Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: The Good Boss

Today's Guest Blogger is Jenny Hamilton. Jenny is a Senior Attorney.  Like many of you that follow us, she migrated from a different region for career opportunities, and successfully managed to create a life for herself where she currently resides in the Midwest with her attorney husband and two kids. Jenny has a certain flair that breeds leadership and many connect with her immediately. We hope you enjoy learning more about Jenny through her blog as much as we did. If you want to learn more about Jenny, you can follow her at jennyhamiltonstyle.com.

Bosses are like teachers.  Forgetting the mediocre, even much of the bad, the best ones stick with you for a lifetime. My favorite teacher, Mr. Jim Kelly, was very strange.  In part, it was our small, fifth-grade mind, and in part, he had a wife that lived in a different country and a collection of small Japanese carved figures, or netsukes.

We may have learned some math and English that year, but I remember the culture units: medieval, Asian, art, Easter, etc.  We cooked stir fry, made Faberge eggs, reproduced famous works or art, and created battle plans.  The final unit was a culture that we had to create.  My group named itself the “Weebees”, and we lived under water.

Every six weeks, we would change our desk configuration.  We could do our work in the hallway against the wall.  And I made straight As on a regular basis.

My favorite boss was also remarkable. His office was filled with Elvis memorabilia, including a life size cut-out of Vegas Elvis. I spent a lot of time gazing at Elvis clocks and velvet Elvis paintings while we talked about work and personal development. 

Dan was also hands-off.  He was next door, but I didn’t talk to him every day.  I might not talk to him every week.  He didn’t hassle me over a comma or period.  But he was very interested in making me a better employee.  If he thought a comma or period would have made a difference in a winning argument, he would – in a gentle way – let me know.

I can go on.  I have had a lot of great bosses, teacher, and mentors.  But what I have learned about the good people in authority can be summed up in 10 key points:

1. Good bosses weather the storm. 

Managing is hard, particularly middle management, which is probably where your boss is.  All day, every day, these bosses have upper management beating down on them and their reports laying woes at their feet.  They are like the peanut butter and jelly part of the sandwich that has been squished in a back pack all morning.  Still, the peanut butter and jelly don’t exactly mix.  There are two different agendas and a good boss is trying to meet them both. 

2. Good bosses want to be better bosses.

A lot of people are put in managerial roles because they were good at what they did.  So they deserved a promotion.  And that often entails responsibility for managing others.  But, no one necessarily teaches a person in authority how to manage.  And some are naturally better at it than others.   Cut them some slack, and teach them how to lead you.  Ask them for what you want or need and continue to drip on them (respectfully and with good timing).

3. Even good bosses are inconsistent.

People tend to manage others how they like to be managed.  And the employee either likes to be managed the same way or does not.  I like the hands-off manager.  So, I think Jim and Dan were great.  But, I have also heard that Jim Kelly wasn’t so popular with other classes.  Sometimes, you land on a good fit.  Sometimes, you don’t.

4. Good bosses develop their people professionally. 

It’s not just about title and pay. For good employees, development hides a multitude of sins.  Way back, when I left an employment situation, I told the HR manager that a company had to do only one of two things to keep me.  They could pay me really really well or teach me some skills so I can develop professionally.  I told the manager that, theoretically, they could do both, but really, they only had to do one. 

5. Good bosses communicate the bad news in a really good way. 

Dan was the master at focusing on strengths and giving his reports the benefit of the doubt.  That came through in his communication and made his critiques softer, more palatable.  Criticism, in particular is hard to take; it requires a report to spend time internalizing a negative in a way that is consistent with their (generally positive) view of themselves.  Feeding the information in a way that assists the report through this process is a rare and powerful move.

6.  Good bosses don’t motivate people.

A good boss knows that they key is to hire people who are highly capable, highly motivated and have goals that are the same as the unit’s goal. That’s why my class did well with Jim Kelly, and Dan had a great team.

7. Good bosses spend most of their time managing upward and outside their unit.

To manage effectively, the good boss has to get the resources that assist their reports in doing their jobs and makes rewards available to them.  This requires spending time thinking about how to market the strengths of their team.  Don’t resent this shift in focus.  It has important returns.

8. Good bosses have to accurately forecast the future.

They have to focus their attention on what the upper levels want done and on actions that increase the unit’s value to the company and/or help the unit grow.  And a particularly good boss needs to talk with their reports about the forecast; to ask them if it makes sense. What do they see happening?

9. Good bosses need to make an effort to know about their reports families to carry on a cocktail conversation about what is going on.            

I will never forget the moment I saw Dan dropping a donation into a small wooden box at my nephew’s funeral.  That was early on in my employment, when we didn’t know each other that well.  And every time I think about it, I realize how deeply Dan cared about what was going on in our personal lives.  Dan was a great listener, and as one of his dear colleagues once said, many times, listening is the best response a boss can give you. 

10.  Good bosses have good reports. 

Not every report can effectively cope with a Good Boss.  Some reports are so focused on what’s in it for them that they don’t recognize the larger value the good boss has to offer.  The fact is that a good report has to give more than they expect to get.  Otherwise, the organization is doomed.

What else does a good report do?  They have to advertise that their actions are consistent with what the boss wants to do.  If there is a constant power struggle, then the report loses.  That’s the way hierarchy works.

I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet.  But I like to reflect on these memories as little gifts.  Gifts I hope to give others some day.  Thank you, Jim.  Thank you, Dan.  Thank you to all of the good teachers and bosses out there.  Your legacy does live on.

Jenny Hamilton

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Amazingly Written.... I couldn't agree with you more Jenny!! And having an employee like you, who understands all of this, would be invaluable!!!!