Selecting Your Ideal Boss

Great bosses help you achieve your goals. So, how do you find one?

by By Leslie Stevens-Huffman | July 2007

It’s often said people don’t leave companies – they leave bosses. The
expression suggests that bad chemistry with their supervisors can cause
employees to quit. But the relationship between you and your boss is
more complicated than that, and in truth even a boss you adore may not
be a good match for you professionally. Professional growth, raises and
promotions all contribute to career satisfaction, and there’s a huge
correlation between successful employees and their boss’s managerial

Believe it or not, you have as much to say about selecting your ideal
boss as your boss has to say about selecting you. Start by recognizing
that the interview process should go both ways – then hone your
boss-election skills.

"Having the right boss does several things for an employee. It’s the
difference between just putting in time and being committed," says Jim
Councelman, vice president of leadership development for Development
Dimensions International, a Cleveland, Ohio-based consulting firm that
specializes in leadership selection and development.

"There are a variety of studies which show that employees who are
putting all of their psychological and emotional energies into the job
stay longer and have higher job satisfaction," he says. "Good bosses
are able to engage their employees."

Decide What You Like – and Need

"Think about the good bosses and the bad bosses that you’ve had,"
prompts Bob Selden, an international organizational consultant and
author. "What was it about each situation and each boss that made it
good or made it bad?"

To start, develop a list of attributes and managerial competencies that
will bring out your best performance and engage you. You’ll not only
have to look in your rear-view mirror at previous bosses, but glance
toward the future and your next career move. For example, if you want
to take on more responsibility, you’ll want a boss who’ll help you grow
to the next level. It’s easy to say that you prefer a hands-off
managerial style – no one like a boss who breathes down their neck –
but if you have a tendency to become complacent, a boss who manages
diligently, or will coach you to a higher competency level, might be
what you need to get that raise or promotion.

Then, prioritize your list based on what you need to succeed. This will
help you evaluate prospective supervisors on more than their

Turn the Tables

Two weeks into your new gig, you don’t want to discover that your boss
is totally disorganized and hasn’t finished last year’s performance
reviews. To ferret out this type of intelligence, take advantage of the
same interviewing techniques prospective employers are using on you.
When it’s your turn, ask "behavioral interviewing questions," which
will help you assess your prospective boss’s behavior and track record.
"Candidates need to remember that it’s a two-way street," says Selden.
"You’re selecting them as much as they’re selecting you."

What’s a behavioral question? "Don’t just ask if your new boss will
help you get promoted, ask them to describe a time when they helped
someone get promoted," suggests Councelman. "Ask for specific examples
of where they’ve done certain things or displayed certain behaviors. If
they say they believe in employee development, ask to see a copy of a
development plan. In assessing your new boss, behavior trumps style and
friendliness, so ask for the specifics."

If you’re nervous about asking such questions, try framing your
requests in a positive way. For example, say something like, "I really
want to work here a long time and be successful in my position, so I
want to know what you’ll expect of me. Do you have a copy of the
performance plan for this position that I can review?"

Seldon has another example: "During the interview, when the boss asks
if you have any questions, say that you’re keen on the job and that you
always strive to be a good employee. Given that, what does he think
characterizes a good employee?"

Asking how your prospective boss defines a good and bad employee will
provide insight into whether you’ll be a good match for his
expectations. You can also find out more about his track record by
asking to spend time with other employees he’s managing and reading
blogs written by his direct reports.

In addition, Selden says you should closely observe your prospective
boss’s reaction to questions. They should answer enthusiastically. A
good boss will demonstrate pride in his managerial achievements.

If during the interview, the boss does all the talking and never gives
you a chance to ask questions, or if he doesn’t recognize that your
comfort level with the match is just as important as his, that’s a red

"The interviewing process is not generally set-up as a two-way street,"
says Councelman. "So as a candidate you need to make it that way. If
the company doesn’t see the value in both parties being satisfied with
the match, you need to go work somewhere else."

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a
freelance writer based in Irvine, Calif. who has more than 20 years
experience in the staffing industry.