A few weeks ago, we shared a collection of true stories about nightmare bosses. But what, on the other end of the spectrum, are the qualities of a really great boss? The kind of managers who have such a positive impact on your life that you judge all other managers — and yourself — against them.
To find out, we polled our network of contacts, asking them to share their best examples of five-star managers and tales of great team leaders.
The responses we received should serve as inspiration for managers across a multitude of industries.
Some names and locations in the following accounts have been changed to protect the privacy of our contributors — and their personal management heroes.
Humility in leadership
Our first brilliant boss comes courtesy of Amy, whose boss serves as a reminder that, while it takes a strong personality to lead a team, it takes an even stronger one to admit when they’re wrong.
“About five or six years ago when I was working at a marketing agency, my boss – who was very hands-on and worked across pretty much all the teams – CC’d me into an email chain with my line manager,” Amy writes.
“He was absolutely fuming because some work we’d done for a potential client - a contract worth thousands of pounds - hadn’t been proofed and was sent out with a load of typos and internal notes left on it.”
“I was still pretty new in my role, but it was part of my job to check over designs and documentation before sending it out to clients, and I was mortified that I’d dropped the ball so early on,” she continues.
The next week, Amy joined her weekly team meeting, where she knew her slip-up would almost certainly be discussed.
“I was dreading it,” she writes. “We were going around the room taking it in turns to check in with what we were working on that week. By the time it got to me, I felt sick to my stomach.
But then something happened.
“Just as I was about to speak, my boss stood up and said, ‘Before Amy goes, I think it’s important that I apologise to her.’”
“He then went on to explain that the mistake had apparently been elsewhere in the company and that I hadn’t been the one who’d sent out the incomplete designs after all. He said that his reaction had been ‘clouded by emotion’ and he’d been overly harsh in his email.”
“Then, in front of the entire team, he looked me straight in the eye, and told me that he was deeply sorry and hoped that I could forgive him for jumping to conclusions.”
“Honestly, I could have cried,” she concludes. “I think about that day a lot - I hope I’ll have the guts to hold my hands up and admit I was wrong if I ever find myself in a similar situation.”
The employee welfare champ
“When I was working in a pub straight out of university, one day I got called into the back office by my manager,” writes Zarah.
“I’d been late for a handful of shifts in the previous week, so I was expecting a grilling. But when I got in there, instead of being angry my boss asked me if everything was OK,” she explained.
“He asked if there was anything going on at home that was making me late. I explained that I’d just been struggling to get up some mornings but that I’d try to get on top of it.
“In response, he told me how important it was that we took annual leave regularly and that I needed to take more time off to recharge. I came out of the meeting with five days’ holiday booked in for the following month.”
“I later found out that he’d done the exact same thing with other members of the team; calling them in whenever they weren’t taking enough time off,” Zarah concludes.
“I’ve never had a manager before or since who was more concerned with the welfare of his staff.”
Seeing the bigger picture
Several years ago, Tim used to work at a building society in Leeds in an IT support role.
“I didn’t really enjoy the job, but the money was good and I really respected my boss,” he told us via email.
“But after a few years in the same job, I started to feel really unsettled, like I was wasting my life,” he explained.
“I was desperate to do something new - something with a bit more meaning, but I was worried that I’d live to regret walking away from a safe, well-paid job.”
“In the end, I decided to confide in my boss, telling her that I was seriously considering selling my house and moving to New Zealand, with a view to finding work.”
Rather than being upset, however, Tim’s boss couldn’t have been more supportive.
“I think I was almost hoping for her to talk me out of it - moving across the world is pretty scary,” he writes. “But she was fully on board with the idea.”
“Not only did she give me her blessing, but she arranged - without being asked - for me to have a one-year sabbatical. Basically I could return anytime in the next 12 months and walk straight back into my old job, no questions asked.
After a few months later, now having the time of his life in New Zealand, Tim knew that he wouldn’t be returning to the UK anytime soon, so he dropped his boss an email.
“She replied telling me how pleased she was for me, saying ‘I was worried that you might not go at all if you didn't have the security of knowing there was something to come back to', and then basically gave me her blessing.
“She could see the bigger picture and knew that neither of us would’ve been happy if I’d stayed.” Tim concludes. “Without a doubt she changed my life.”
“In my late 20s, I found myself working for a woman who’d built up a successful online retail business,” writes Emma.
“She was looking to build a team around her to manage her marketing and social media so that she could go back to designing the products she sold, which was what she enjoyed most.”
“She hired me as a marketing manager, but because of my limited experience (I graduated in website design, but had spent some time at a marketing agency), I was almost expecting her to be watching over me like a hawk. After all, this was a woman who’d built her business up from scratch, and it clearly meant a lot to her.”
To her surprise, however, Emma’s employer actively encouraged her to run with the ball and experiment.
“I noticed during my first week that she’d often ask me ‘What do you think?’ Emma wrote.
“At first I thought she was testing me, but she always seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. Whenever I answered her, she’d listen really intently.”
“One day, and this was barely a month after I’d started, I went to her with an idea for a promotion we could run on social media. She told me she didn’t really have time to talk about it but that if I thought it would work I should give it a go.”
In an effort to keep her boss in the loop — and to make sure she didn’t make any mistakes so early on — Emma sent her boss regular emails, detailing what she was planning for the campaign.
“I didn’t hear anything back after the first few, but then one day [my boss] replied saying that she hired me because she trusted me, and that it ‘wouldn’t benefit either of us’ if she scrutinised every single thing I did.“
“She’d make the occasional comment or suggestion whenever she passed by my desk in the weeks that followed, but other than that she just left me to it.”
“The week after we ran the promo (which actually went really well and got us a bunch of new followers on social media) she emailed me to say that she knew I was ‘the right person for the job’.”
“To this day, I’ve never had a boss who gave me so much freedom – she just let me do my thing and it felt amazing.”
A helping hand
“A couple of years ago, I was stuck in a really bad, abusive relationship,” writes former sales rep Steven.
“It was a really tough time for me, and although I wasn’t being paid that much I knew I had to get out and find a flat of my own.”
“When my boss got wind of what was going on at home, he invited me into the meeting room and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I thanked him but said that, although I appreciated the gesture, there wasn’t an awful lot he could do.”
But that’s where Steven was wrong.
“After hearing about my situation and how badly I wanted to move out, my boss basically dragged me to estate agent viewings on work time,” Steven writes.
“He then volunteered to pay the security deposit on one of the flats we’d seen, which cost roughly two months’ rent (money that I definitely didn’t have!), and even gave me a small pay rise to help with the cost of living.”
“He didn’t have to do any of this,” Steven reflects. “He used his own time, and money, to help me out for no other reason than that he knew I was frightened and unhappy.”
“He was easily one of the best bosses I ever had. He still checks in with me today, despite me having left that company two years ago.
“An absolutely solid gold bloke.”