I went out back yesterday, and in addition to experiencing the ridiculous heat index of 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit, I experienced dismay at seeing cottonwood tree leaves. Yellow and on the ground. My six-year-old trees, stressed to the max, and it’s only mid-July. Darn.
Cottonwoods, native to the Midwest, typically lose leaves in late summer or early fall. Or when it’s extremely dry or unusually hot. No, it’s not late summer. But the heat and lack of rain has caught up with the trees. They’ve shed about 10 percent of their leaves, which helps the tree survive. All the extension office websites I checked agree that the trees aren’t in danger. Yet.
Is there a lesson in that? For me? For you? For the country?
Remember? I was looking for a boss who completed her sentences. The search was a little like buying a house based on the desire for a fireplace and a bay window, but ignoring everything else. I did that once, too, and subsequently spent thousands of dollars on the foundation.
WBE was my boss for more than a decade before she left the company. A long, unrelenting, and never-to-be-forgotten decade. I still have flashbacks.
WBE started off by being more than two hours late for my job interview. I shoulda known, right? Why did I wait? I really wanted a boss who completed her sentences. What I didn’t pick up on–given her lovely verbosity–was the charming nature that spelled bully. She seemed so smart, so filled with precise vision, so nurturing, so much the perfect person to have as boss and mentor.
I should’ve guessed when she called me on the phone to tell me I ‘got the job’, “Listen,” she said, “either it’ll work or it won’t and you’ll be gone.” But yeah, I was desperate.
WBE loved to ambush people at staff meetings. She had one meeting and one target every week. That person who was ‘IT’ got a seemingly innocent question. Why did you do this? What happened to the stats on that? Are you prepared for this aspect of the site visit? Why is the call-wait time this many seconds.
And the issue at hand always related to a never-before-questioned problem. So, of course, IT wasn’t prepared. Lots of stammering and stuttering followed, leading to the WBE’s pay-off. The humiliating lecture. The unnecessary advice. The admonition to change. Or else.
I once sent her an email with the subject line: AMBUSHED! asking if she could please prepare the person who was IT.
Making me IT for several weeks thereafter.
WBE was also significantly late for every meeting everywhere about every subject. When she arrived–no matter how late and no matter whose meeting it was–everything had to start over. And in public venues–community meetings, sales meetings, conferences– she always introduced herself as Dr. So-and-so with her full business title. Embarrassing. And total insensitivity to social cues.
Did we complain to the CEO? You betcha. But for more than a decade, our complaints were ignored because, like bullies everywhere, it appeared as though WBE’s tactics brought strong financial and quality results.
In school and at work, experts tend to intervene with the victim instead of the bully. Here’s a shout-out for more bully-interventions. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, embracing this as another aspect of harassment seems only right.
This boss arrived after the departure of my worst boss ever. More about her next week.
At first, he was a breath of fresh air. Super positive guy. We’d had a tough time, but now he was here, things would be–well–wonderful. Yes, he knew nothing about our industry, having worked in some other industry for his entire work-life. But not to worry. He was a fast learner and–after all–he had us to help him.
My mother would have called him a cockeyed optimist. He always smiled. Every problem had a solution. Life was amazing. The team was the absolute best. Things just couldn’t get better.
Right until he called me on the carpet over a conflict with one of the sales people.
Long-story short, putting proposals together wasn’t in her wheelhouse and she wanted me to take on that part of her job. I said no.
Whatever it takes, my boss said. I don’t have time, I said back. What do you want me to give up? His reply to me was crystal clear. Give up nothing. Do it all.
The dark side to a perpetually positive person is that they rarely say ‘no’ to a request. And this guy never said no. As his ‘big project’ person, I was hit hardest. I have lots of fond memories. Working till midnight every night. Working every weekend for months. Spending 60 hours on more than one three-day holiday weekend to get a ginormous proposal written. Never getting comp time. Never taking a vacation. In fact, when I finally decided to retire, I had three years worth of vacation time owed me.
Did he get me more help? Eventually, although he explained that the need for extra staff was due to my failure to manage my time.
I think positive people are great to be around–unless their positivity makes them blind to reality and the constraints of the 24-hour day.
The setting was a small not-for-profit with fewer than 20 employees. The ‘boss’ had been in place for more than ten years. She had a turnover problem. She kept firing supervisory staff.
I was brought on board to supervise. It took me about a week to analyze the problem. The boss never finished a sentence. The one exception? If she gave a speech, she wrote and memorized what she planned to say.
I had a half-dozen explanations for her continual self interruptions. She was creative and had a gazillion ideas. Her thought process was too speedy. She’d developed this terrible end-of-sentence failure habit. She was irrevocably right brained, making her incapable of outlining–step by step–what she wanted me to do.
Bottom line? She thought out loud and didn’t take the time to adequately develop her vision before trying to communicate it.
Yes, that made her difficult to work for. I quickly learned to end her sentences for her–silently. I spent a lot of time figuring out what she might mean for me to do. I got really good at mind-reading in the five plus years I stayed in that job, guessing right about 60 percent of the time.
Her firing problem? She blamed her staff for failure to understand her vision. But she was the failure, incapable of seeing that her inability to communicate what she wanted done caused the turnover. How many people do you need to fire before you ask, “What is it about me…?”
No. She didn’t fire me. I went looking for a boss who completed her sentences. But that’s a tale for next week …
I planned to write this blog after breakfast out with my daughter-in-law, Mati Lamb. Mati’s in process of changing careers, from retail manager to corporate middle manager. At breakfast, she–serendipitously–told me what she looks for in a good leader:
Listen to your people well.
Give people credit for their work, along with public recognition.
Provide opportunities to advance the careers of your people.
While she talked, I thought about my Best Boss Ever and what made him so great. Honestly, I cried when forced to move to a different job in a different state. He was:
Kind. He never failed to show interest and respect for his people.
Honest. He never—no not ever–lied.
Discreet. He never talked to one of his people about another.
If you’re a manager take heed. People stay in jobs (and leave them) because of managers.
As for the lily, it’s my favorite. Hope you enjoy the photo of this year’s bloom.
Next Thursday–third runner up for WORST BOSS EVER.