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The Fine Art of Being a Great Boss How to motivate your people to do great work and create an environment where they actually like coming to work.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


I was a lousy boss.

There, I said it. Don't get me wrong. I was a pretty effective executive by any measure. I got the job done. I was just a little tough on the people side. OK, maybe more than a little tough. I was highly demanding and not as empathetic as I might have been. C'est la vie.

The funny thing is, if you can judge yourself that honestly, if you know yourself, if your people know they can be straight with you, then you're probably a way better boss than you think you are. Besides, that sort of humility and self-awareness goes a long way toward motivating employees. A sense of humor doesn't hurt, either.

Here are a few more ways to inspire your people to do great work and create an environment where they actually like coming to work.

Big responsibility.

Perhaps more than anything, people love to be challenged. They want to know that their achievements matter. If you give highly capable people a lot of responsibility they will work their tails off, make smart decisions and thrive. And they will want more.

An outrageous goal.

Employees want to be a part of something great. They want to be part of something bigger than them. If you're passionate about what you're trying to achieve, let them in on it. Make them part of your crusade to do what's never been done before.

Related: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Is

Pure meritocracy.

Let's face it: mediocre people want to get paid and keep their jobs no matter what they do. You don't need them in your company. If you want people who want to be rewarded for being the best, for doing great work – and you should – then give them a pure meritocracy.

Effective management.

Exceptional employees want to work for an exceptional company. That means the company's management team has to be effective and the company has to be successful. The best way to motivate your employees is to be great at your own job: managing the business.


There's no two ways about it: everyone wants a piece of the action. Profit sharing, equity, whatever your capitalization model, you need to reward the folks you want to keep around for the long haul with long-term incentives.

Related: The Key to Happiness: More Work and Less Stuff


Free food, free drinks, business class international travel, a place to work out or blow off some steam, weekly parties – don't ask me why but perks go a long way. Just figure out what you can afford, what makes sense and then stick to it. Once you give them something, there's nothing worse than taking it away.

Recognition and appreciation.

When your people go above and beyond and accomplish something great, like hitting an aggressive product-launch schedule on budget, let them know you and the company appreciate them by giving them some public recognition. Just keep it rare so it doesn't lose its impact.


If your employees huddle every morning to find out what kind of mood you're in, that's a bad sign. Nobody wants to work for a workplace version of an abusive alcoholic parent. We all have issues. Keep them in your head where they belong. And don't bring them to work.

Lose the self-serving surveys.

I was just reading that companies are expanding the ubiquitous annual employee surveys to include more frequent, even weekly, pulse surveys. Why? In my experience, most employee surveys are self-serving. And in smaller companies they're completely worthless. If you're really that out of touch with what's going on at your company, you're not doing your job effectively.

One more thing. Don't get caught up in all the emotional intelligence hype. It's nothing but a fad. You don't need a book, a seminar or some dumb test a child could game to tell you how to be a great boss. Use a little common sense, pay attention to what's going on and be aware of how you're acting. It isn't rocket science.

Related: 6 Epic Online Fails and How to Avoid Them

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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