Take a Combination Approach to Become a "Best Boss"

“You can learn a lot about your own development as a leader by looking into some of the common characteristics people identify with a ‘best boss’ from their past,” says David Witt, Program Director with The Ken Blanchard Companies®. In listening to the responses of hundreds of people to the question, “Who was your best boss, and what was it about him or her that made them so special?” Witt has learned that the answers, though wide-ranging, consistently fall into two main categories.

The first common characteristic is the relationship aspect. “People say that their best boss cared about them, gave them opportunities, created a great working environment, made work fun, and was flexible and supportive.”

Second, there is the performance aspect. “People will share that their work was important, their boss expected a lot from them, and that their best boss saw qualities in them that they didn’t necessarily see in themselves.”

It’s the combination approach that makes everything work, explains Witt. One without the other doesn’t get nearly the results that a dual focus does.

“The Gallup organization discovered this initially as a part of a second round of their engagement research. In comparing engagement levels with bottom-line impact, Gallup found that engagement didn’t always translate into financial results. It was only when another component was added that the impact was evident.

"That other component was clear performance expectations. When clear expectations were combined with high levels of support organizations achieved the consistently high levels of financial performance that the researchers were looking for. This is the place where today’s top companies operate. The dual focus of high support combined with high expectations is what drives results.”

Some well-known examples

As Witt explains, “I had a chance to meet Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines, when she teamed up with Ken Blanchard to write the book, Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success (Southwest’s stock symbol is LUV). While I knew that Southwest had a reputation for hiring fun-loving people and had a famous fun-loving culture, what I didn’t realize until I met Colleen face-to-face was that the company also had a very deeply ingrained high-expectations work ethic. As Colleen revealed, ‘We are very clear in telling our people what our expectations are. We hold them and ourselves accountable for meeting those expectations every day. Sometimes this means having a real heart-to-heart with people and reminding them what our values are. If we have been intentional and firm in explaining what our expectations are, it gives us the opportunity to point to specific examples where they haven’t exhibited the required behaviors.’”

Garry Ridge, President and CEO of household goods manufacturer WD-40 Company, also subscribes to this combination approach. Ridge calls it “caring candor” and it is a part of the “Helping People Win At Work” philosophy that Ridge developed together with Ken Blanchard and later detailed in their book of the same name.

For Ridge and Blanchard, the focus is on setting clear goals, checking in on a regular basis to monitor progress against those goals, and then ensuring that managers are doing their part in providing frontline employees with the support and direction they need to succeed.

“At WD-40, the results have been phenomenal,” elaborates Witt. “They have some of the highest engagement scores I’ve ever seen and they have been setting sales records the past few years in the midst of a very soft economy. It obviously works!”

Three strategies for leaders

Interested in learning more about what managers in your organization—or you, yourself—can do to take some first steps in becoming a best boss? Here are Witt’s suggestions.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Witt reminds aspiring managers that leaders become “best bosses” by demonstrating skills and behaviors which can be learned. “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!”


Would you like to learn more about bringing out the best in others? Then join us for a free webinar!

3 Keys to Bringing Out the Best in People

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
9:00–10:00 a.m. Pacific, 12:00–1:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00–6:00 p.m. UK & GMT

In this webinar, David Witt of The Ken Blanchard Companies will share research, case studies, and practical strategies for bringing out the best in people. You’ll learn:

  1. The science behind goal-setting—how to create stretch goals that are engaging, self-directed, and motivating
  2. How to get started with one-on-one meetings—what to discuss, what not to discuss, and how to have conversations that are focused, supportive, and results-oriented
  3. The importance of feedback and how to provide it—explore best practices with positive and negative feedback, and discover when each is appropriate

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to provide a creative, engaging environment that works for you, your people, and your organization.

View On-Demand