5 Things Good Bosses Want To Hear

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“What do you mean you don’t know?” my boss asked.

“I don’t know…but I’ll find out the answer and get back to you as soon as I have it,” I replied.

Instead of accepting a perfectly acceptable and truthful answer, he kept at it.

“Why don’t you know?”

“Because I don’t know everything all the time but I value getting you an accurate answer. Would you rather I feed you a false response that just sounds good so you think I know?” I asked back.


He got my point.

Unless it’s something so basic to my job description that not knowing an answer is a serious problem, then “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” is the answer a good boss values over BS.

As a leader in military, corporate, and volunteer positions for 25 years I’ve seen the differences between what good bosses and bad bosses want to hear.

If you can say the following things to your boss then you are lucky. If you’re a boss and you can hear these things without being threatened then you’re one of the good ones.

#1. “Here’s What I Think”

A good boss always wants to hear input from their team. It doesn’t mean they always apply it, but they listen to it and respect it. Sometimes the ideas or opinions are downright horrible, but they don’t shoot the person down for having them. In this way, they keep ideas flowing.

Listening doesn’t mean a boss alters what they were going to do, but they keep that option always at the ready in case a better idea comes along.

A good boss prioritizes truth over their own ego.

If someone, even a brand new employee, has the best idea, then a good boss gives them the credit and runs with that best idea.

To a good boss, the value of wisdom, intellect, ideas, and creativity isn’t affected by seniority, pride, or ego.

People will be engaged and keep giving ideas if they are listened to.

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”― Andy Stanley

#2. “I Need Help” or “I Have a Problem”

There’s a fine line here between enabling stagnation and truly helping. Sometimes an employee needs help, but helping them too much will mean they won’t learn for themselves. Sometimes the best way to help is by not helping.

But in most cases, if they truly need help then you want them to be able to come to you with their problems. If you can’t help them for the reason stated above, then tell them that is the reason.

But in all cases, an employee should be able to walk into your open door and tell you they need help. Then you will be able to take actions to help them.

This open communication is how small problems are solved before they become serious ones.

If an employee thinks they’ll be seen as weak or get their head bitten off by an irritable you, then they’ll seek help elsewhere, or not get help at all. In both cases, this is worse than them coming to you with their concerns.

Also, if an employee has a personal problem, then make it a human-to-human conversation, not a boss to employee one. And if you don’t have the tools or expertise to properly help them, don’t fake it, instead find those proper tools.

“Communication — the human connection — is the key to personal and career success.” — Paul J. Meyer

#3. “I Disagree”

Bad bosses want “yes men” while good bosses want the truth.

If a boss only accepts their own opinion and demands agreement with that opinion, they are severely crippling their effectiveness as well as their team’s engagement and motivation.

The best bosses want to hear why people may disagree with them. It doesn’t mean things are a democracy or they’ll change what they’re doing, but they value the opinions of others.

Bad bosses are threatened by dissenting ideas.

On the other hand, once a boss makes a strategic decision, the employee should respect it as long as the boss is truly making the best decision they can. Being a good follower is prerequisite to being a good leader.

So welcome dissent and disagreement, but expect teamwork once your best decision is made. In this way you make the best decision possible, the team knows you considered their input, then you can execute your mission effectively.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill

#4. “It’s My Fault”

Good bosses know taking full responsibility for a team’s failure publicly is the hallmark of the best leaders. Within the team though, they also appreciate when a team member takes personal responsibility if they failed.

It’s so much better to admit fault or failure than to blame something or someone else for it.

Then to put the icing on that responsibility cake as a boss or employee, you can think about and state how you’ll approach the problem in a better way next time. Live and learn…then apply it.

If you’ve taken responsibility and you’ve learned for next time, what else is there? That’s what all of life is.

A good boss likes to hear “it’s my fault” internally because then they know they have a responsible leader in their team.

“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility . . . . In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.”— Michael Korda, former Editor-in-Cheif, Simon & Schuster

#5. “I Just Did It”

Good bosses put a high value on initiative. Both their own initiative and that of those who work for them.

Bad bosses stifle initiative but punishing it or being threatened by it.

“Why didn’t you run it (some minor thing) through me?” or “That didn’t work as well as you thought, did it?” they may say. This cripples initiative.

Even if the employee didn’t use their best judgment, it’s thrilling to a good boss that they took initiative. They know they have an independent thinking, confident, self-starter on their team.

And this type of employee is the best kind to a boss who values trust and delegation over micromanagement.

“You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.” — William J. H. Boetcker


There’s a definitive difference between what good and bad bosses want to hear.

It boils down to the fact that good bosses value truth, even if it hurts — while bad ones put ego, comfort, and power over truth. Good bosses are confident enough to not be threatened by disagreement. They value initiative in those they lead.

If a boss can find the humility and confidence to truly listen to those they lead, then they will be leading people who are engaged, hard-working members of a true team.

This true and broad listening is one of the most effective ways to become that great boss we all truly want to be.

Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening.”— Peter Nulty, Fortune Magazine

Family Man. Leader. 3x Top Writer. MBA Strategy and Management. Marine Corps Veteran. Winemaker. emaxklein@icloud.com

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