What's an "Ideal Boss"?

By Mark Grzeskowiak

What is an "ideal boss"? For me, the word "ideal" conjures up images of large goose down pillows. Ideals are synonymous with dreams and flights of fancy. Call me a cynic, but these have nothing to do with the workplace. I think it's better to talk about good bosses.

Most of us can agree on a few things when setting out the qualities that make a good boss. A good boss should be fair, treat employees with respect, be supportive, and be understanding. A good boss should know her employees (by name!), and make her employees feel valued. Moreover, because most of us expect our boss to set an example, a good boss should work hard, be honest and truthful, and not offload tasks on his employees, because he's too lazy to do them himself.

Admittedly, finding a boss who fulfills all of these qualities is difficult. Most of us will settle for having a good relationship with our boss.

What is meant by a good relationship? Some would define it as simply being on good terms. For others, it might mean having the opportunity to socialize with their boss or to play a round of golf together. There is even some evidence to suggest that, contrary to what we've been told about dividing the personal and the professional, that such close relationships keep employees engaged and can ultimately result in a more productive workplace.

Now, I suppose that if one had a good relationship with a good boss, the job would seem ideal. But I can see a downside. In fact, I'd even suggest that working for an ideal boss would be a bad idea.

Why? Unless you expect to stay at the same job with the same boss for the rest of your life, experiencing an ideal boss will set you up for a future filled with disappointment. ("Oh, my new boss is OK, but she's not as good at Boss X." "Sure, it's great that he's offered to buy us all Ferraris, but that hardly compares with what Boss Z gave us!")

And imagine how boring it would be! The most interesting people in our lives are hardly ever the nice ones. While it's true that working for an egomaniac, control freak, or narcissist can be difficult at best, they nonetheless leave us with something to talk about at the end of the day. An ideal boss wouldn't.

But most importantly, an ideal boss could only ever dull our sense for workplace politics, making us entirely unprepared for any normal workplace. There would be no reason to build rapport with an ideal boss, because it would be there naturally. There would be no reason to worry about favoritism or the inner circles surrounding the boss, because the ideal boss would always treat employees equally. And there would be no reason to worry about the machinations of our coworkers, because the ideal boss wouldn't tolerate such behavior.

For some of us, an ideal boss would be painful and result in a critical diminishment of our soft skills. But a good boss, someone who is fair, respectful, supportive, understanding, honest, sets a positive example in workplace, and nothing more, would do no harm. You have the right to expect good conduct from your boss.

Ideals are for dreams, not the workplace. And dreams can sometimes turn out to be nightmares!

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