It happened several years ago during my meeting with one of my direct reports, Karen, on her last day of work. She had been the Director of Physician Relations at the hospital where we worked and she was moving out of the area as a result of her husband’s relocation. Her last words to me were “best boss ever.” Wow! How often do we as leaders get to hear something like that?!

I wondered what it was that made me at least an okay guy to work for. I’ve also wondered whether there is a difference between a great leader and a great boss. So I recently asked Karen. Here’s what she said (even though she was no longer on the payroll!):

“There are the obvious qualities that true leaders possess – the ability to delegate, to make decisions, to plan and anticipate, and to be an expert in one’s field. But to be a great boss, it took extra qualities like this:

  • Empathy: I recall a time when you had given me a tough challenge. I think I shuddered at first, and then you said something encouraging, and I was able to pull it off. It is a knack for finding the little thing in people that could be improved, for the benefit of the whole, and gently getting the message through. A ‘we’re in this together’ spirit.
  • Optimism: Being around an upbeat leader who is approachable, well-spoken, and friendly…a leader who has personal connections with EVERYONE and cares about them, knows employees’ backstories and family situations, has real conversations with people rather than just a casual hello in the hallway…the positivity and warmth in every interaction made me want to do a good job.
  • Honesty: Telling the truth—the good, the bad, and the ugly of outcomes or situations—made me feel important. Sharing honestly builds trust among employees. I never doubted your integrity.”

Let’s take a moment to pause while I pat myself on the back for being a great boss—at least to Karen. But on a serious note, by embracing the behaviors Karen described, we become servant leaders. We put ourselves in the service of our employees–relate to them, listen to them, mentor them, help them accomplish their own goals, help them learn, and model professional behavior. And what a reward, being someone’s best boss ever!

Start your journey to becoming the best boss ever and learn the difference between leading and managing with Tandem’s course, What is a Great Manager?