If I ask you: “Who was the best boss you have ever had?”, what do you answer? And why?
Really, take a minute to think about it…
Now I am going to tell you story of three bosses I had.
Boss who taught me not to close the office door
One of my bosses was a woman in mid age, not married, no kids, career seeker at first sight. Let’s call her Jane, for example.
She was enjoying the mostly men company (only one of the 5 top managers was a woman). She was dealing with finance side of the business. Looking after profit and cash flow. And she did it well. (As far as I can judge.)
And than she had few subordinates, me including. She came in the office in the morning, greeting us with the most professional smile, and we did not see her for the rest of the day. She closed herself in her office. And reopened the door around five in the afternoon, not to look what is going on around her in the office, but to check who dares to go home already at this time.
If you asked her an opinion about her people, maybe she would remember their names, but would neither know who did what kind of work nor what he has problems with. She would answer you diplomatically that her department is fully working, no problems, and that it is none of your business.
When I went to ask her for help, after 8 months of working sixteen hours per day – I needed her support to split the tasks between me and my colleague who was at the exactly same position like me and as per my perspective did not even manage to do ¼th of her duties, so due to uncompromising deadlines I, with my sense of responsibility, was finishing (or redoing) everything during nights – she told me that it was my problem. To discuss it with my colleague myself. Which I have tried before of course, but Jane has not asked me that.
When I was giving notice some time later, I was told that I was thankless and betrayer.
So that’s it.
Boss who taught me to be tough
One other boss, let’s call him Marc, was one of the most clever people I have ever known. He was able to remember huge amount of information by heart (understand, for me what I do not write down does not exist :-) ) and did difficult calculation in head. He was ambitious, responsible. He was also a great speaker and presentator, which is certainly “in” in corporates. From the beginning it was clear he was an adept for quick career. And that he did.
He was a very nice person, easygoing, preventing conflicts. This characteristics has not changed even when his team grew into several dozen of people.
He never forgot who helped him in the past and he surrounded himself only with those people. He went so far that to ingratiate them he had feeling he can never tell them they do something wrong, or show them their weaknesses, because he could hurt them. When I read the book Radical Candor from Kim Scott, her story about Bob at the beginning of the book was a perfect fit to Marc.
He was exact type of “ruinous empathy”, which according to Kim (as well as myself) doesn’t move or change anything and leads in time inevitably to destruction.
He did apply ruinous empathy also to me, because why he should be willing to move me forward, care about my development. He knew what I am good at since years, so he considered it was the best I should do in next years. For me, who requires never ending learning and self development, this was a complete stagnation and frustration.
When there was some obvious problems, he digged into numbers at which he was so good at, perfectly analyzed them, identified the problem, presented it to the team. Unfortunately, he forgot about step two – to make his team suggest their version of solution and checking in the proper way the progress.
And so all of the things stayed as they were.
Boss, who we want more
My best boss was a “youngster”, just few years older than me, with similar experiences as me. Let’s call him George. Before I got to know him better, I was asking myself: “WIll he be good enough to be my boss?” (Understand, I am quite tough to my bosses. :-) )
And still, he was the one who has taught me the most about leading people.
Paradoxically, if you asked me if he was an expert on what our team was doing every day, I would answer: No. My feeling is, that he did not have a clue about some details.
All my previous bosses always had a tendency to tell me how to do things, steps to reach goal. Because they have been doing it for years. And I was young and inexperienced. (And also woman, let’s be honest.) They asked me daily about details and progress, to check if I do what they said to do. George didn’t.
When thinking why he was from my point of view so good boss, I can summarize it in this way:
He explained each project to all of us including its background. He never asked us to do something if he was not clear about why we should be doing it and what is the expected outcome. Only then he introduced it all to us, he was able to answer questions. By this he managed to unify the goal for the whole team.
He always discussed with us deadline for each project. He announced when he would expect the final or progress points, but always asked if that was realistic. He never had problem to discuss some issues with timing with his bosses.
He never let us do work that was in someone else’s job description. Rather helped us to push to get the work from respective colleagues, which we needed for our own tasks. He never let that to us purely.
He stood up for us often. If there was a dispute with other department, he was always on our side, tried to overtake the heaviness of blaming to himself and by using facts to persuade the other side. He did it diplomatically and assertively. I had a full trust he stands by me and the whole team.
When he gave the tasks over to us, he did not remind us each day, did not ask if we were finished. He just asked if we needed help and if we said no, he let it up to us. He trusted us we would manage. He gave full responsibility for our duties and had full trust in our abilities.
He planned our cooperation well. He created the structure of meetings in the company to properly cascade information based on company hierarchy. Thanks to this he was able to give us tasks only at the time when he was clear on priorities from wider (higher) perspective.
He always had time for us, also in personal matters. I remember one situation when a dispute brought me to tears. I do not remember the problem itself, but I exactly remember he noticed immediately and took me aside to talk. He spent nearly one hour with me to discuss about the issue, finding out facts and also “explaining” to me not to take it personally. He helped me remove the personal point from the problem, suggested solution and to come out as a winner. He did not hesitate to sacrifice one hour of his planned time for me.
He actively supported our development. When he saw someone needed to “move”, work on a new project out of his competence, he made it possible. He did not hesitate to change job descriptionsbased on actual situation. When someone from the team left, he first suggested internal person to be promoted before looking outside. He prefered also those team members, who did not have enough experience, because he knew their abilities and believed they could learn what was needed.
When I was writing my e-book 5star boss (sorry guys, only in czech for the moment) I thought of him a lot. As well as when I was in front of some critical situation in my own team, I often thought about how he would be reacting.
I wish there were more bosses like George. The bosses are so important in our lives, if they are aware of it or not. That is why I write about it. Lot of the skills for being a boss can be learned, you just need to have the teacher.
And what about your best boss? What was he great at?
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