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A Good Boss vs. A Powerful Boss

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One of the most timeless and prevalent questions circulating the business world is: what makes a good boss? This question has prompted books, workshops, philosophical debates, and even manifestos. The more time we spend on this question, the more convoluted it seems the answer becomes. In today’s business world, we have come to associate a good boss with a boss that produces results in an effective manner. It makes sense, right? The boss’s overall job is to oversee the success and longevity of a business, so it would stand to reason that success is the ultimate sign of a good boss. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. While the textbook job of a boss is to oversee the success of a company, there is no textbook description for what overseeing should look like across the board. Most traditionalist bosses have wielded the task of overseeing as a form of power, using pressure as a means to get results. However, this traditional take on overseeing forgets the human side of being a boss, the side that considers the lives of the people working under you. It can be difficult to decipher the small differences between a good boss and a powerful boss, but it is a necessary ability both as an employee and a boss yourself. After all, evaluating your workplace is one of the best ways to put yourself first.


  • Type of Reinforcement

When working under a boss, it is typical to experience some type of reinforcement from them as a motivator. Reinforcement is the fuel that your boss gives you to achieve something. It comes in two different types: negative and positive. Positive reinforcement comes in the form of a reward, such as receiving a small raise for meeting a monthly goal. It assumes the best out of people and enhances their desire to do good by rewarding it. Negative reinforcement is just the opposite. It uses the threat of punishment as a means of pressuring employees into performing well. While it is unrealistic to assume that positive reinforcement is completely effective on its own – there are types of behavior that require some sort of punishment – relying strictly on negative reinforcement shows a desire to be respected and an unhealthy way of achieving that desire. It also shows an emotional disconnect. If you feel the need to keep your coworkers in constant fear of punishment in order to succeed, you clearly aren’t aware of what punishment can do to the brain. When evaluating your boss or even your own qualities as a worker, look for how motivation is reinforced.


  • Measurements of Success

A huge tool for deciphering the difference between a good boss and a powerful boss is the way in which they measure success, whether it’s personal success or the overall success of a company. Every employee wants their business to thrive, and there is absolutely no shame in that. However, there is a difference between being excited about a business’s growth and measuring a business’s worth based on its success. A good boss is one who understands that learning something new is just as important as stepping up in the world, and both should be celebrated as signs of success. Defining a business’s success purely on facts and figures ignores the personal growth that the business and its employees have gone through to achieve that economic success. A good boss recognizes this and celebrates both economic and personal successes.


  • Priorities

A person’s priorities might as well be the windows to their soul. Someone’s priorities can tell you valuable things about them such as their core values, past experiences, and goals for the future. Priorities can also show you how someone feels about their peers. When a boss prioritizes their business’s success over the wellness of their employees, it’s a demonstration of their lack of empathy. A powerful boss will sacrifice the wellbeing of their peers and employees for the success of their business. While this may seem like a logical sacrifice, it actually harms the overall longevity of the business. Pushing employees to a point of distress will ultimately break down the business’s foundations by wearing down the staff’s motivation and decreasing overall trust between the boss and staff. A good boss understands that prioritizing the employees is prioritizing the business. Taking care of the employees as human beings is the key to ensuring the success of the business.


Wielding power is a delicate process that has the potential to affect many people. Holding bosses accountable for the ways in which they utilize their power is one of the keys to keeping both yourself and your workspace healthy. Take a moment to evaluate the bosses in your life, and, if you find yourself in the position of a boss or overseer, evaluate yourself to ensure that you understand the difference between being a good boss and being a powerful one.