During a recent online banking session, I was prompted to enter questions and answers as part of the security component on the account. One of the questions I selected was “Who was your first boss?” As I recorded the answer, I made a “note to self” that this person was not only my first boss, but was also the best boss I ever worked for or with. That security question prompted me to remember exactly what made Jerry the excellent leader that he was.
What makes a boss a great boss? And what determines who among them is the best boss?
I’ve been studying leadership for a long time. My terminal academic degree is in leadership. I frequently speak to and interact with Leadership Washington County classes and have served on its board of directors. I teach and train leadership topics for both my personal business and for Rotary International. Therefore, reaching back into my work environment memories to recall the leadership style of my supervisors is easily done. I have worked for, and with, some great bosses in my time. But something about Jerry stands out as remarkable, and has left a lasting impression on me about his leadership.
Much has been studied and written about what makes a great boss. You can find volumes on the subject by doing a quick Google search. Jerry did possess all the of the traits and skills that are generally mentioned – he set clear expectations, gave feedback and coaching, recognized efforts, communicated regularly, made work fun, connected the vision and mission to daily tasks, developed a strong team and displayed all the other characteristics that make for good and solid leadership. But there were three things that Jerry did that made all of the above possible, and that made him unforgettable.
The best boss I ever worked with got to know his employees. Jerry cared about us as people. He knew my family, my interests outside of work and listened to what I chose to share about my personal life. His door was always open for a quick chat and he gave me his full attention during those times. He didn’t pry, but I certainly felt that Jerry cared about me and that made me more committed to my work. This strategy of getting to know his employees allowed Jerry to treat us all fairly instead of equally. There is a massive difference in the two.
My best boss also modeled the behaviors and the values that were necessary to be efficient and effective in our jobs. Jerry never asked, or expected me to do anything as part of our team effort that he didn’t do himself. Our brains are wired to learn by imitation. Think about your childhood and how you looked to higher status figures to learn what to do: parents, older siblings, teachers, etc. That means most employees look to their boss for examples of how to behave in a work situation. Modeling critical values and policies was part of Jerry’s normal work practice, and it facilitated an accountability that we all understood. Behavior will always outweigh a poster on the wall noting the company’s mission and vision statements.
And finally, the skill at which Jerry excelled was in finding each person’s unique talent, instinct and ability. Because he connected with us, Jerry knew what aspects of our jobs we most enjoyed and invited us to be creative around those individual skills. He gave us the tools, set the expectations for outcomes, and then let us go – no hovering, no “bossing.” He recognized how we each were going to get it done our way. It was win-win, because I grew more and more confident about my work and talents, and had a very high degree of employee satisfaction as a result. This one leadership element, alone, inspired me at that early career stage to succeed, and it remains a key reason Jerry Sheridan was the best boss I ever had.
I’d be interested to hear from you about your best boss experience and what made (or makes) it so. You can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll share your feedback in a future column.
Dr. Stephanie Urchick is CEO/executive director of the Southpointe CEO Association and owner of Doctors At Work LLC, a leadership, communication and customer delight consulting company. For more information about the Southpointe CEO Association, visit www.southpointe-ceo.org or contact Urchick at email@example.com or 724-747-5055.