Friday, October 16, 2009

It's National Boss's Day

t may surprise you to learn that National Boss's Day originated here in Illinois in the ancient year of 1958. The woman behind the idea was trying to honor her father, who just happened to also be her boss.

It's a holiday that clearly excludes the unemployed. Today I am neither a boss, as I once was, nor do I have a boss. (Well, I suppose the government is my boss, which in turn makes every American my boss, but I'd prefer not to think about my circumstances that way right now if you don't mind.) However, as a member of the jobless ranks, rather than honoring a boss I may or may not have any respect for, I am free to simply reflect on the bosses I've had.

For some reason, most of the jobs I've held have been in small, family-owned companies. That should give you an idea of the dysfunction levels I've dealt with over the years.

I've answered to a family member (or several) and I've been mandated to hire family members (or their latest paramours or distant cousins or in-laws).

The Respected Tyrant
I had a boss for whom I had great respect in spite of his tyranny (if he walked past your desk while the phone was ringing and you failed to answer by the third ring, he'd yank the phone from the wall and your name from the org chart) and odd instructions (every switchboard operator had to sound like a phone-sex provider—he wanted customers to feel like they'd just had an orgasm before they got transferred to their brokers). He made a ton of money and he shared it with every employee. He rewarded every great idea he heard no matter who had it—gave credit where it was deserved.

The Thoughtless Leader
My next boss made me aware of what leadership really is. He wasn't aware he was doing this and had no intention of doing it, largely because he was a terrible boss. He found reasons to fire people or cut their hours if they used their health insurance for a surgery or cancer treatments. He allowed customers to scream expletives at his employees. Though he was visionary in purchasing the newest technology and selling its services to customers, he refused to spend money training employees on how to use the technology (thus disappointing customers and blaming workers for their failures).

The Accidental Sexist
I had a boss whom I liked very much though he had a bad habit of making decisions "on the fly" about my division—without including me in the discussion. Many of the discussions took place in the men's restroom—not by design, just by happenstance. I wasn't happy about this but couldn't seem to get my point across. So my husband, who at the time was creating props for Steppenwolf Theatre Company, handily sculpted a large, wooden cock for me so that I could be included in "The Boys' Club." I didn't make a big deal about it. My desk was just outside the men's restroom, so all I had to do was display my new appendage on my cubicle wall for it to draw attention. Curiously, the women loved it; the men got squeamish and embarrassed and could hardly look at it (regardless of their sexual orientation). My point was made.

"A leader is a dealer in hope."
—Napoleon Bonaparte

The Best
My last boss (who was not, by the way, responsible for my layoff) is one of the nicest human beings ever to grace the Earth. He's honest, positive, accessible, funny, understands numbers, shows compassion; he was the social glue that held our division together and best of all, he officiated at my office wedding. Need I say more? (Well, yeah, I probably do. But my wedding details will have to wait for a future post.) The owner of the company restructured my division after my departure and never understood the value of my boss, never let my boss use his strengths on the job. It's the company's loss.

Being a good boss is hugely challenging—and rewarding. It's a colossal responsibility because of how much time people spend at work. Which is why I believe the books and newsletters I produced with my staff were meaningful: We taught people how to be better bosses—not just for the sake of a company's profitability, but for the sake of every life they touched. Being a boss is about more than business. It's about humanity.

For my bosses who were true leaders, I salute you on this special holiday.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...