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Good Bosses Are Hard to Find: Here's How

Good Bosses Are Hard to Find: Here's How

Everyone wants to work for a "good boss." How do you know when you are in the presence of one?

The first is to define the term "good boss." And the second is to ask the right questions to confirm that this person indeed meets your definition.

Here is my definition of a "good" boss: power and decency.

Actual Power is defined as the ability to make things happen. The person is in the right place in the organizational hierarchy. The person has budgetary discretion. Potential Power is defined as
someone who is perceived as on a fast track to get Actual Power. In other words, a rising star.

Hitch your wagon to powerful boss' star and you move up as the boss moves up. Work for a boss whose career has plateaued or is perceived as a setting star and you will be chagrined to find out that your mother's advice to you as an adolescent was correct: You are known by the company you keep.

Questions to Ask

How can you find out if a potential boss has Actual or Potential Power? Ask people who work in the company the following question: "Name the three most powerful people in this company (section) and why are they powerful." Does your potential boss' name come up? Go to and see if you can track down former employees. Ask them the same question.

Decency is defined as someone who is guided by moral or ethical standards. Few of us get to meet saints in our lives. We all compromise. But a decent boss compromises those standards with great internal pain.

Wouldn't you rather work for a decent boss?

Questions to Ask

When sitting with a prospective boss, ask, "If I spoke with your direct reports what would they say about you?"

You hope the prospective boss will smile and say, "Good question. Why don't you speak with them? I will set it up for you." A positive response like that is your best guarantee that the person is going to have a decent value system.

But suppose the potential boss says, "I am sure they will say I am firm but fair..." and fails to set up the meetings for you. That's a bad sign.

Suppose the potential boss looks angry and changes the subject. You probably lost out on an opportunity to work under a boss that you would not want to work for.

I Want to Work for a "Good" Boss

We all want to work for good bosses.

Good bosses are hard to find. And they are worth searching for.

Never quit a job to work for a boss who fails to meet our definition: Your reputation will be determined by what you do and who you do it for.

Laurence J. Stybel, Ed.D. is cofounder of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire and Executive in
Residence at the Sawyer School of Business at Suffolk University. He also is on the Board of Governors of the Institute for Career Certification International, the global body that certifies excellence in career management consultation.

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