Women in an Interior, Fernand Léger, 1881 - 1955
Ideas for Leaders #093

Why Good Bosses Tune Into Their People

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Key Concept

A Swedish study tracking just over 3,000 men for ten years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20–40% more heart attacks than those with good bosses? So having a bad boss can literally kill you! Research shows that good bosses get more from their people, demonstrate better employee retention and much more. This Idea offers some advice on how you can be one too.

Idea Summary

Leaders can have a ripple effect through their company, particularly those in the C-suite; their actions reverberate throughout the organization, with followers sometimes even mimicking them. The CEO of BAE Systems learnt this quickly as she noticed a dozen women in her office imitated the way she tied her scarf after her first day on the job. As such, it is crucial to pay attention to positive and negative actions, as they can ultimately bolster or undermine the organizations culture and performance.

Of these actions, or skills, one the most important is self-awareness. Those that can accurately judge both their strengths and their flaws are the best leaders. Nobody expects a superhuman boss with no flaws; rather, working to overcome them and enlisting others who can compensate for weaknesses are the marks of good leader.

A self-aware boss knows how to provide psychological security to his employees. This means they create an environment where their subordinates can talk to them about their ideas, test them, and even make big mistakes without fear of ridicule, punishment, or ostracism. They understand that the absence of psychological safety can be detrimental to their organization, as employees may not report damaging mistakes for fear of humiliation.

The best and most self-aware bosses also know the value of small gestures, such as acknowledging and celebrating the success of a project. Taking the time to express appreciation goes a long way, and is even more important when failures occur; that’s when employees need the support of their bosses the most. Too many bosses have the opposite response in such situations, and end up pointing fingers and throwing people overboard! Though this may provide short-term relief, it will have a knock-on effect on the remaining team members’ creativity, commitment and efficiency in the long-run.

Business Application

As this Idea demonstrates, self-awareness is key to good leadership. But self-awareness alone is not the only factor; a perception of being ‘in control’ must also be enhanced, and that perception is nothing more than illusion — an illusion that can be magnified through certain actions, including the following:

  • Express confidence even if you don’t feel it: otherwise known as ‘faking-it-until-you-make-it’. Research shows that belief follows behaviour, so acting confidently will lead to being more confident too. Moreover, it will inspire followers to be more confident too.
  • Avoid dithering: indecisive and waffling bosses stand in stark comparison to those that seemingly make fast resolute decisions. The latter enhance the perception that they are in charge, even though they can change their minds about a decision later.
  • Give credit… and get it too: when your people do good work, you usually get too much of the credit. Smart bosses often use this to their advantage through subtle tactics, such as collaborating with people who are likely to praise you (so that you don’t have to brag) and, when you do mention your accomplishments, giving copious credit to others.

Additional ‘tricks’ that can be used to enhance the perception of control include the use of positive self-talk and adopting certain postures. Without convincing others that you are in charge, you face an impossible job and a short tenure.

The best bosses also boost performance by watching their employees’ backs. Amongst other things, this means making it safe for them to learn, act, and take intelligent risks, as well as shielding them from unnecessary distractions.

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Idea conceived

  • 2010

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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