Do you ever think about the great leaders that have passed through your life, and how they made you better? Through my work around Best Bosses, the thought is often near the top of my mind, but I recently had an experience that reminded me yet again of the extraordinary lasting impact of having a great leader.

I found myself visiting a former manager in the hospital. Bill, who retired ten years ago, had suffered a mini stroke, bringing those of us who know and love him together to offer our support, aid and friendship.  This experience also re-connected me to Henry and Kent, two of Bill’s colleagues who also managed me during the formative years of my career.

Of course, the focus of our reunion was Bill. Henry was the communication specialist, keeping us all informed on Bill’s condition. Kent and I had the opportunity to rendezvous together for a visit with Bill to share a few stories and more than a few laughs about the good old days.

I am glad to report that Bill is doing well and will be heading home soon. As I drove home from the hospital, I reflected on how fortunate I was to have these great people in my life.

The Characteristics of My Great Bosses

Henry is a kind and caring man with strong personal values and integrity. He was always great at providing feedback, never shy with either praise or constructive criticism. He made it his mission in life to help me become a better decision maker, which most people in my life, especially my spouse, appreciate.

Kent excelled in recognition and mentoring. He was always sharing a positive comment or observation. Even when I made a mistake, and I made several, he would turn the feedback into a teaching moment and never retribution.

Bill might have been the most interesting of the three. Honestly, when he became my manager, he scared me to death.  He was a crusty ex-marine who still sported a crew cut, constantly chewed on an unsmoked cigar, and regularly used four-letter words to make his point with everyone, including me.

Nevertheless, over time I witnessed how he disarmed everyone, from hourly workers and labor union leaders to senior executives (and even HR reps), by always being genuine, respectful, fun, candid and forthright.

I owe a debt of gratitude to all three of these individuals for teaching me, pushing me and always believing in me. They made me a better leader and a better person.

Who’s Your Best Boss?

Have you had someone in your life who showed you what great leadership looks like? It could have been early in your career, later in your career, or not associated with your career at all. It could have been a manager at work, a teacher, a coach, or a parent.

For Bill Gates, it was a fourth grade librarian who pushed a “nerdy, messy nine year old boy who loved to read” to discover and embrace his strengths. For film director Ron Howard, it was legendary producer Garry Marshall who, according to Howard, was a great leader and ‘a guiding influence over the course of his entire life’. For musicians and singers with the New York Metropolitan Opera, it was maestro James Levine  who singers called the “best coach in opera because he gives them enormous confidence and always tells them how good they are before pointing out how they can and must perform better.”

If you have been lucky enough to have someone like this in your life, I would encourage you to do two things:

First, ask yourself how well you are carrying their leadership lessons forward to the people in your life. In other words, are you honoring the leadership legacy that they bestowed upon you?

Second, simply tell them thanks for the inspiration. In my experience, they may be surprised to learn of the lasting impact they have had on you.


We love to hear Best Boss Stories. Reach out to us if have one to share, or if you want to learn more about Duncan’s Best Boss research and how it can be applied in your organization.