Small Business and Startups: What Type of Boss Are You?

I like to think of myself as a benevolent boss – guiding the team with a wise and gentle hand. Except on those occasions when I am not. Day-to-day I don’t think a great deal about the bossing-style I practice, but when I do take time to reflect, I realize that I have some very serious shortcomings and could stand to learn from the example set for me over the years by some of my own bosses.

If you’ve had a few jobs in your life and been around the sun a few times, chances are good that you had at least one boss who, whether you loved her or hated her (or both), taught you something about managing people.

The key to learning from your boss is understanding what type of manager you have. A great boss-mentor can come in many different flavors, but, for me it boils down to five archetypes: the Visionary, the Bureaucrat, the Cruise Director, the Autocrat, and the Valiant. There is, of course, plenty of overlap and some bosses don’t fit neatly into one of these boxes. In fact the very best bosses have aspects of several of these and are a complex and healthy mix. Chances are you should be able to recognize facets if each of these in boss you are currently answering to, or the boss you want to be.

  • Visionary. This type of boss is one who looks to the horizon and beyond. They ask of themselves and their team a focus on where the company is heading and how will it get there. Visionary bosses work to inspire people to stretch themselves and their view of what might be possible for the company and they can quickly lose patience with anyone who is not focused on turning the vision into reality. Many of the greatest and most famous bosses have been visionaries: think Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, even Alexander Graham Bell and you start to get the idea.
  • Bureaucrat. This type of boss can be both frustrating and effective. At larger organizationsna bureaucrat can be mightily effective at making certain their unit is not lost in the org chart. But at small businesses and startups someone who is a mere functionary can slow down the process with needless paperwork, endless meetings, and a frustrating focus on internal process instead of internal progress. They tend to be pretty straightforward though, and predictable which makes dealing with them easier. The bureaucratic boss often has a tendency to micromanage and, when it comes to goals and strategy, can lose focus easily.
  • Cruise Director. Fun, fun, fun. Bosses who fall into this particular archetype at wonderful at team building, empowerment, and consensus, but are notoriously bad at decision making. Teams that work under this boss tend to be happy and fairly productive, but can easily lose track of big picture and tend to revert to doing average work on average days in an average way.
  • Autocrat. In command? You betcha. In control? Always. To this type of boss management is always an exercise of power and how it is employed. This boss is decisive, sometimes to the point of making hurried or even bad decisions and has a level of conviction in the correctness of their actions that can be off-putting to the people under them. Autocrats are ever in danger of alienating their team or isolating themselves.
  • Valiant. This boss is a hero. Competent, capable, and smart they can be a pleasure to work for. They tend to put the team first and are inclined to share the credit and the glory when things are going well. And when things go less than well, the valiant boss will take the blame into themselves and work to protect the team. In turn the people who work for these bosses tend to be loyal and incredibly hard-working, willing to go the extra distance to make the boss proud.

Illustration, Wikimedia Commons: The Prophet Ezekiel, from Doré’s English Bible, 1866