Leadership

Here's what made David Letterman a great boss

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David Letterman recently shared with New York magazine that his greatest achievement was creating jobs.

It brought the former late-night host great pride to employ others. In fact, during his 35 years as host of NBC's "The David Letterman Show" from 1980 to 1993 and CBS' "The Late Show on CBS" from 1993 to 2015, he provided steady work to hundreds of people.

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One of those employees was Kathy Mavrikakis, who started working for Letterman as an intern and worked her way up to supervising producer. She later held a corporate finance role with Worldwide Pants.

Mavrikakis spoke to CNBC about the three things that made Letterman a good boss. His strengths can teach managers everywhere how to be smart and kind leaders:

Support professional development

Letterman's team supported professional development. "I was always being promoted," says Mavrikakis.

Proactive professional development strategies can benefit any team. Failing to develop employee skills wastes valuable talent, and providing strong opportunities for growth is known to increase employee retention.

Provide flexibility

Letterman created an environment that allowed flexibility and supported families.

"Vacation time was amazing," Mavrikakis emphasizes. "Plus, Worldwide Pants was very open to families and when you needed to spend time with your family for whatever reason, you could."

Generous vacation benefits and flexible work hours are actually good for business. Such policies are known to improve workplace morale and increase productivity, particularly since most American employees do not use all of their paid time off.

Stupid pet tricks segment from The Late Show with David Letterman on the CBS Television Network.
CBS Photo Archive | Getty Images
Stupid pet tricks segment from The Late Show with David Letterman on the CBS Television Network.

Demonstrate loyalty

Letterman supported his employees by showing loyalty during times of negotiation.

Mavrikakis recalls Letterman supporting union members during the technical strikes of the 1980s and the Writer's Guild strike of 2007. According to Mavrikakis, he also supported his staff during his periodic contract negotiations, advocating for raises and health insurance benefits for them.

Indeed, "that's how Worldwide Pants started," she explains. "Dave created a company to pay our health benefits."

Actively showing support for your employees is the sign of an engaged boss and a type of leadership that engenders higher workplace satisfaction and higher employee retention.

Promoting professional development, providing flexibility and demonstrating thoughtful loyalty can help bosses everywhere build happier, stronger and more productive teams. They're practices that shaped Letterman's legacy as a great boss.

The famously self-critical comedian admitted to New York magazine that he felt these contributions were satisfactory, conceding, "Yeah, by God, that's good enough."

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