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CIO Unplugged 5/16/12

May 16, 2012 Ed Marx 10 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The Good Boss

One of my assignments as a young captain was serving as the convoy commander for our combat engineer battalion. We were moving over 250 vehicles across the state of Colorado. Given the size and type of vehicles (Hummers, dump trucks, semi-tractors carrying bulldozers), we covered a good 15 miles of highway end to end.

I missed a turn and inadvertently split my convoy in two. Applying a few off-road techniques, I’d put the pieces back together within a couple of hours. But not before catching the attention of the battalion commander.

At our next stop, I steeled myself for one of the famous ass-chewings our commander was known for. We both stepped out of our Hummers. He looked at me and said, “Carry on, Marx!” He spun back around and climbed into his vehicle.

That was it. And you know what? For me, that’s all it took and he knew it. He purposefully chose a different form of discipline for that situation. Later, he told me that he could tell by the look on my face that I had learned the lesson and understood the gravity. He did not have to say anything more. And he didn’t.

Earlier this year, I posted the Bad Boss. It is always easier to point out the negative over the positive. So what is the Good Boss?

I don’t believe there is a magical checklist of Good Boss attributes. There are too many variables and permutations. Put simply, the Good Boss first and foremost does not follow a checklist. She understands every person is unique and should be treated as such. Just like my commander following my convoy fiasco.

I crowdsourced for input. Here is a compilation of attributes of a Good Boss. This is not research or academia or consultant or stats based on one person’s experience. It is not a checklist. These are ideas, and I imagine they reflect the thinking of your staff as well. Ponder the following and adopt as your situation dictates.

Ensures Appreciation and Value

  • Thanks subordinates regularly
  • Demonstrates gratitude in words and action
  • Rewards success
  • Personalizes awards and recognition
  • Listens often
  • Gives the subordinate glory for success


  • Takes active interest in the subordinate’s career and guides growth in the job
  • Teaches the subordinate how to best interact with customers
  • Encourages professional development and provides educational opportunities
  • Willing to learn from the subordinate
  • Hopes one day the subordinate will step into his position
  • Guides the subordinate to their ultimate goal, even if it means losing them


  • Never steals ideas from subordinates
  • Always honest and ethical to the core
  • Does not undermine anyone
  • Possesses a strong work ethic
  • Treats everyone without bias (race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age)


  • Sets high but reasonable standards and removes non-performers
  • Gets more out of subordinates than they can get from themselves
  • Sustains the continuity of the organization by hiring only “A” players
  • Provides insightful and regular feedback
  • Elevates performance without the subordinate even noticing
  • Provides appropriate tools and training for the job


  • Holds individuals accountable to performance standards so the team does not suffer
  • Represents team and department with passion and confidence
  • Makes the subordinate feel proud to be on the team
  • Takes public responsibility for the action of the team when failures occur


  • Makes themselves transparent and vulnerable
  • Admits errors and apologizes without excuse
  • Gets to know subordinate as a person (family, hobbies)
  • Is in tune with their emotions and not afraid to show it (smile, laugh, cry)
  • Shares their wisdom in decision making and is open to other possibilities


  • Encourages vision
  • Articulates and lives the mission and values of the organization
  • Tells the subordinate when to be practical and when to dream


  • Remains positive when things don’t go as planned
  • Always finds the good in bad situations


  • Does not micromanage and allows for creativity and self-expression
  • Welcomes and supports innovation and creativity
  • Recognizes individuals strengths and positions people accordingly
  • Knows when to be the boss, friend, or mentor
  • Knows when to lighten difficult moments


  • Leads by influence and not by position
  • Jumps In the trenches as needed
  • Walks the talk and shows flexibility
  • Trusts, respects, and gives benefit of the doubt
  • Possesses high emotional and social intelligence


  • Promotes work-life balance
  • Allows for downtime
  • Able to charm Joint Commission surveyors!

Is this how your employees describe you? Which of these attributes will strengthen your leadership? Remember, one size does not fit all. Treat everyone in the style that works best for that individual and circumstance.

Be the boss! The good boss.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. Excellent article! So few people realize that managing a team and ensuring success is an art and a full time job.

  2. Spot on! The thing that is interesting to me is how very very long this list is but I have had many bosses who completely fit the bill – being and doing all of this is really not that hard but is all so very important!

    Thank you.

  3. If I may add one more: Is willing to let a capable subordinate take the lead for presentations to the Boss’s superiors.

    The acid test of a really good boss is that the boss is not intimidated or threatened that her (his) superiors will find the subordinate exceedingly competent.

  4. Great stuff; thanks for sharing! I’ve always illustrated leadership for would-be management candidates by placing a length of string on my desk, then ask the candidate to push the string forward from behind and then pull the string forward from the front. Then ask the question; “Which method is easier?” The answer is always the same: it’s easier to move forward be leading from the front, than pushing from behind.

  5. I’d like to work for one of these people eventually. Too many are interested in sabotage rather than performance- like my last four bosses.

  6. “If I may add one more: Is willing to let a capable subordinate take the lead for presentations to the Boss’s superiors.

    The acid test of a really good boss is that the boss is not intimidated or threatened that her (his) superiors will find the subordinate exceedingly competent.”

    I agree, although in dysfunctional cultures (i.e. most workplaces) that leadership could perceive this to be a sign of incompetence or laziness.

    It might be a better litmus of the culture of the organization overall.


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