The Top 20 Characteristics of a 'Best Boss'.

#14 - is a Good Problem Solver
#15 - is a Good Team Builder

by Ron Ragain, Ph.D.

Through the first nine installments of this series, we have seen that a 'Best Boss':
(click on any of the links below to see the archived topic) 

#1 -- is a good communicator
#2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results
#3 -- enables success 
#4 -- motivates others
#5 -- cares about the success of others
#6 -- is honest and trustworthy
#7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively
#8 -- is fair and consistent
#9 -- competent and knowledgeable
#10 -- rewards / recognizes success
#11 -- leads by example
#12 -- is loyal to employees and
#13 -- is friendly.

This month we will examine how a Best Boss:

#14 -- is a good problem solver and

#15 -- is a team builder.

You may have heard it said that “if this job was easy, everyone would be doing it.”  It’s true.  In reality, supervision, management, leadership and other roles defined by the ability to produce desired results through the efforts of others is genuinely difficult.  The job of supervision is a minefield full of problems and people.  The corporate battlefield is littered with human resource casualties and lost productivity and profits from the scores of “supervisors” that just weren’t Best Bosses.  

The best bosses, the ones described in our research, thrive in complex and challenging environments and are often described by those they have influenced over their careers as good problem solvers and good team builders.  These two characteristics clearly work in tandem.  A problem solved by “Throwing the team under the bus” does not qualify for best boss status.  Nor does building a great team of lifelong friends that consistently fail to solve the problems they face.  These two characteristics go together.               

Good Problem Solver

Best Bosses are not only good at solving problems, but they are good at teaching their employees how to solve problems.  They understand that employee’s who can recognize problems and then bring thought-out solutions to the table are much more likely to take initiative and exhibit creativity in other ways.

While not all supervisors use/teach the same problem solving techniques, most keep it simple and focus on no more that 5-steps.

These 5-steps usually include:

Problem Identification

Knowing that you have a problem is the first step and this involves the monitoring of results relative to standards, listening to coworkers, clients, etc.  In other words, it involves the identification of “pain”.

Problem Exploration

Best Bosses know that problems can arise for a multitude of reasons and make sure that they have evaluated each possibility before deciding on a solution.  They also involve their team members in this evaluation because it both teaches and increases the chances that the “real reason(s)” will be identified.

Objective Setting

Best bosses know that well stated objectives will increase the chances that an effective plan will be created.  They therefore ensure that every objective is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (SMART).

Action Plan Development

As important as development of a workable plans is, ownership of the plan is equally important.  Best bosses involve the appropriate team members in plan development to both create the best plan possible and to increase the willingness of the team to implement the plan effectively.

Measurement and Correction (as necessary)

If the objective is stated correctly, then measurement is simply the evaluation of the results against the stated objective.

If failure occurs, then best bosses avoid blame and begin the problem solving process all over again to make sure that each step was completed successfully.

While best bosses are skillful at solving problems, they are equally skillful at involving team members in the solution process.   

Team Builder

Best bosses know that success is more a function of team work than it is individual skill, so they work just as hard to develop team work as they do to develop individual skills.

Team building first requires bosses to assess their team’s interaction so that they can determine what if anything is creating less than desired teamwork.  There are five critical issues related to teamwork that all best bosses evaluate on a regular basis.  The specific team building plan will be driven by this evaluation.

How well do the team members get along on an interpersonal level?

  • It is not necessary that team member become best friends, but civility and courtesy are a requirement for having a successful team.
  • Best bosses are quick to identify any conflict within the team, determine the cause(s) of that conflict, and address those causes effectively. 

Do team members work together to accomplish tasks or do they compete with one another?

  • While competition is appropriate at some levels, it is never appropriate within a team. 
  • Competition leads to someone winning at the expense of another team member and this almost always leads to the desire to get even.
  • Best bosses know this and create an environment where teamwork is recognized and competition is eliminated or at least minimized.
  • Best bosses also know that their attention or lack of it can lead to competition, so they make sure that attention and recognition is provided equally within the team and is not contingent on being better than each other. 

Do they share information with each other?

  • Failure to share information within a team can be the result of several issues, only one of which is keeping information to increase power or position.
  • Much of the time failure to share information is simply due to forgetting to do so, not realizing that the information is needed by others, or not having the opportunity to do so.
  • Best bosses make sure that all team members understand their role in information sharing and create an environment where information hoarding is not allowed and certainly not reinforced.

Do they provide support for one another when under pressure to get the job done?

  • Best bosses know that high levels of stress negatively impacts an individual’s ability to perform and also reduces the desire to work together on issues.
  • They also know that they have a lot of influence on the stress level within the team by the way that they manage time and stress for both themselves and for their team members.
  • Best bosses also know that increasing skills through training can help reduce the negative impact of stress on a team, therefore they spend time helping employees develop the skills needed to respond more effectively when stress increases.

Do they focus on solving problems or on blaming each other when problems arise?

  • While blame seems to be a natural human response when problems arise, it is really a response to the prediction that the person will receive blame him/herself.
  • Best Bosses understand that if they focus on “why” the failure occurred rather than “who” failed they will then avoid contributing to the development of a blame culture within the team.
  • Best bosses understand that if they don’t pass blame, they will reduce the need for blame to occur within the team and this will lead to the development of better problem solutions.

Best bosses know that failure in one or more of the areas above can lead to decreased teamwork, decreased productivity and failure to achieve results.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Problems don’t solve themselves nor do teams build themselves, rather it takes someone in charge to see to these efforts.  Even more so, it takes a Best Boss to see to these efforts sustainably.  Fail to both deliberately solve problems and intentionally build your team and you might have a short life on the corporate battlefield.  Strive instead to build a team capable of tackling obstacles effectively using all of the resources they collectively bring to the fight.

Question:  You guys talk a lot about getting to the cause of the unsafe act before trying to fix it.  Are you saying that employees don't need to be held accountable for their unsafe acts?

SafetyCompass®:  We are advocates of always holding a person accountable to their actions, and this includes ourselves.  The misunderstanding stems from contrasting views of the definition of accountability.  We see holding one accountable as a problem solving exercise.  Before an employee can be held to account, we must first understand what drove their behavior.  If the behavior stems from the employee knowingly and willingly breaking a rule, then we see some form of discipline as appropriate.  If the behavior was the cause of a failed system of work, i.e. lack of proper equipment, customer pressure, inadequate operating procedures, etc., then the accountability will come in the form of fixing the cause which shores up the system of work thus changing the behavior systemically.  We should remember, punishment is a tool to be used to change the employee's motive.  If they already care and want to do a good job punishment will simply drive low morale, resistance, and further unsafe acts.  The supervisors that we see doing the best job of holding their employees accountable are those that are thoughtful problem solvers.






At the root of most business successes and failures - both large and small - is human performance.

For 25+ years, hundreds of companies around the world have turned to The RAD Group to identify, resolve and capitalize on critical human factors in their organizations.


October 24
National Safety Council
Congress & Expo
(Orlando, FL)
Mike Allen presents

Transforming a
Safety Culture:
The Top 20 Characteristics
of a 'Best Boss'


November 19
Alberta Health
& Safety Conference

(Edmonton, Alberta, CAN)
Phillip Ragain presents
Human Intervention -  
A Dynamic Solution for
Complex Safety Problems
(1-day Seminar)
SafetyCompass® - Tools for Stopping and Redirecting Unsafe Operations


Best Boss skills - 

#16 - Flexible and Willing to Change when Necessary

#17 - Good Planner / Organizer

#18 - Good Decision Maker


The Lumbergh Principle

Your Culture Gap is Showing

A Taste of Your Own Medicine

Deal with Employee Failure -- The SAFE Way

4 Keys to Managing Outside of Your Area of Technical Competence

Can you Change Behavior or Work Incident Free without Punishment?

Incentives as a Motivational Tool

Consequence Predictability and Results

Overcoming the Tendency to Micro-manage

Is Dissent in the Workplace Good for Results?

Because I Said So!   The Importance of “WHY”

4 Keys to Effective Delegation

4 Steps for Successful Career Coaching

3 Keys to Building and Maintaining Confidence and Confidentiality

Listening as the Key to Maintaining Mutual Respect

Trust: 3 Keys to Establishing Shared Purpose

3 Essential Components of Mutual Trust

Building Effective Relationships Through Mentoring and Coaching

Relationship: The Key to Motivating Different Generations

Using Extrinsic Motivators Effectively

4 Keys to Increasing Employee Initiative

4 Meaningful Ways to Give Positive Feedback

4 Feedback Pitfalls Every Manager Should Avoid


Click HERE to submit questions for SafetyCompass® Corner

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