When I think back on all the bosses I have had, I’m struck by how fortunate I have been. From one of my earliest jobs at a sandwich shop in high school, to leading fundraising and communications teams at some of the country’s oldest and most respected nonprofits, I’ve had the privilege of working for some incredible individuals. I have learned so much from these past bosses, and many of them became and still are close friends and confidants. And sure, there are a couple that could have starred in Horrible Bosses (and any of the sequels). They demonstrated all of the character traits that I still associate with ineffective, toxic, and self-serving leadership. But those bad bosses also taught me important life lessons that have helped shape me into the person I am today. There’s a lot you can learn from a boss who’s “doing it wrong”. For me personally, it solidified exactly the kind of boss I never wanted to be.

So, what makes a good boss? At InnerWill, we believe that leadership starts with working on yourself. And every day I strive to dive deep and model the behaviors that I have witnessed my awesome bosses exemplify. Embracing some of these ideas can help strengthen teams and help ensure organizational success. Here’s a few of them:

  • My mantra is always to lead by example and through cooperation. We are only as strong and successful as the sum of our parts. I have always thought of my employees as team members – not simply staff that reported to me. I strive to always collaborate and work with various teams and individuals – maximizing people’s strengths, sharing in successes and learning from mistakes to achieve the goals at hand. Treat others with the utmost respect and professionalism at all times – and always making time to hear out the needs, concerns and ideas of every person.


  • Flexibility, availability, responsiveness, and creating an environment of reciprocity and interdependency are critical. Workplace flexibility is on the rise, and in our digital world it’s easier to stay connected to staff and colleagues from afar, but keeping that personal connection is fundamental. Instant messenger programs, virtual meetings, and Google+ are all good tools that keep team members engaged and allow for oversight. Creating a consistent communication schedule, complete with weekly status meetings, allows for stability and structure. With that said, make your face-time really count. Keeping the department or company culture unified throughout the entire group can be challenging, so making time for team activities that help keep everyone connected is important. I find that mission-based activities are great culture builders and give staff necessary time away from their desks and day-to-day responsibilities to reignite their passion and remember why they’re there in the first place. These types of activities help reinforce the shared sense of responsibility that makes teams successful.


  • Ask questions and take time to learn from your people – and to get to know them in their roles. Are people happy? Do they feel like they have been given the tools necessary to do their jobs effectively?  Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no”, it’s vital to understand why. How can you help support staff and provide resources to ensure they can achieve their strategic objectives?  How do you work with your board or your executive team to create an integrated game plan with tangible deliverables and metrics to measure ROI and impact? It’s important to make sure that everyone’s (from board members to employees) goals and objectives are aligned, and expectations are set and understood.


  • Clear and open communication is critical. I strive to ensure that I am always available to listen and discuss projects, opportunities, potential crises and anything else that may arise across departments within any work environment. Trust goes a long way in strengthening communication, and I’ve found that focusing on sharing information that is forthcoming and relevant, providing timely feedback to questions and decisions, and freely exchanging thoughts and solutions all help to maintain a hands-on working relationship.


  • Finally, thank people. Have you ever heard somebody complain about being over-appreciated?? For employees to commit themselves willingly and engage fully, they must feel appreciated and involved in more than just the day-to-day tasks at hand.  Everybody’s role is significant and important.  Acknowledgement and gratitude go a long way in making sure people can see the big picture and feel the impact of their work.  Make it personal, relevant, and make it count.


Whether you’re overseeing a team of 500 or working for yourself, we can all make changes to be better bosses and more effective leaders. And what’s more, leadership happens at every level and in every interaction with others – you don’t have to be someone’s boss to have an impact, inspire others, and let your leadership shine.


Betsey Fortlouis

Betsey Fortlouis

Betsey has dedicated over 15 years of her career to driving awareness, support, and funding to nonprofits of all sizes. She is passionate about relationship building and believes that scalability and sustainability are at the center of an organization’s success. As our Director of Development and Partnerships, she is responsible for building partnerships and fostering connections with individuals, foundations, and corporations to advance InnerWill’s mission.

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