What Employees Want From a Boss
had discussions with a co-worker on the concept of leadership
and on what those who are led look for in their leaders. The following
are the results of a survey he conducted with a group of software
are no surprises here, I have seen these themes in every book
and seminar on leadership I’ve ever experienced. Many of the responses
to this survey are redundant. These points are obviously the most
important. The real surprise is how easy it is to do what is recommended
below, and how often we forget. So it’s important to review them
every now and then.
done very little editing on the results. Other than grouping the
responses into categories, and removing a few gender-specific
references, the information is presented as it was given to me.
For those English majors among you who are appalled by the constantly
changing point of view, inconsistent verb tenses, and non-parallel
construction – get over it. The content and sentiment are more
important than the format.
is expressed to my co-worker who wishes to remain anonymous.
was sent to 22 people, all with engineering backgrounds.
Nine responses were
What do you think
makes a good leader for a software project? Specifically, what
characteristics should a team lead, and a project lead have
to be great (or at least really good!)?
- Knows what
is going on (within the company) or can find out (why
decisions were made, why priorities changed etc.). [Editors
Note: and explains it to people so they can see why their
job is important].
- Stays positive.
Assumes people on high have good reasons for doing what
they are doing. Interprets orders in a positive light.
- Never trashes
the company (or those higher in the organization) to the
team. Never lets the team get the idea that the situation
is hopeless (I’ve seen this happen. It devastates the
team when their ‘cheerleader’ joins the crowd in trashing
the project/company/management etc.).
and provides direction for the product/project/team
- A good leader
must remain calm under stress (that doesn't mean you can't
be passionate about certain things)
- Trust (big
one!)above all else, I believe your team must trust you
to always do the right thing
- Don't talk
bad about them in front of other people
- Don't be
- Don't badmouth
other groups or individuals
- Be consistent
in how you treat people
commitment to well defined purposes.
- The Lead is
responsible for team cohesion.
- Earns respect
- They do what
they say, and say what they mean.
- Will admit
they don't know everything
always, always tell the truth. When you don't know
something, say so (but find a way to get the answer)
- Not afraid
to not know something and don't try to cover it up
with double talk.
Answers questions honestly; even if the answer is “I can’t
say” if questions concern confidential matters (e.g. personnel
issues, pending reorganizations etc.)
Stands by his word.
- Can keep things
confidential – never discusses personnel “problems” with
other members of the team.
- Loyalty –
Willing to fight for what is right for the team (even
- Deliver on
your promises and expectations of others.
Personal Character Traits
just mold to the popular opinion, has their own opinion
and sticks to it.
- But is
open to new ideas and will change after careful consideration.
- Open to
- Humble - Realizes
without the team, there is no leader.
a good sense of humor (and don't be afraid to use it!)
in personal abilities.
- Good people
skills. Can deal with developers, product support, and
- Good ability
to communicate with both technical and non-technical people.
- Is comfortable
and personable with team members. A simple friendly
hello in the hallway can go a long way (at least it goes
longer than the 1000 feet stare past the individual does).
- Have and show
respect for other people and their circumstances. [Editor’s
Note: Values diversity].
cares about people.
shares team member accomplishments and shares any
team awards throughout the whole team.
and rewards hard work/good ideas.
recognizes achievements (including consistent
good work that is not necessarily genius or earth
employees (Gives out "Good jobs" and "Thank
yous” when things are done on schedule and the right
way. Nothing formal, just a simple pat on the back).
- Give them
both negative and positive feedback (make sure the
positive feedback is sometimes in a public setting).
- The leader
should be able to criticize without being too negative,
and praise appropriately without sounding flattering.
or removes employees when necessary
- Offers no
surprises during periodic reviews (i.e. addresses issues
with team member when they occur, not only during performance
- No surprises
at review time (i.e. be constantly engaged with people
and working on any problems as they occur, not just at
- Clearly defines
goals and deadlines and hold the individual responsible
(but without micro-managing)
listens to employees.
- Shields subordinates
from the politics of upper management as much as possible.
- Avoid putting
your team in stressful situations by being open with your
management regarding project status (inform ahead if you
cannot meet deadlines).
- Acts as a
liaison with other teams & departments (but not to
the point of allowing team members to become hermits.)
- The greatest
fan to those who report to him/her where the lead is always
trying to better them and improve their skills.
- Surround yourself
with people that are better than you (and tell them so.)
[Editor’s note: “better” at what their role in the team
is. Everybody has special talents.)
- Must be able
to treat all subordinates differently while appearing
to treat them all the same.
- Ability to
get the necessary tools to help subordinates do their
- Shares the
wealth when it comes to giving out tasks.
always give the new & exciting tasks to the same
people, while giving the others the same old grunt
them something new to learn.
- Pushes subordinates
to do things they didn't think they could do.
- Not afraid
to resolve conflicts (technical or otherwise) between
subordinates by dictating solutions.
- Knows when
to get involved in technical problems and when to keep
- Has a plan
for developing each employee professionally (cares about
- Help others
to look good (and I don't mean their wardrobe)
job is to deliver a product. your job is to clear
the way for success.
- Let them
know you have a plan (for the project and for them
and their career).... this works particularly well
if you actually DO have a plan.
- Part of staff
development is to help develop their non-technical skills,
as much as is possible (we are talking about engineers
- Realizes that
being a good engineer means reading journals and working
on new techniques. Being a good manager requires the same
type of work.
- Very good
technical understanding of the product (does not need
to be as good as the most senior developer, but it helps).
competent. Not necessarily expert, but definitely competent.
of the product and all areas of the code
- Trusts developers,
but isn’t gullible or naive.
- Knows the
knowledge of the skill set of the team.
- Knows what
people are working on.
- Must be accessible
and open for consultation on technical and personal issues.
- Knows people
[what makes them tick].
- Knows people
[and what gets them excited].
and meets the needs of others.
- Removes obstacles
in the developer's way.
- The developers
are responsible for doing the work, the Lead is responsible
for organizing how the work is done.
- Doesn’t micro-manage
tasks. Trust the team and the tasks that they have been
- Be their friend
but know when it's time to be a parent (tough love isn't
a bad thing).
- Creates project
plans, team goals, and presents them to the team
- Conducts weekly
- Conducts design
& code reviews
good problem solving skills
looks for ways to improve product and employee performance/productivity.