Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bosses Don't Have to Suck, Part II

Read Part I here.

It took five jobs, seven bosses, and 18 years--but I finally landed a boss that knew how to lead, motivate, manage, and inspire. I would follow her to the ends of the earth, professionally. If you are a boss, and you are not sure if your direct reports would describe you this way (or you're pretty sure they wouldn't!), here's your chance to pick up some pointers.

In the four-plus years that I worked for DellaRella, I never felt anxious about unreasonable or unclear expectations; I never worried that I would be treated unfairly; I never felt the need to vent about the ridiculous antics or seditious attacks of a demented supervisor. Instead, I always knew and understood the expectations and timelines of my work tasks, and if I ran into trouble, I knew I could go to her and she would help me figure out a solution.

In our first telephone conversation, before we had met in person, DellaRella used some jargony-type language that instantly raised red flags; so I went into the interview wondering if this would be another in a long line of double-speaking Animal Farm-esque manipulators. (Yes, I am very quick on the draw with the Harsh and the Judgy. I'm working on it.) We worked out a contract arrangement, and I started working for her as a part-time independent contractor.

My initial doubts proved unfounded. Instead of finding myself in a position of linguistic and professional superiority, I discovered that rarest of breeds: a boss both knowledgeable and humble, both able to lead and willing to learn, having both personal warmth and professional boundaries. She was confident, but not arrogant. She was smart and experienced, but not a know-it-all.

I pinched myself often.

I did my best work while I was reporting to DellaRella, and here's why. She

  1. Had clear and reasonable expectations.
  2. Met with me often to check in on work in progress and adjust goals.
  3. Carefully and thoroughly planned the entire year, with input from her whole team.
  4. Allowed me to make mistakes, and worked with me to fix them.
  5. Encouraged me frequently.
  6. Gave me the support and resources I needed to get my work done. I didn't have to ask twice.
  7. Modeled a healthy work/personal life balance.
  8. Was reflective about her own strengths and weaknesses.
  9. Never spoke disrespectfully to me.
  10. Carried the burden of responsibility for a large office herself, but generously shared the credit for success with the team.

It wasn't just me who tightly bonded with DellaRella. Everyone who worked with her felt the same way--even when DR called them on the carpet.

"I can't be mad at her!" her assistant said to me once. "She's very tough on me--but she's right. I screwed up."

DellaRella has moved on to another life in another state--but if I got a call from her today asking me to work with her, I would not hesitate. And once I signed on to her project, I'd make sure that I exceeded her expectations--because a boss like that inspires you to not disappoint.

So here's my challenge to you bosses out there: Examine your boss-style honestly. Do you inspire DellaRella-esque loyalty among your team members?

It's something to aim for.


DWM1034 said...

Jeez........DellaRella.......let me think..........hmmmmmmmmmmm....no, don't tell me........

E. Peevie said...

Yes, DW, you guessed it. Ever had a boss like that?