9 Lessons I Never Forgot from the Best Boss I Ever Had
I spend a lot of time these days thinking about good and bad bosses. I've been crisscrossing the country this year teaching leadership workshops to frontline managers and when you do this kind of work, you can't help but reflect on your own personal experiences. My mind often lands on one particular boss, who happened to be my first boss right out of college. The leadership lessons I learned from him still affect me deeply today. I hope they inspire you to reach out and thank an old boss. Or to incorporate some of these lessons into your own management approach.
1) He demanded excellence - My manager had high standards for everyone on the team and communicated his expectations clearly. He was clear about his vision for our department and was equally clear that anyone that couldn't (or wouldn’t) support that vision wouldn't last long. Because he conveyed those high standards with an equally high degree of empathy, his expectations inspired us to do our best.
2) He pushed me WAY outside of my comfort zone - My boss was supremely good at recognizing hidden potential in others and pushing them hard to do their best. He himself was a fearless risk taker which made him the perfect coach for pushing others. With his support, I took on challenges that most of my peers weren't tackling yet and my career accelerated quickly. And because I never wanted to let him down, I said "yes" to any project he put me on no matter how scared it made me (and I was plenty scared).
3) He oozed passion for what he did - I've never met another manager that had as much passion and enthusiasm as he had. And when you work for a boss with that kind of zeal and optimism, it rubs off on you. He was "all in" and so we in turn were "all in", too. It made for a very high performing team at the time. His commitment to success was less about him and more about creating something special in our organization. His selfless approach to leadership combined with his endless amounts of energy and optimism created a loyal following. 4) He challenged my negative self-talk - In the early days of my career, I suffered a lot with Imposter Syndrome. As a baby-faced new college graduate standing just over 5 feet tall, I struggled to get company stakeholders (old enough to be my parents) to take me seriously. I worked very hard to establish the credibility I needed despite my age and stature. When I did succeed at something, he never let me deflect credit or claim it was "just luck". He was quick to point out that my accomplishments were hard-won and deserved.
5) He was invested in me - My boss initiated many regular career discussions with me outside of the annual performance appraisal period. He was a catalyst for my learning and development and asked me regularly what I wanted to do short and long term and how he could help me get there. And he taught me the importance of creating your own opportunities. The first pieces of writing that I ever published were because he suggested we co-write something and pitch it to a professional newsletter.
6) He helped me make connections - I remember one day when my boss went out of his way to introduce me to the global CEO of our business (who only came to the U.S. several times a year) and told her what a great job I was doing. He didn't have to do that and it meant a lot to me. He was always quick to connect me to important people in the company.
7) He trusted me - When I think back to the time we worked together, one single phrase he often used stands out more than anything else: "I trust you implicitly." From early on, he let me know he trusted my judgment and approach on things and I knew that even if things went awry, he'd have my back. Having that kind of trust and autonomy was extremely motivating and increased my job engagement.
8) He taught me the importance of a professional brand - Somewhere around the year 2000, my boss handed me a copy of management guru Tom Peter's book "The Brand You 50" and told me to read it. We spent many conversations discussing the importance of my professional brand and ways I could cultivate it. Because of him, to this day, I go into every professional interaction with my brand in mind.
9) He set a great example of work-life balance - The only thing my boss loved more than his work was his family. Even though he worked harder than most anyone I had ever met, he never lost sight of what really mattered - his wife and (at that time), four small kids. He respected his employee's personal lives, too, and would stand by our desks at the end of each day and pester us to go home, encouraging us that the work could wait until tomorrow but our families couldn't.
Perhaps the best thing about great bosses is that your relationship with them transcends the workplace. Even though he and I haven't officially worked together for many years, he has remained a constant cheerleader and trusted mentor as my career has taken various twists and turns. In that way, great leadership truly is a gift that keeps on giving.