I’ve been a good boss for most of my career…but I was really lousy at it when I first started.
My first chance to step into a supervisory role was when I worked at the Jewish Community Center in Denver as their Children and Youth Director. I was in my early twenties…and I knew nothing about being a boss.
During the school year I ran children’s programs for kids in elementary school. Programs like vacation camps, before & after school programs and specialized classes like woodworking, and craft making on weekends. I had a small staff to actually teach/supervise kids in these programs (although I learned how to teach kids to build a mean birdhouse) but most of my responsibilities focused on the administrative side of the department. I wasn’t really anyone’s boss for these programs…I was more like a coordinator who ran around setting up rooms, printing out worksheets and making sure supplies were on hand.
During the summer months however, I was in charge of a 25 acre summer day camp, complete with a full swimming program, horseback riding, arts & crafts, music and tons of sports activities….and I had to supervise about 40 young college-aged staff who were counselors, wranglers, and program specialists for more than 200 campers.
It was during these summers that I discovered I knew nothing about being a boss. I could fill out P.O’s (purchase orders), work with the maintenance staff to get the facility in order, make sure we had all of the supplies we needed, and even figure out how to “lease” over 2 dozen horses for the season…but I had no idea what it meant to supervise or lead my staff through the course of a summer camp program.
I was terrible.
I thought the word “boss” meant that I had to “boss” everyone around! I yelled incessantly. I yelled at my staff, and I’m embarrassed to say…I also yelled at the kids.
I went through the summer yelling and bossing, and basically bullying everyone around to get them to do what I thought should be done.
I had no idea what it meant to actually be a boss…let alone, a good one.
And then I went to graduate school. I think it was there that I first began to learn new and effective ways to communicate. But it wasn’t until I left the JCC and started my own company and started to hire my own employees…that I started to really understand what it meant to be a boss.
I still had no idea what it meant to be a good boss…but at least I figured out that it wasn’t about yelling and bullying people to get what I wanted.
It was about leadership. About inspiring people to join me in whatever work needed to be done.
I realized after about a trillion mistakes, that being a boss wasn’t about proving that I was in charge. It was about leading the charge.
And that took time to learn.
It’s not something that I learned in graduate school however, because they don’t teach leadership in school. It was something I had to learn on my own and grow into overtime.
Moral of the story
Maybe we should teach leadership in school so that there will be a lot more good bosses out there.
2nd moral of the story
Maybe that’s something I should try to do at some point in the future…
I’ve never been a boss (officially, at least…), but I’ve had quite a few.
(One of them was my mother. That’s a different topic, though…)
I’ve had great bosses, and not so great bosses.
Bosses that I would consider friends (and family) (though I don’t “consider” my mom family… I’m sorta stuck with her…), and bosses that I’ve damned to hell (NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU, MOM).
Bosses that have inspired and encouraged me, and bosses that have scared me and made me cry in the bathroom.
(This makes it sound like I’ve had a lot more jobs than I have.)
What sets the “good” bosses apart from the “not-so-good” ones?
First, it’s the way they lead. What they do to motivate, inspire, and get shit done. The good bosses that I’ve had have made me WANT to go to work and WANT to do a good job. Because my boss made me happy to be a good employee, to go above and beyond, and to make them proud. Good bosses encourage you, and you’re better because of it.
Next, it’s the way that they manage. A good boss clearly tells you what they want from you (COMMUNICATION), what is expected, and then they let you do it. They guide, they don’t push. They allow you to do your job, because they have enough faith in your ability to do it. If you get off track, they’re watching close enough to catch it and get you back on track, but they don’t look over your shoulder all of the time, or berate you when you mess up. I think this is probably one of the hardest things for managers (in any capacity) to do, but the good bosses I’ve had have this skill down.
Last, it’s the atmosphere that they encourage and cultivate. A good boss finds the balance between working and getting things done, and having a good time. If you walk into a place and see people smiling or laughing while they’re working, it’s probably because the boss encourages that. And I don’t know about you, but I love going to a business that’s full of people that actually look like they want to be there. When there’s a boss that pushes for a positive and inspiring work environment, work is done faster and better.
At the end of the day, work is WORK, and a good boss can make all the difference between a job that’s meaningful, or one that makes you want to poke your own eye out with the corner of your pay stub…
(It’s worth noting that most jobs make you want to do BOTH of those things, but if you have a good boss, then it’s a lot easier to show up after those eye-poking days…)