Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bosses Don't Have to Suck, Part I

In honor of National Boss's Day on October 16, this two-part post is dedicated to the one boss I have had who knew how to be a great boss. Before I tell you about her, though, let me tell you about some bad bosses I have had.

Bad Boss #1 (not necessarily in order of appearance in my employment career): BB1 was the kind of person that makes you think she is evolved, fair-minded, even-handed, and capable, but if you get on the wrong side of her, you will quickly learn that you should not turn your back on her. She was also a lunatic.

Every year we planned and organized a huge fund-raising event. Everyone in the office had a role to play, but I was the lead staff member. On the night of the event, one of our staff members--I'll call her Monday--never showed up, and never called. We scrambled and re-assigned volunteers at the last minute to cover for her, and worried about her safety.

The following Monday, there was Monday, sitting at her desk, apparently oblivious to the inconvenience and concern she had caused. I asked her what happened, and she said she had gone to get her hair done, and it had taken longer than she had expected. By the time she was done, the event was mostly over.

As a white woman, I understand that I am almost completely clueless about the intricacies, politics, and meaning of a black woman's hair.

However. To blow off the biggest fund raising event of the year, planned months in advance, because you couldn't schedule your hair appointment around it? Unacceptable. I spoke to my colleague in an honest and respectful way, and she acknowledged my personal and professional disappointment and appropriately offered a heartfelt apology. We had a good relationship both before and after this incident.

But when I spoke to my boss about it later, she gave this jaw-droppingly lametastic, white-guilt-fueled response (slightly paraphrased): "Her behavior can be excused because of 400 years of oppression." She said I was wrong to call Monday on her lapse of judgment, and that I should have just let it go.

I...I...I got nothing.

BB1 eventually fired me, ostensibly because I was a poor writer, and dishonest. She took a sample of my writing to an editor-friend of hers, she said, and the editor-friend said it was filled with grammatical errors. She also accused me of trying to torpedo a direct mail campaign in order to make her look bad. I did have a hard time managing the direct mail project because we were rolling it out at the same time that I was dealing with a high risk pregnancy and the subsequent death of my daughter--but it doesn't even make sense to suggest that I would purposely fail at my own project, hurting myself and my own work record more than hers.

As I said: lunatic.

I think the real reasons she fired me were that a) I let her know that I felt that it would not be appropriate for a social service agency to receive funding from The Playboy Foundation; b) I questioned the methodology we used in creating budgets for proposals to make them look less like general operating requests and more like specific program requests; and c) I was starting a family.

Another bad boss was an incessant micro-manager who had a predilection for telling me not just what to do, but how to do it. She had the irritating habit of sending me emails saying, "Call me!" instead of picking up the phone and, well, calling me. Because of her borderline personality and bipolar disorder, her expectations and moods were constantly moving targets, and it was almost impossible to predict whether she would love me or hate me. It kind of depended on whether her other direct reports were in or out of favor at the moment.

At one point, I was venting to Dr. PS about the constantly frustrating and emotionally unstable work environment (at times, she literally danced on tables, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, there were times when she'd be sobbing in her office), and she gave me wise advice.

"You are dealing with too many borderline personalities," she said, mentioning a close friend and a family member who were both exacerbating my stress level. "You need to get rid of them." Well, I couldn't change families; and I didn't want to give up my job.

Fortunately, the friend took herself out of my life, and the situation with the family member subsided into occasional fits of dysfunction, so I was left only dealing with one borderline personality. Eventually, I traded up to the best boss ever--ME!-- and entered the (ahem) lucrative business of freelance writing.

Which I would not trade for a real job, even if said real job paid < Austin Powers voice >One Meellion Dollars < /Austin Powers voice>.

Unless Mr. Peevie insisted.

Which he wouldn't do because he loves me too much to want me to GO INSANE.

But I digress. Let me tell you about the really great boss, and what makes the really great boss really great.

Tomorrow. That will give you time to get out pencil and paper so you can take notes.


Anonymous said...

JRO: Whoa, that boss is NG!!! Here is why my boss is the best:
- she is smart, funny and insightful
- she supports me always
- she trusts and respects me
- if I make a mistake, she helps me evaluate and move forward, then offers me tea
- she helps me work through issues
- on her busiest days, she checks in with me to see if I have eaten lunch (and often offers to pick something up for me)
- she has excellent interpersonal skills (a true magician)
- she makes me laugh

E. Peevie said...

OMG, J-Ro. You ARE lucky. I wonder how many Green Room readers like and respect their bosses even half as much as you do yours.

I like the part about offering you tea after helping you recover from a mistake.