How To Be a Great Boss

Simple truths for effective leadership

Credit: El Nariz on Shutterstock

After being in leadership positions for 25 years in military, corporate, government, and volunteer settings, I’ve found one simple definition for good leadership to always be true:

Good Leadership is the actions you take that make people want to follow you.

It sounds simple because it is, and the word want is key. Want is a desire motivated by heart, not bank accounts or threats of punishment. Want is a purely inspired desire to walk in your direction because of who you are.

I’ve also found that it doesn’t matter what setting you lead in. Whether it’s combat, customer service, or coaching, leadership principles are universal.

So let’s get to it. Here is how you can be a great boss.

Have Focus to Enable Prioritization

Understand your mission, vision, or goal. Then you can prioritize your team’s actions to meet them.

When you don’t have a clear focus on why you do what you do, your priorities become haphazard — this leads to discord and frustration in your team and wasted effort by all.

Focus exponentially increases efficiency while decisiveness is the vehicle that drives it.

You should be able to explain at any given point why you or your team are doing any particular thing — as well as how it fits into your mission.

Have a Fierce Sense of Integrity and Honesty

Adhere to a sense of right and wrong then take action despite danger to do right.

Value honesty. Be honest with yourself and those you lead. Welcome honest feedback and hard truths especially when they’re about you.

Valuing honesty means you’re truthful about yourself . You always seek self-improvement because you never think you can’t improve.

Honesty doesn’t mean crass, tactless, rude delivery of truth as some people think it does.

You can be brutally honest without being a brute.

Have Humility-Enabled Empathy

You’re too busy doing good things to tell everyone how good you are.

You know you can’t do anything without the people who follow you.

So you honor them by looking at them as equals. Even though you and they must maintain respect for roles, you see yourself as no better on the human plane of existence than they are, because you aren’t.

This humility enables empathy because a humble mind is an open one — and only an open mind can see through another mind’s eye.

Humility-enabled empathy is the key to understanding people.

Think Critically and Value Initiative

Think critically for yourself then take action based on your best judgment. This smart initiative is highly prized both in good leaders — and by good leaders.

Value initiative in those you lead. Always encourage initiative instead of squashing it with micro-meddling fingers of distrust.

Critical thinking harbors good judgment as well. Good judgment is the required sidekick of initiative as chronically unwise initiative-takers do more harm than good.

Initiative and critical thinking sometimes have to play second fiddle to just following orders, but it doesn’t mean you should stop doing either.

Always think critically while practicing and encouraging initiative.

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

You don’t become paralyzed by change. A good leader embraces change and a great leader thrives in it.

Find creative ways to solve problems. Don’t just think outside the box, live there.

They say the only constant is change so if you can constantly adapt to it, you become a consistently effective leader.

This means sometimes plans get thrown completely out the window. That’s OK. It’s better to make a plan and toss it than never to plan at all.

Always plan for plans to change.

Communicate Tactfully and Empathetically

A good leader always communicates with empathy and tact.

A poor leader’s empathy is weakened by arrogance while their lack of tact adds friction to action.

Communication is the lubricant of leadership.

And genuine enthusiasm is the spark that sets motivation on fire.

Use professionalism and tact while communicating up and down the chain of command to get things done. And use genuine enthusiasm to get it done with vigor.

Take Care of Those You Lead

A good leader throws themself under the bus before their people…a better leader avoids the bus altogether with proactive thinking.

You take care of your people at all times.

You have a honed sense of justice built on courage that can admit when you or your people are wrong and can fight for them when they’re right.

You are unselfish in giving praise for success and selfish in accepting responsibility for failure.

Know How People See You

You know how people see you — you’re self-aware. You can see yourself through your people’s eyes. Then you can act based on that view in the wisest way possible to motivate those you lead.

You maintain a competent bearing that sets the example of how and who you want their people to be.

You are the opposite of Michael Scott as far as self-awareness.

But similar to him in sense of humor because you know humor is critical to getting tough things done.

Be Ever Persistent and Dependable

You don’t quit easily. This is common sense, but it’s critical so bears repeating. Winston Churchill said:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

On the other hand, be wise enough to know when to change tack and find other ways over or around the obstacle.

Meet adversity with a strong sense of courage and grit fueled by optimism.

When you say you’ll do something, do it. Be on time.

Be competent in the completion of even the smallest tasks. Like my dad used to tell me as a teenager that has served me every day since:

No matter what you are doing no matter how small, do it like you mean it.


These are the bare-bones basic truths of what makes a good boss.

They have served me well in war, peace, business, and leading youth.

If you’re ever in doubt about what to do next as a leader, always choose integrity and having the courage to do the right thing.

And always care about the people you lead.

Remember, it’s an honor to lead them. John C. Maxwell said:

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

So go out and influence those lives you have the honor to lead — with empathy, competence, courage, and love.

When you do these things you’ll no doubt become the great boss you want to be.

The leader people truly want to follow.

Family Man. Top Writer in Leadership. MBA Strategy and Management. Marine Corps Veteran. Winemaker.

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