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Four Leadership Lessons From Great Bosses

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A good boss is hard to find. A bad boss is easy--it seems there's always a surplus. A surplus of managers adept at making you hate your life and decreasing productivity. A great boss, on the other hand, empowers you and has the potential to change your life. It's those bosses, the ones who invest in you, that are worthy of your reflection. What leadership lessons can you learn from them?

Deborah Mills-Scofield, an innovator who spent her career with Bell Labs, reflected on the bosses, or "manager-mentors" who shaped her and wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review Blog entitled Four Lessons From the Best Bosses I Ever Had. She boiled down what's she learned and offered essential insights for effectively managing high performers:

Let Your People Go. When you find great talent, do what you need to in order to encourage and support them. Treat them justly and do what's right for them and the organization over what's right for you personally. Give them opportunities to excel and succeed and air cover if they fail. Be willing to take "personal" risks for the right employee.

Light the Fire and Clear the Path. Guide your people's passion and get out of the way . . . My manager-mentors made sure my passions aligned with organizational direction, gave me some high-level boundaries, resources, and introductions to make it happen. They removed obstacles, showed me how to handle challenges, provided opportunities, and took the blame while giving me the credit.

Remember, They're Human. Many companies treat their employees as employees — nicely and kindly, even generously — but not as humans. My manager-mentors made it clear that I mattered not just for what I could do, but also for who I was.

Trust trumps everything. And everything flows from trust — learning, credibility, accountability, a sense of purpose and a mission that makes "work" bigger than oneself.

What leadership lessons have you learned from past managers in your life?

Her whole story is well worth a read. Find it at HBR Blog.

(Image via Leedsn/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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