"Top Five Tips for Being the Best Boss" by Kathy Knopoff

Published on Topic: Bosses

In this post, SheByShe guest blogger Kathy Knopoff shares her top five tips for being the very best boss you can be. Kathleen Knopoff is currently a Managing Partner with the HP Envision Practice, inviting clients to experience the Art of the Possible.  She has been an executive at Sun Microsystems, Research In Motion (Blackberry), Optality (a personal intelligence startup), and Bon Appetite.  She also experienced the pleasure of being a faculty member at California State University at Hayward where she traded stories of managerial excess with Masters students. Her academics include undergraduate study at UC Berkeley (go Bears!) and doctoral work at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Beat Cal!).  


I have almost always been a boss.  Call it innate leadership or “bossiness,” but for as long as I have been working, I have been tapped to manage others.  The first, and most challenging time, I was 19 and had to supervise a man who was 24.  Disaster. Yet I learned so much from that experience. And what I learned was my first step on the path toward becoming a great boss and, not coincidentally, an effective one. 

How do I know this?  People tell me they love working for me.  People follow me across companies.  People reporting into my peers ask to work for me.  So, on some level, I must be doing something right.  I also am cognizant of what I have appreciated, or not, from my many bosses over the years.  Here are my top five of what makes a good boss.

1.      Be clear, with yourself and your team, what your role is.  For me this has been simple and straightforward.  My purpose in managing is to:

  •   Clear any obstacles that get in the way of them doing their job.  Be it my boss, my peers, some process which needs a clever workaround or something external, I see my job as moving it, fixing it, taking the heat for ignoring it or just good old running interference.
  •  Give them help where they need it.  I usually assume someone can do something; I also assume if they cannot, they will ask for help sooner rather than later.
  •    Ensure they have what they need to do a great job; that includes enough down time in  between going those extra miles.

2.      Treat your people like the adults they are.  This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by how many people simply do not.  If you have hired well, they should know what they are doing most of the time and do not need micromanaging.  If you have negative feedback on something they have done, for goodness sakes tell them.  Pretending something is great when it is not does not help them learn (remember those never ending rotating fruitcakes?).  Package it certainly, focus on what is good and works well, but do not then go ahead and change it without letting them know why.  They won’t grow and you aren’t treating them like they can.

3.      Spend enough time interviewing so that you are hiring great people.  This is not just about you.  It is about your team and your entire organization.  Being rushed or lazy about hiring means you will make a hiring mistake.  Making a hiring mistake means that you and everyone around that mistake will be miserable.  Do everyone a favor and take the time. Please.  If you don’t, I can almost guarantee you will spend an inordinate amount of time later developing a paper trail, having long conversations about performance plans, and explaining to your folks and peers you are “working on dealing with the problem.”  And then you get to fire the mistake. 

4.      Stand in front when there is blame; stand behind when there is praise. Never let someone blame your team; you are where the bullet stops.  Perhaps more importantly, give them the credit for the work they have done.  Put their names on the slide deck.  Acknowledge them when you give a public talk.  Invite them to those all-important meetings where they can get some visibility.  They deserve it and they will trust you with their career.

5.      More than anything else, being a manager is being a mentor.  It is, in my experience, the most rewarding part of the job. Understanding what each person wants to accomplish, both personally and in their role is critical. Without this you cannot help them develop.  With this you understand what jobs or projects will be a good fit and which ones will not.  Find out what they love; there is an excellent chance that it is something at which they excel.  Then find a role that encompasses it.  Or create one. And laugh as you watch them spread their wings and kick some serious butt.

Do I love being a boss?  You bet.  And why?  The fame?  The fortune?  Uh, no.  I often get calls and emails from people that used to work for me.  When they tell me about their new promotion or opportunity I smile. And I smile when their first words are, “I need your advice, do you have time?” That ongoing relationship lets me know, at least in some small way, I have helped them along their path.  And that, my friends, is why I will always love being a “boss.”