Become the Boss No One Wants to Leave

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Linda D. Henman, Ph.D.

Why would anyone want to be led by you? That's the question that needs to frame your journey to becoming the boss no one wants to leave. If you have a hard time answering, try this one, “Would you want you for a boss?” Then move on to, “What makes you think others want you for their boss?” and “What are you doing that you wouldn’t want your boss to do?” As simple as this exercise seems, I promise you, it’s always an eye-opener.

  1. If you want to become the boss no one wants to leave, you’ll need both to convince others to have confidence in you and to inspire them to become self-assured. Lou Holtz, famed Notre Dame football coach, captured the essence of this daunting task in three questions:
    Are you committed to excellence?
  2. Can I trust you?
  3. Do you care about me?

Can your direct reports answer “yes” to all three questions? Let’s look at each one individually:

Are You Committed To Excellence?

People want to play on a winning team, and most realize that it takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve victory. Football players suit up to practice in the 100-degree temperatures of August, not because they like it, but because they know it is a necessary component of attaining excellence. From the time we are children, we understand that excellence requires hard work. Your direct reports are no different. They expect you to demand what it takes to separate your company from the competition. People won’t complain about hard work if they see you are really striving for superior results.

The single worst thing that can happen to cause you to cease being excellent is that you will exhaust your intellectual capital and reach your level of incompetence. Early in your career you dedicated yourself to learning, growing and experiencing. Now, you are bogged down in the perpetual challenges of getting results. You become so busy doing that you forget about learning. You need to learn faster now, so take the time to learn how to learn. It can pay enormous dividends. Once you challenge yourself to learn new ways to improve your team’s productivity, you will be equipped to make changes and to offer more coaching, all important first steps for building trust.

Can I Trust You?

Once your direct reports are sure that you are committed to personal and professional excellence, they will need to determine whether or not they can trust you. This particular question is especially important, since to a large extent, their livelihood, job satisfaction and future depend on the answer, which obviously needs to be, “yes.” What you’re telling them is, “You can trust me to be open when I can be, honest and ethical all the time, predictable when I can be and to admit my mistakes.” Nobody is perfect, and nobody gets it right every time. Your direct reports know you aren’t perfect; they just don’t tell you that they know.

If you try to cover your mistakes, pretend they didn’t happen or, worse yet, blame them on someone else, you can forget about building trust for a long, long time. Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Churchill’s name lives on because of his successes, but those who know history understand that he was not without his critics. You won’t be either; it’s just one of the realities of being in charge.

Do You Care About Me?

It’s no secret that a great boss also needs to be a great coach. But he or she also needs to be an effective cheerleader, one who constantly strives to rally enthusiasm and energy so that the team can play on, even when faced with a tough team or a dirty fight. Observe the coaches on the sidelines of any high stakes competition. Is there much difference between them and the cheerleaders? The cheerleaders may jump around more, but they are fundamentally serving the same function. Like an animated cheerleader, you should be the “Energizer Bunny” for your direct reports. Be the power source that others know they can rely on. What if you don’t feel energetic? Fake it.


Chances are, no matter how hard you try, you may not attain the same leadership fame as Winston Churchill. But you can strive to become the kind of leader that people want to work for—and with. You can begin with one or two goals that will make small but important moves in the right direction:

  • Become a better listener
  • Increase the number of performance management conversations you have throughout the year
  • Hold better meetings
  • Get to know your direct reports better so that you understand their strengths and help to build their hope for the future

None of these steps costs money, yet any one will help you take important steps toward causing your direct reports to answer “yes” to Lou Holtz’s three questions. You’ll be proud to become known as the boss no one wants to leave.

About the Author(s)

Linda D. Henman, Ph.D., is a management consultant who works with healthcare professionals. She is the author of The Magnetic Boss: How to Become the Leader No One Wants to Leave. For more information, visit