Hold enough jobs, and you'll experience some awful bosses and a few truly great ones. Most, however, fall somewhere in the middle.
Most people don't want to be bad at being in charge, but most companies put very little effort into teaching employees how to be good managers. In many cases, someone becomes the boss because of being good at his or her job -- a position that may have nothing to do with management.
If you're the best salesman, you won't necessarily be the best sales director, any more than the best football players make for the best coaches. Being in charge is a skill to itself, but wanting to be good at it is a big piece of the battle. The following advice from our Foolish investors won't solve every dilemma you face as the boss, but it does provide a good foundation.
Be a booster
Selena Maranjian: A great boss should want the people he or she manages to succeed. Great bosses are advocates and boosters for their workers. Yes, you have to assign work to them and oversee them and evaluate them -- but ideally, it will all be in a supportive way.
When setting goals with workers, find out what their career aspirations are and see how you can help them get there. Are there skills they need to work on, perhaps such as public speaking? Then help them get more public speaking opportunities and maybe coach them a little along the way.
Are there professional certificates or designations that will help them advance? Let them know what they are and if the company can help them achieve those.
Give your underlings credit for the work they do. If they prepare a presentation for you to give, perhaps have them give it, or part of it, or at least put their name on it, so that others in the organization can be aware of their work. Making them look good can help you look good, too. Advocate for their needs with higher ups, when necessary.
Why do all this? Well, of course it's the nicest thing to do. But it's also a win-win for you. Respecting your subordinates and helping them succeed and advance will likely earn their respect and have them wanting to please you by working hard for you. As they move on in their careers, they will remember you and will be a great boss to others.
Know how to listen
Maurie Backman: I've managed people in two completely different environments -- at a hedge fund, and at an online marketing company. But the one thing I've learned is that the key to being a great boss is knowing how to listen to your employees' concerns, and taking steps to address them.
Managing my team at the marketing firm was particularly challenging, because while I worked out of my company's New York City office, my direct reports were based in Arizona. That meant every interaction I had with them was over email, telephone, or, on rare occasions, Skype. As such, I really had to go out of my way to show my employees that I was dedicated to giving them the best possible experience on the job.
When a couple of my direct reports expressed concern over their long hours as a result of the understaffing of our team, I fought for a part-time freelancer to help bear the load -- and won. When another employee of mine started growing bored and disillusioned with the job, I took steps to shake things up and give him different responsibilities. By really listening to his feedback, I came to realize that he was, in fact, overqualified for the role he was in, and I attempted to carve out a position that better aligned with his level of skill.
I've met a number of managers in my day who are smart, well-organized, and true go-getters. But I'm a firm believer that making your employees feel as if they have a voice is one of the best qualities you can have as a boss, and that's why I tried so hard to be that person.
Never be above anything
Daniel B. Kline: I grew up around my family business, which sold ladders and scaffolding. My grandfather started it in his garage, but by the time I was aware of things, it had locations from New Hampshire to South Carolina and was quite valuable.
My grandfather still ran the company, and as CEO he had all sort of high-level decisions to make. Despite that, if he walked in the main office and a customer was waiting, he took the time to help. The same was true if a phone was ringing or he was coming back from lunch or a meeting and someone was struggling to tie a ladder to the roof of a car.
If there was work to be done, he did it, especially when it meant serving a customer well. He wasn't trained to be a great boss, but his natural instincts set a great example.
When the very wealthy CEO of your company gets his or her hands dirty, it's hard for workers at any level to refuse a task. That simple action by my grandfather created a culture where people did their jobs but were willing to pitch in wherever needed.