agree on a level of performance, while our personal needs are to feel valued, involved and supported. Any boss who understands this, and takes care of each employee’s needs, will be a fantastic boss.

Bonnie Monych, Performance Specialist

10. Compassion

Great leaders are compassionate when praising success or addressing challenges. They know compassion is expressed verbally and non-verbally. They can sense the emotions going on around them. They understand that the demands on employees go beyond the organization. There is an awareness that every employee fulfills multiple roles inside and outside an organization. They realize each employee interaction can impact the work relationship. They understand that accountability can still be expected while maintaining a high level of compassion.

Michael Timmes, Human Resource Consultant

Summing it up

Fostering within yourself traits like these 10 can help strengthen your leadership skills and encourage your employees to do their best work.

That makes for a happier workforce and, ultimately, a more successful business. Everybody wins.

Wish you could get your hands on more great leadership and management tips? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.