You can learn a lot about what people want in a leader by asking them! Over the years, I’ve had a chance to hear hundreds of people respond to the question, “Who was your best boss, and what was it about him or her that made them so special?” The answers, though wide-ranging, (and very personal) have consistently fallen into two main categories.
The first common characteristic focuses on relationships and support. People say that their best boss cared about them, gave them opportunities, and created a great working environment. They made work fun and they were supportive.
Second, there is the performance and expectations aspect. People will share that their work was demanding, meaningful, and that their boss expected a lot from them. They also share that their best boss saw qualities in them that they didn’t necessarily see in themselves.
In an article for Blanchard’s Ignite newsletter, I share some examples from Gallup, Southwest Airlines, and WD-40 Company to make the case for adopting a high support—high expectations workplace. You can read the complete article at this link, but in the meantime, here are some takeaways for creating this dual focus environment.
- Set challenging goals. Expect the best from people by setting goals that stretch their abilities. Look beyond what people can currently do and set a stake in the ground at the next level of achievement. Hard goals encourage growth, demonstrate trust, and develop competence. Be sure to set these goals as a partnership—it conveys respect and garners buy-in.
- Meet regularly. Conduct brief, focused meetings on a weekly basis to discuss progress against goals, identify roadblocks, and brainstorm solutions. Demonstrate your commitment to an employee’s success by sharing one of your most precious resources—your time and attention.
- Provide feedback. Celebrate and recognize achievements. Provide redirection when necessary. Feedback shows that you are paying attention as a leader, consider the work important, and are invested in the employee’s development.
Leaders become “best bosses” by expecting a lot from their people AND also providing high levels of support along the way. Look back at your own experience and you’ll probably discover that your best boss brought out the best in you because he or she expected a lot and also supported your growth and development. That’s the one-two punch that creates high levels of engagement and performance!