The other night I got thinking about all the bosses I had over my lifetime of employment. I am grateful to be retired and not have some boss deciding my fate, what I get paid, how I do my work, what I need to change about me, or even covering for their ineptitude. Every boss I worked for was far different from the other, but I can count on one hand the really good ones. That is kind of sad, because I know that on the whole, people leave their jobs because of their manager. It is sad to see so many bad managers out there who have no clue.
One of my early jobs was when I first became a single mom. I was at a school soccer game watching my little one play, and one of the moms came up to me. She said she heard I was looking for a job, and her husband had just started a business with two partners and they needed an office manager.
I took the job working for Sid, Ted, and Frank.* They were an odd combination of partners. Sid was the professional one who had come from a sales position. Ted and Frank were from the repair part of the business. They repaired computers. Ted started his career out in a typewriter factory, and now had moved to be a “board swapper” in the early days of computers. Sid would sell the company a maintenance plan for their computers. All these customers were Savings & Loans. Ted would swap out a bad board for a good board in the computer, so there was as little down time as possible. Then there was Frank. He was a country boy teddy bear, but he was a brilliant electronics technician. The bad board would be delivered to the office, and Frank would make the needed repairs so it could be used in a future swap.
I set up all their office procedures, and did their bookkeeping. As they opened new branches on the east coast, I would work with the branch manager to set up his procedures and documents to be consistent with our home office. I was there about three years, and loved the independence I had in the job and the ability to create procedures and documents. Work was getting busier and busier by the day. I could use some help but didn’t think we needed more than a part time person. Sid, Ted, and Frank went on a search for help for the front office. Well, they really didn’t search. They called an old friend, an older lady (to me back then) who had worked with them at their previous company. They called me into the office one day to inform me that they had found me help. Okay, it wasn’t really help. This lady, Hilda* (she even had an old lady name), said she would take the job if she was made the office manager. Oh, yeah, and if they put a stove in the break room, she would cook fresh lunches for everyone. Really? They just hired a mom, and demoted me as child. Hilda would tell me daily what good work I did at setting up these procedures and documents She didn’t change a thing I did, but she took over and I was now her underling. Time to go . . . .
My next job I found through a friend of this trio bad bosses. He told me about a company that was hiring all the “secretaries” from his company that was shutting down. It was a large coal company moving some of their business to the midwest. I got hired as the secretary of the Vice President of Finance. Kurt* was only 33 years old, and had moved himself with his wife and baby from Portland, Oregon, from where the majority of the executives where transferring to St. Louis. Kurt had two rules for me. As I came into the office at 8:00 a.m., I was to have on his desk for his arrival at 8:30 a.m., a fresh pot of coffee and the Wall Street Journal. Kurt was a tyrant. The job was pretty boring. The only work I really had to do was answer his phone, and monthly put together the financial spreadsheet—oh yeah, and do the coffee and newspaper thing daily. This was before Excel. I was working on a Wang computer. This computer was actually a word processor. As I was not busy most of the day, I became quite proficient, and started programming my own forms. I actually made a document for our monthly spreadsheet. It was a lot of macros, that filled in the column headings, and then would stop where I had to input data. It would then automatically move to the next spot to continue data input. This program worked like clockwork, and the headquarters in Portland heard about it. They called me and asked if they could publish in the “Secretaries” newsletter how to set up this program. I still have a copy of that newsletter that shares this program with the other secretaries.
Kurt was not well liked by anyone in the finance and accounting department. He was a little boy in a big boy’s job. He would yell at people and put them down. People worked well when he was not around. Even the Director of Accounting would make the rounds of his area to announce that Kurt was coming into the area, so that the accountants would act like little robots rather than people. One time Kurt came to my desk and asked for his phone messages that he received while he was out to lunch. Remember those little pink slips of paper, “While You Were Out” that were used to record phone messages? I told him he didn’t have any messages. He got mad and yelled at me. He said I was not writing down his messages or I was throwing them away. I so wanted to tell him that no one liked him and did whatever they could not to call him! I was wise—I kept my mouth shut!
One day I made my way to Human Resources and asked if there was any other department where I could work. I had my fill of this little boy spoiled executive. They had an open position in our Administration department. This is where all facilities functions and purchasing occurred. It was a fun and friendly department. We worked hard, and we partied hard. This midwest branch of the coal company was very profitable. Every time we had a great month, the CEO would tell us to plan a party. We catered in food and alcohol. We hired a temp to come in and answer the phones, and at about 3:30 in the afternoon, the whole company stopped work and celebrated.
Prices for coal was high and our group landed several lucrative contracts with large corporations and government operations. One day the whole administration department was called into Human Resources. The director informed us that the state of Wisconsin had just sued us over their coal contract. Prices of coal had fallen, and Wisconsin wanted out of their long term contract. They took the 1.5 million dollars they owed the company, put it in special account held by the bank while they sued. All of a sudden we had a money problem. Cash is king, and our cash was sitting in an account that could not be touched until the lawsuit was settled. The coal company laid off our whole department. Our work would transfer back to the headquarters in Oregon. I was in shock. None of us had jobs the next day. What was I to do? I had just started going back to school to get my MBA, and this company paid the tuition in advance. According to their promissory note, I owed the money back if I did not complete or pass the class, or if I left their employment. I was majorly panicked. The director asked that I stay after the meeting. My head was spinning, and I was totally frightened. He told me that he was aware of my tuition issue, and then handed a copy of the promissory note in which he had written “Paid in Full” across the front. Not only did this company, give us a severance package, they sent us all (no matter what level employment we had) to outplacement to help us find our next jobs, and paid in full our health insurance for the next three months. This is where I learned about companies that take care of their employees.
The company continued on for a while. There were three waves of layoffs, that eventually closed the midwest office completely about two years later. During that time, Kurt, the big baby boss was transferred back to Oregon. Less than a year from my layoff I got a call from one of the accountants to tell me that Kurt got fired in Oregon—he actually had the nerve to tell off his boss at headquarters! What comes around goes around! Five years after our first layoff, Wisconsin lost the lawsuit. Had they won, it would have put all contracts in danger, and made the paper meaningless. The money due the coal company was paid, too little too late for those of us who had lost our jobs. Time to move on . . . .
Next I had a boss named Micky.* He was the Executive Vice President for Domestic Sales at a medical equipment company. This was in the early to mid 80’s, I think. It’s really hard to remember. One of the things that one may have a difficulty doing when interviewing for a new position is to run a background check on the future boss, unless you know someone who works within that company, so I was out of luck there. After acquiring my position as an Executive Secretary, I discovered that Micky had interviewed over 20 candidates and kept rejecting them. That sounds like I must be special that he hired me. I don’t think that was the case. First of all I think that Human Resources was tired of sending him candidates that he kept rejecting. I think he liked that I was going back to school to get my MBA. The funny thing is, if I am getting an advance degree in business, wouldn’t that tell him that I don’t want to be an secretary all my life?
Micky was new to the company. He was part of an acquisition of a medical company, and moved to the midwest from Connecticut. Many employees were not familiar with him. Sometimes at lunch, one of them would ask me which one was my boss. I told them he was the one who looked like a Ken doll. No kidding! He was tall and nicely built, and his hair was in a perfect coif. As soon as I gave that description, my coworkers would smile and nod their heads. They realized the description fit him, and they knew exactly who he was. Of course, if you watched him walk from behind, you realized he wasn’t Ken, because he was ever so slightly bow legged!
Micky had OCD to the nth degree. His clothes were perfect. He even confessed to me once that when he was a sales rep, he owned five pair of the same dress shoes, and that over the weekends he gave them a spit polish. While he was on the road selling, he brought them all, and each day could put on a newly shined pair of shoes. Who does that? He also told me that all the clothes in his closet where hung according to color. What a lovely idea, but for a girl who is trying to hold her life together as a single mom of four little boys, I was glad if my clothes made it from the laundry basket to the closet. Micky was divorced and was now engaged a lady who he said just throws her clothes around. I wonder how that marriage turned out.
Micky’s life was about Micky. One day we had a major snow storm coming through downtown St. Louis. As we looked out the window, the roads were quickly filling with snow. Micky walked out of his office and announced to me that he (and his buddies) had an off site meeting, and they scooted out about 3:00 pm, and left us underlings there to stay the rest of the day, and slowly crawl our cars home through the snow storm. When he planned his wedding, I became his social director. I was required to make a document listing all the interesting places in St. Louis to take families, since his siblings were coming with their children for the wedding. I also rented luxury cars for them on Micky’s nickel, so they had transportation as they arrived at the airport. My peers were impressed with all the prep work I had done for his wedding, and no, I was not invited with his “friends” to attend. When his family came to his home for Thanksgiving, he told me that he walked around the house with a bottle of Windex and a rag, to clean up after sticky-fingered nieces and nephews touched his stuff! I wonder how many times his family came to visit after that. One time I got a call from my children’s elementary school. One of them or many of them were sick and running a fever. They needed to be picked up. I walked into Micky’s office and told him that the school called, and his reply was, “Do you you gotta do.” I wasn’t wise enough to ask him what that meant, but I pondered on what he said—do I gotta get my kids or do I gotta stay at work? I went to get my kids because they needed me.
It was a relief to not be working for him any longer. He was extremely high maintenance. I am the first to admit I am not a good secretary or administrative assistant, because I think grown ups should act like grown ups, and I shouldn’t be their caretaker. In those days, the secretary/administrative assistants were their caretakers.
Over time I completed my MBA. I moved my career into Human Resources, and I found my niche. These are only three examples of my bad bosses. I had a couple really good bosses, who respected me, what I did, and allowed me to do my job using my creative talents. One of the things I am grateful for is that when I became a boss, I knew how not to treat my staff. They have different personalities, and bring different qualities to the job. As long as they accomplished what we needed, I allowed them to use their personalities and creativity to do their jobs. When one came in to tell me the school called and their child was sick, I would look and them, and say, “Go home, take care of your child.” You could see the look of relief on their face. If the weather was getting dangerous, I would send them home, if I thought I needed to go home.
The best boss I had was at my last job. He wasn’t my last boss because he retired, and then I got the boss from hell. Richard was a quiet, kind man. He respected my knowledge of my field of Human Resources. We had a lot of discussions on employee relations and other aspects of Human Resources. He took to heart what we discussed. He never acted like he knew my job better than I did. I will never forget his kind heart when my dad was dying. He told me that when his mother was dying, he couldn’t cross the pond to see her one last time (He was British). He told me to go make airlines reservations to Phoenix and take a few days to see my dad. I told him that I couldn’t afford to take more vacation, and he said, “This is not vacation. You go see you dad. You will be paid.” I flew out Friday morning and returned to work on Tuesday. Tuesday night my dad passed away. I am so grateful that Richard sent me to see my dad one last time. The following Friday, Richard retired, but I will never forget his kindness to me.
What did I learn about bosses over the years. They are all as different as fingerprints and DNA. Some are selfish, and only think of their career and their bonuses at the expense of their employees. Some are great at their expertise, but were promoted to management with no clue how to manage. Some felt they know more than their employees’ expertise, and some respected and used their employees’ expertise. Some just knew how to do it!
What about you? Are you someone’s boss? Do you respect your staff’s knowledge and skill? Do you realize they are a human with a much bigger priority called family? None of us will die wishing we spent more time at work, but many will wish they spent more time with family. Every person you work with is God’s creation. Some are easy to be with on a daily basis, and some more difficult. How do you deal with the difficult ones? How do you deal with a difficult boss? I wish I could say that with time things are better in the employment world, but I still hear horror stories about bad bosses. What can you do to make your workplace better?
*Names changed to protect the guilty. I did not change Richard’s name, because he was one of the good guys! Yay, Richard!