Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Best Boss I've Ever Had

Actually, I’ve had two best bosses. Except one wasn’t a boss.

I had just graduated from college and joined the staff of the Beaumont, Texas, Enterprise as a copy editor. My “welcome to your new job” consisted of “here’s your chair and typewriter, and here are three pages for layout; don’t forget the headlines.” Today it would be called total immersion.

The staff seemed nice enough but was too busy to worry the new kid. When I had my pages done and headlines written, I rather tentatively asked where I should take them. “To the back shop,” was the reply. I did find the back shop, and then returned to my desk to find more pages waiting.

When it was dinnertime (which we called lunch, because our day began at 3 p.m. for the morning paper), one of the copy desk members – the guy designated as No. 2 – walked to where I was sitting and asked me to come to lunch with him.

His name was Richard, and he was about 12 years older than I was. He wasn’t my boss, but he did what a boss should – helped me learn the ropes. At dinner, and we had lots of dinners together, he told me about the paper, what to do and what to avoid, what reporters were totally reliable and what reporters weren’t, what to expect from my fellow copy desk editors, sources I could use to verify information.

I knew him for six weeks. One day he told me he was giving notice and going to one of the newspapers in Dallas. But the time he spent investing in me for those six weeks helped me – and the newspaper – enormously. Because six weeks after that, because of staff turnover, the new kid had become the new No. 2, and effectively No. 1 because No. 1 had a drinking problem.

Fast forward 10 years. I was working in St. Louis, and had just been promoted to a new position in a business division. My boss, a guy named Tom, was totally straightforward: “You should know what you’re doing. If you don’t, ask. If I’m not around, do what you think is best. If you make a mistake, I’ll tell them I authorized it.”

Then he threw me into the pool. And I figured out how to swim. He was always around with a life preserver if I needed it.

He was much like Richard at the Enterprise. Tom had been a reporter for years before becoming a PR guy, and he and Richard shared that no-nonsense, damn-the-torpedoes-full-steam-ahead attitude. I worked for Tom for a year until they transferred him into the corporate division.

Both Tom and Richard knew how to enchant employees. They certainly enchanted me, and made an enormous impact on my professional life.

Over at The High Calling, we’re reading Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. This week’s discussion is on “How to Use Pull Technology” and “How to Enchant Your Employees.” To see more posts on the book, please visit The High Calling.


David Rupert said...

I think its amazing that time and again, those "trusting managers" get the most productivity. And yet, somehow, a guy puts a tie and he thinks just the opposite will get him ahead of the game. This was a great story.

Sheila said...

This story is inspiring. Thanks for enchanting me with it!

I'm going to be thinking more about how much I can invest in the people who report to me.

Megan Willome said...

My boss has trusted me in the same sink-or-swim way: "Hey, we need you to do a column--it's your real estate." And a little later, "Hey, we need you to be the editor--you have good instincts and you can learn the rest."

Louise Gallagher said...

FAbulous story Glynn -- I was enchanted throughout it!

Michael Dodaro said...

Often enough there is somebody who cares about getting the work done right, who will cut the crap and tell you what you need to know. Usually these people know that the work itself is only half of the job.

Laura said...

Isn't it amazing how we remember these people through the years? It struck me that you only knew Richard for six weeks, yet he made such an impact on you that all these years later he came to mind when considering the best boss.That's pretty neat.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling about the two great examples. What they did is truly an amazing way to take someone under their wing.

Thanks, too, for making my day with Saturday Good Reads. (I had read some of those already---they are good.)

Anonymous said...

Those guys sound great. I think Tom felt he could leave because he had invested so deeply in you. And I love that he was cared enough to teach you even though it wasn't his job. Great stories, Glynn!

H. Gillham said...

I actually love the technique of total immersion because it shows what a person has. When I was student teaching, my supervising teacher was there for two days before she went down with an illness that took her from the classroom for six weeks. [Olden days --- didn't matter that I was unsupervised -- I breathed and showed up for work..LOL]

I learned to be a teacher pretty quickly.

Great experience.

I also stepped up once to mentor a new teacher who was left hanging by the division head -- he wasn't making it and needed guidance.

Hard to know which is best. Depends on the animal, perhaps?

I can tell you have a journalistic background -- it's your frugal style. Effective, I might add. :)

Anonymous said...

I think of those kind of people as having pastoral hearts, even if they wouldn't think of themselves as doing ministry.