The 5 New Habits of the Most Effective Leaders, Backed by Considerable Science

Being a boss requires walking the fine line between meeting business needs and meeting employee needs. Most bosses, when push comes to bottom-line shove, put business goals first.

Great bosses? They realize it’s possible to take steps that improve employee engagement, fulfillment, and well-being — with, at the same time, a positive bottom-line impact.

Because great bosses do good things for their employees that are also good business.

Want to be a great boss? Here are some of the steps you can adopt, starting today.

They Promote the Right People

When employees believe promotions are managed effectively, compared with other companies in the same industry:

  • Productivity metrics are 30 percent higher
  • The turnover rate is 50 percent lower
  • Employees are five times more likely to feel their leaders act with integrity
  • Stock returns exceed market averages by five times

Granted, you can’t explain every promotion decision. You shouldn’t explain every promotion decision. (You should never publicly compare employees in any way.)

But you can make sure people understand the value, and the key drivers of outstanding performance, of every role. “Fair” means selecting the person best suited to do the job — so the more people understand the responsibilities, goals, and targets of the job, the more likely they are to see the decisions you make as fair.

Take a step back and look at the criteria you use; Instead of focusing on “qualifications,” determine what the perfect person in the job will actually do.

After all, you aren’t filling a position; you’re putting the right person into a job. You don’t promote titles; as Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder of HubSpot, says, “You need a doer of stuff that needs to get done.”

If teamwork matters most, promote the best team player. If productivity matters most, promote your most efficient and effective employee.

If getting the right things done matters most (when does that not matter most?), promote the person who not only gets the right things done, but who also is best at encouraging, motivating, and helping others do the same.

They Promote the Right Leader for the Work Setting

A study published in Journal of Business and Psychology sought to determine which people employees would choose to be their leaders in a variety of workplace settings:

  • In-person teams
  • Virtual teams
  • Hybrid teams (a blend of in-person and virtual interactions)

In-person teams tended to choose charismatic, confident, extroverted people as their leaders. Virtual teams? They chose doors. They chose people great at planning. At prioritizing. At staying on task, and helping others stay on task.

Eighty-four percent chose people who would help them get things done: functional skills and task-oriented behaviors that help teams and individuals accomplish their objectives.

Which is good news for all the task-oriented, results-oriented, dependable people who wonder if all their hard work will ever pay off.

And here’s the thing. Maybe your workplace has returned to in-person. Or maybe you’ve embraced a hybrid model.

Doesn’t matter. The mindset — the focus on what you do, not where you do it — remains. Which means employees want to work for someone who helps them get things done.

And not who just knows how to talk a good game.

They Hold Very Few Meetings

A recent meta-analysis of more than a decade of research shows 90 percent of employees feel meetings are “costly” and “unproductive.” And that they’re right: Employee productivity increased by over 70 percent when meetings were reduced by 40 percent.

Fewer meetings gives employees more time to get things done. And makes them smarter; one study found that when employees attend meetings, the average IQ of each individual drops by between 15 and 20 percent. Why? If you feel like a “junior” member of a group, your IQ drops. (As in most situations, confidence matters a lot.) If you feel your contributions won’t be valued, your IQ drops. If other people criticize (overtly or implicitly) your contributions, your IQ drops.

And what about meetings that don’t’ start on time? (Which, sadly, is most meetings.) Those meetings are a third less effective — in terms of outcomes, both actual and perceived — than meetings that start on time.

That’s why great bosses hold fewer meetings.

Especially when the goal is to brainstorm or problem-solve. Idea generation improves when people first come up with ideas by themselves, or with at most one or two others.

That typically leads to greater diversity in ideas, better analysis of the pros and cons of those ideas, and much greater odds of a larger group — if you eventually decide to convene a larger group — eventually identifying the best idea.

They Deal With Toxic Employees

  • Adding a superstar to a team boosts employee morale by 16 percent and saves the average company approximately $6,000 per year
  • Removing a toxic employee from a team boosts employee morale by 61 percent and saves the average company over $13,000 per year

While superstars typically make the people around them better, the behavior and impact of toxic employees tend to be even more “infectious.”

Toxic people cause other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently. Toxic people negatively impact the productivity of those around them. Toxic people can even turn good employees into bad ones. According to one study, “If you are exposed to these toxic workers, then you become more likely to be ultimately terminated later on.”

And when the toxic employee is in a leadership position? The turnover rate increases 60 percent, with a bias toward “regretted quits.”

Or in non-researcher-speak, the people you really don’t want to lose. (Because great employees can always find another job.)

The bottom line? Good bosses work hard to develop and reward superstar employees.

Great bosses work even harder to deal with, and if necessary remove, toxic employees.

They Avoid Serving a Feedback Sandwich

Most of us were taught to deliver constructive feedback using the feedback sandwich: Start with a positive, share the negative, close with a positive.

Unfortunately, a feedback sandwich is always tough to swallow. According to a study published in Management Review Quarterlythe feedback sandwich almost always fails to correct negative or subpar behaviors.

Why? While one in five people appreciate the positives, three out of four feel manipulated. Nine out of ten feel patronized. And only 7 percent actually change the behavior in question.

Here’s a better approach from Culture Code author Daniel Coyle. A study conducted in 2014 shows including one sentence can make feedback up to 40 percent more effective:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

Why is that sentence so effective? It signals three key things to the employee:

  1. You are part of this group
  2. This group is special; we have higher standards
  3. I believe you can reach those standards

Instead of a feedback sandwich, the result is more like a relationship sandwich. No manipulation. No platitudes. No irrelevant compliments. No false hope.

Just clear, direct feedback — delivered inside a message of connection, belonging, and trust.

That’s the difference between a feedback sandwich and genuine, honest feedback.

Because great bosses know that while their employees may not want to hear where they can improve, they appreciate that knowledge.

And respect the person who provides it.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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