Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with this oft-quoted
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own
I’ve studied top performing bosses for over thirty years, and I know that one
variant on that Tolstoy quote is: “Great bosses are all alike; every awful boss
is awful in his or her own way.”
All great bosses do the same basic things. They set clear
and reasonable expectations, communicate them well, and check for understanding.
They help people grow and develop and treat everyone fairly. They accomplish the
mission and they care for the people.
But that’s not the whole story. We can re-work that Tolstoy quote another
way: “Great bosses are all alike; and every great boss is great in his or her
Great bosses differ because of where they work. Great
police sergeants do some things differently than great call center supervisors
because of the differences in their workplace and the people they work with.
Great bosses at Nordstrom do things differently than great bosses at
Great bosses differ because they’re different people. The
great ones come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Great bosses learn to filter
the principles that make every great boss great through their own personality.
They do the important things in their own way.
Boss’s Bottom Line
If you want to be a great boss, you need to learn to do the basics that every
great boss does. And you also need to learn to do them in a way that’s
appropriate for your situation and right for your personality.