I spend a lot of time thinking (and talking!) about the best bosses ever.

Not only is it the concept behind my podcast, but it’s also one of the most popular programs my company, Leader in Motion, runs with our corporate clients.

Why? Because employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.

For a lot of leaders, especially ones who may experience a high turnover, that’s a tough thing to hear–and to internalize. We like to think that there are a variety of factors that lead employees to leave their jobs, and sometimes there are. Compensation, flexibility, and titles can all play a role in employees wanting to make a move or a change. But more often than not, it comes down to one thing: their boss.

Research shows that the best managers (a.k.a., the best bosses ever), can drive wild success for an organization, both financially through improved performance, and culturally with improved retention and job satisfaction.

And on the flip side, bad bosses can cost organizations big money.

I’ve spent my entire career fascinated with what makes great leaders. What I’ve learned time and time again is that it comes down to a type of management style.

In my efforts to describe these differences, I started to explain style in terms of these three categories:

  • One-dimensional leadership
  • Two-dimensional leadership
  • Three-dimensional leadership 

The vast majority of leaders operate in the one-dimensional category. Some practice two-dimensional leadership, but very few exercise three-dimensional leadership, and that’s what ends up making a leader the “best boss ever.”

Let me share a story that will help you better distinguish between these leadership styles.

I had a client complain about a “troublesome employee.” This particular employee was almost always late to work by about 15 minutes. This client was really upset with their team member and very seriously asked me if they needed to terminate this employee’s contract.

Before we could dive deeper into coaching, I needed context.

My first question: “Is this employee’s job performance suffering?”

My client shakes their head. “No. They’re a strong performer.”

My second question: “Has this employee ever missed a meeting or a deadline?”

Once again, a head shake. “No, they’re reliable when it comes to deliverables. In fact, they’ve never missed anything important.”

My final question: “So why is it important to you that this employee arrives at the office at 9am and not 9:15am?”

This time, a shrug. “Our hours are 9am to 5pm.”

This is an example of one-dimensional leadership. My client didn’t think about anything beyond what they’d been told regarding work hours. It didn’t matter that this employee was doing an incredible job and that they always delivered. My client was frustrated due to lack of compliance to the rules.

Here’s how this client could have exercised two-dimensional leadership: Instead of focusing on “the rules,” this leader could have had a conversation with their team member about being late. They could have worked to understand what obstacles the employee has in the morning or offered a more flexible schedule to accommodate this top performer. Maybe the employee needs to drop their child off at daycare at a certain time and they always hit traffic? Maybe they share a vehicle and need to wait till their partner is home to leave for work? 

And finally, here’s how this client could have practiced three-dimensional leadership (which likely would have gotten them into the Best Boss Ever Hall of Fame): They could have decided to focus on what creates high performance. Based on past performance, they would have trusted that this employee would get the job done–and do it incredibly well. They could have even led a conversation with the employee around their commitment to performance timelines in exchange for not being held accountable to office hours rules.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we need to give people autonomy to do what’s best for their teams and their employees. This will undoubtedly improve performance, retention and create more “best bosses ever.”

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