Lessons learned from my best bosses

A good boss can really make a difference in your job and career. I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some terrific people, who really understand the right way to motive people. Here are a few characteristics:

Be a regular guy (or gal)
I worked for a VP who may be the best motivator I’ve ever met. Despite being a very smart guy, he’s also perhaps the most down-to-earth person I’ve known, and he truly cared about his people. Better yet, his philosophy was to set a vision, then “get out of the way” and let his staff make it happen. And, when our unit succeeded (which was quite often), he was very quick to redirect praise away from himself to the team.

Trust staff to do their job
I was a few days into a new communications job when my boss told me “You’re the expert. It’s my job to support you.”  Wow. Talk about trust and making me feel really good about my work. I’ll never forget that.

Positive feedback works wonders
One of my favorite supervisors completely understood the value of positive feedback. The performance appraisals she wrote were incredibly thorough, and included many examples of my good work throughout the year (she regularly listed things I’d forgotten). If something didn’t go well, she provided honest and candid feedback, but was always encouraging.

Focus on the mission
Whenever I found myself scratching my head over the goings on at one job, my boss would remind me of our mission, and the positive impact the organization had on our community. It kept me grounded when things around me seemed off the mark.

‘Got your back’
I’ve been fortunate to work for three or four bosses who served as a buffer between our team and senior leaders. They sang our team’s praises when we did well, and stood by us when we made mistakes. Good support from leaders is particularly important in a field like communications, where you often make decisions based on your experience, instincts, and gut feelings, and second-guessing can hurt the end product.

Learn from mistakes
This is a corollary to the previous item. Having a supportive boss gives staff the confidence to take calculated risks, rather than playing it too safe. Someone once said if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. A good boss understands that and supports you through thick and thin.

It’s about relationship
As the saying goes, you do get more flies with honey than vinegar. Build relationships, and work together. This is especially important in fields where you generally lack formal authority over those you interact with, and have to rely on influencing without clout. One director taught me the end result isn’t as important as the process and the relationships within a project team. I’ve found that this view pays off in the long run, as the bridges you build today help you meet goals tomorrow.

Lead by example
I spent nearly 15 years at L.L.Bean, a company that does the vast majority of its business during the holiday shopping season. During “Peak”, leaders from throughout the organization — including the CEO — leave their job and spend time helping customers in the store, answering phone orders, picking and packing items in the Distribution Center, and more.  Staff appreciate that. Read my blog, 9 things L.L.Bean taught me

Think outside of the box
Times change, and it’s important to keep up with new practices and technology. Years ago, when newsletters were the primary communication vehicle in Corporate America, I was hired to develop visual communication tools, ranging from video kiosks to splashy photographic wall displays. My boss was a visionary. Unfortunately, two months after I joined the department she resigned, but we were able to continue forward with some of her ideas.

Your turn…. What lessons did you learn from your best bosses?

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