I recently sent a thank you note to a boss that I had back in 1995. I’ve had good bosses since then, but this particular person stands out as Number One for me. Working for him was an amazing learning experience, and when I reflect back on that time, I can readily say that what I learned from him I later used with my own teams.
What makes him rise to the top of my list? Here are three top-of-mind things that he taught me (from among the many I could mention):
- Notice strength. My favorite boss gave me my first managerial role; he believed in me, taking a risk when he put me in the tenuous position of managing my peers. I remember my first performance appraisal that year and, although he didn’t give me the highest rating (it was my first year, after all), he did share with me what he saw as my strengths. He told me, for example, that I was highly adaptable—“chameleon-like,” I recall him saying—and he explained that my adaptability enabled me to work with a wide range of people and types. I guess I probably knew that, intuitively, but it was the first time anyone had made it explicit. I remember thinking, “I need to notice my employees’ strengths and let them know.”
- Honor and respect others’ time. My favorite boss used a now-common rule that he was quite the stickler about: show up to meetings on time or pay a dollar. He did not abide disrespecting others’ time and, slowly at first, we all fell in line. (Those dollars add up!) Whenever people began to treat the rule lightly, he would re-declare his expectations, letting everyone know that respect goes both ways, that we were models for the rest of the company, and that respect, overall, is a rule that will not be broken. (By the way, we didn’t use the money for a round of beer on a Friday afternoon. Instead, we donated it to charity.)
- Change is good. We worked in a software company that was way behind the times. The programs ran on green-screen monitors, ones that required our customers to enter data into “fields” and use the tab key—a lot. The idea of using a mouse was unthought of. And we were not only in the dark ages of computer software—we still used memos and voicemail to communicate. No email. My favorite boss changed all that. He declared an end to R&D’s ivory-tower attitude, and told everyone that we’d be redeveloping our current system with a graphical- user interface (GUI) that would allow our customers more flexibility and would enable us to develop upgrades more efficiently. Not everyone was happy about the announced changes. Many stayed (despite some kicking and screaming), while others left. For those of us who remained, we learned that when an organization allows itself to think differently and to try something new, amazing things can happen.
So, for all my other bosses out there, I learned a great deal from you, as well.
But for my most favorite boss I’d like to say, again: Thank You.