6 things the best bosses do differently

There are toxic bosses. There are OK bosses. There are good bosses. And then there are absolutely amazing bosses — the ones you remember forever. Not only can these outstanding leaders have a life-changing impact on your career, but they can also drive positive change in the culture of an entire organization.

“There’s a symbiotic relationship between good bosses, culture, and career development. Good cultures develop careers and make good bosses, good bosses create a good culture and develop careers. You need good bosses for good cultures and career development. That’s why they matter,” says author and management consultant Karen Jaw-Madson, who specializes in culture, leadership, talent optimization and change.

“The entry ticket to the amazing boss club includes everything all managers should do: remove barriers, enable people to perform and develop to their full potential, provide defense from outside threats as necessary, and proactively advocate for and sponsor their people.”

So beyond the basics, what are the qualities and habits that make a truly amazing boss? Whether you’re a manager yourself or are simply wondering whether the leaders around you are better than average, here are six things the best bosses do differently.

1. They encourage innovation

“Great bosses empower employees by giving them authority and responsibility to create new ideas rather than keeping within the status quo (the way things have traditionally been done). Doing so allows their teams to present unique solutions that result in growth and profit,” says innovation strategist and Fortune 500 leadership consultant Susan Robertson.

A recent McKinsey study revealed that innovation is critical to growth, but only 6% of executives are actually satisfied with innovation performance. In order to foster innovative initiatives and harness creativity, the best bosses understand they need to implement practical steps to help employees feel secure trying new things — not just talk about the concept of innovation on a conceptual level.

2. They go beyond checking in

Good bosses have regular one-on-one meetings with their team members, and they make sure to check-in and ask for updates that don’t only pertain to business. But outstanding bosses focus on nurturing relationships over time.

“Amazing bosses demonstrate the value of true connection with their people, frequently and consistently. They know it’s not about transactions. Doing one good thing or even a few good things for someone that reports to them doesn’t make for an amazing boss alone,” says Jaw-Madson.

“It’s about a relationship where trust is continually renewed through established, positive patterns of behaviors, both ways. People look for and rely on that stability even when work becomes chaotic and unpredictable.”

3. They don’t just mentor – they sponsor and support

Great leaders will mentor more junior employees who show promise. But if you see a leader go above and beyond to sponsor someone — meaning they’ll guide and influence the person’s progress throughout the ranks of the organization, you know you’ve crossed paths with an amazing boss.

For example, when Robertson was a junior brand manager at Gatorade, she was responsible for a project that required buy-in from other departments to be executed. She told the CEO of the company “I need you to come to my brand meeting and tell the team this is a priority,” which he did.

“Getting behind employees to take risks and break down learned assumptions fosters a genuine team-based environment where inclusivity is present and embraced,” she says.

4. They provide growth opportunities

“The best bosses make sure that in addition to getting assignments and direction, employees learn from them in the process,” says Jaw-Madson.

Giving access to learning opportunities such as shadowing a high-level task is one aspect of investing in the growth and professional development of employees.

But the best bosses also understand and sense the right moments and ways to push and challenge people past their limits. “The best bosses know when and how to stretch and challenge their people beyond their own expectations.”

5. They leverage emotional intelligence

According to Jaw-Madson, excellent bosses not only possess empathy and EQ but also act on it: “Amazing bosses have empathy and emotional intelligence that are demonstrated in action. It’s how they are able to build relationships and culture within their teams, navigate complex dynamics and organizational politics, sponsor employees, enable people to perform and develop to their full potential, etc.”

“All of these make a huge difference. People take achievements at face value, but they don’t realize that empathy and emotional intelligence are behind them.”

6. They always remain aware

Awareness is a perhaps underrated but super important quality all amazing bosses share. Why? In order to inform exceptional results and get the best of themselves and others, truly great leaders know they have to remain super self-aware while also paying attention to their ever-changing environment and the people around them.

“The best bosses should never lose touch—with themselves and their people. Because this greatness is not a destination, it’s an ongoing process needed to sustain these outcomes,” says Jaw-Madson.