I’ve had several good bosses in my career, a couple of great ones and a few who were outstanding. They knew how to provide leadership, focus and guidance to their staff. My average was probably no better nor any worse than anybody else who has been in the work force for any length of time. Luck of the draw some would call it.
Then there were those bad bosses.
I actually think the more valuable life lessons came from the adversity they brought to my life. Their number isn’t large but I’ve learned something from each and every one of them. Mind you they weren’t doing me any favors. I just grabbed their lemons and made nectar with it.
Boss # 1
It all started in Seventh grade with my first job; a paper route. We were just a bunch of hungry young entrepreneurial seventh and eighth graders working our first real job. They said we were in the newspaper business.
I thought no, I was earning money for high school and my frequent jaunts to DQ. That’s the only reason I was willing to get up at 4:30 in the morning when it was twenty below zero and don my rubber galoshes just to get a newspaper to some old retiree who had to have on his paper by 6:00am because he had nothing else going on in his life.
Our boss was a twenty-something wise ass who drove a brand new convertible and loved to catch us at the newspaper drop for a quick lecture and hard driving sales pitch. He sounded like some gravelly-throated football coach when he spoke. He’d remind us that his next raise depended on our reaching a certain sales quota. His words fell on deaf ears.
If you’re going to try to rally the tiny troopers, know your audience. He never understood that meeting his goals wasn’t a priority when homework and being home before dark took precedence over his corporate aspirations. Our boss never understood seventh grade enticements. Hint, it wasn’t earning points for a trip to the Dells.
Lessons Learned: Treat everyone with respect, even kids. They’re people too. And some of them are smarter than you are!
Bosses # 2
The Army had a plethora of good and bad leaders, none stood out. Even the obligatory hard ass drill sergeant and sloth in olive drab were just doing their jobs. I learned early on that if you did your job and didn’t cause a problem, things would work out just fine.
Being invisible in a sea of khaki isn’t a bad thing. It gives you time for the more import-ant things in life instead of KP or guard duty.
Lessons Learned: Be a leader yourself before asking others to follow you. Lead by example. Oh, and keep your mouth shut.
Boss # 3
One of my early bosses was a station manager, a pillar in his community, a deacon in his church and a racist. His façade has been honed and tempered by his all white high school and private college that feed his misguided beliefs. He truly believed in the superiority of the white race and didn’t mince words (in private) about it. His God was not color-blind.
I was embarrassed and saddened to hear him ramble on about those people. He also wasn’t much partial to Yankees, East Coast Types, and of course, those folks out West who were just plain nuts. Women didn’t fare much better with him either.
Lessons Learned: Look beyond your small world to the larger world beyond. Don’t let religion blind you to what is fair and just.
Boss # 4
The old man, dressed in a younger man’s skin, was 25 years old. 25 going on 65. His attitude, demeanor and state of mind had calcified well beyond his physical years. He should have been a monk in medieval times. It would have suited him much better.
His idea of fairness was couched in a sanctimonious, haughty attitude that he somehow had a closer tie-in with God. He wasn’t a priest but he should have been. He thought his ticket said: ‘Heaven, non-stop.’ He misread it. In fact, he was just a minion and a puppet to the powers to be who also thought they had a straight shot up to heaven.
Lessons Learned: Open your mind to new thoughts and ideas. Your providence is much too small to help you make good value judgments. Either that or join the cloisters.
Boss # 5
Stumpy had a Napoleonic complex; loved creating his own crisis environment at every opportunity, was paranoid beyond belief and probably the most unstable person I’ve ever had to work for. I did learn to take copious notes while working for him. He loved to grill me on the tiniest of details and would pursue his questioning until he could catch me on some minor error or misstep. Then he delighted in correcting me and praising himself for his intuitive nature.
He once spent an hour and a half after work chewing me out for my shortcomings he’d documented over six months. Must have been a slow night for him at home. It was his idea of an exercise in humiliation. But I was the one feeling sorry for that pathetic excuse for a human being sitting across from me that night.
Lessons Learned: Get psychological help for your boss (or yourself) if possible. And take very good notes.
Boss # 6
Moneybags was a corporate wannabe who never quite made the grade. His idea of fairness was to make sure he always ended up on top. If I reached my financial goal for the year, he got a bonus. If I didn’t make my goal for the year, he still got his bonus.
It was win-win for him and win / lose for his associates. Hardly seemed fair. Especially when he didn’t support me in attaining my goals. I once made a huge sale the last month of our fiscal year. So he promptly upped my goal for the year by the exactly amount I had just brought in. Thus effectively erasing what would have been a substantial gain over my stated goal. His reasoning…he thought it came too easily to me, ignoring the fact that I’d been working with that client for almost a year to land the contract.
Lessons Learned: If you accept the title and take the money, do what your title entails even if you don’t like to do it. Or don’t pretend to be a boss when you’re not up to it.
But there’s a happy ending to this story.
I got fired.
There have been several turning points in my life. This was certainly one of them.
Whether it was age discrimination as I still suspect or just internal politics (another very real possibility) it was my very good fortune to be fired without explanation. It was to change my life. My wife’s response (and I’ll always love her for it) was very simple: “Good, now you can spend more time with your kids and focus on your business.”
Less than four years later, my son was accepted into Notre Dame and I had increased our net worth four fold. And I was making more money in my own business than I had at my old job. Good fortune can come in very strange packages.
Boss # 7
Being self-employed meant long hours working for myself. I was probably harder on me than any other boss I ever had. The old adage that you are your own boss is totally wrong. Everyone else is your boss. But I was lucky. I had some wonderful clients, great projects to work on, and thoroughly enjoyed working with my daughter as host of my cable series.
Lessons Learned: Attention to marketing is as important as doing the job itself. I’m learning that now as I struggle with finding the time to write new material while focusing on my own program of self-promotion.
Bosses # 8
Frick and Frack presented a good opportunity for me to gain a steady client on a yearly contract. But along with it came many challenges.
Frick was a eunuch. He was scared to death of making decisions that might offend anyone, anyplace, at any time. So he constantly played it safe. Any idea I might bring to the table was immediately shot down because it might somehow offend someone someplace.
Frack was an appendage. He thought he had all the answers but wasn’t smart enough to know any of the questions. He told me how to do my job at every opportunity he could. I had seen his work. He had nothing to talk about.
Lessons Learned: The eunuch should have grown the courage to do his job instead of relying on others to tell him how to do it. The appendage is still an anal retentive sad sack whose grasp of the world evolves around many visits to the mirror to assure himself that he was a winner. Only losers do that.
My good fortune was to get so fed up with the antics of those two bobble-heads that I quit working for them. Another turning point in my life.
A day after “What now?” I began my new career as a writer.