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Good Boss…Bad Boss

Dear Reader,

Today I want to play a little game I call Good Boss…Bad Boss.

I’m going to list four personal experiences I’ve had with bosses and explain to you why I feel they are either a Good Boss or a Bad Boss. I will not say who the boss was at the time and I can confirm that none of these have anything to do with my current employer.

Bad Boss

I had a boss at a job one time who’s favorite saying was “I could teach a German Shepard to do your job.” He would pull this motivational bludgeon out once or twice a day. I can still hear him standing in my cubical saying:

“Jesus, Cal” he would say, “I could teach a German Shepard to do your job.”

Now, I will not argue the accuracy of the point because I realize it’s subjective. His ability to train a dog could have been far greater than mine and he may have been telling the truth. But this is a Bad Boss situation because he was trying to motivate me to work faster, better, more. The point I will argue is that he had mixed up the whole ‘Carrot and the Stick’ metaphor of motivation. Instead of holding the carrot out before me and occasionally smacking me with the stick. He was beating me over the head with the stick because he had already eaten the carrot.

He was a bad boss because he did not understand how to motivate his team. He didn’t take the time to understand each of us as individuals so he could not communicate with us his needs.

Good Boss

I had one boss pass me over for a promotion that we both knew I deserved. He only had one open billet at the higher level and it was a tight race between me and another guy. I didn’t get it. I acted like a spoiled child. I pouted, I grumped, I even went home early that day because I was mad. My boss didn’t say a word. He knew that even though I was wrong, it was best to let me blow off my steam. By letting me go home, he moved the problem off-site. The next day, I came in an apologized for my behavior. He smiled, thanked me and then we moved on to my project. He never mentioned it again, even on my quarterly review. He was a good boss because he knew that I was human, with faults but that he if just let me get it out of my system, that I would get back to normal. Had I come in the next day and continued to grouse, I have no doubt that he could have come down on me like a brick.

He was a good boss because he took the time to understand his team members beyond their obvious skill set.

Bad Boss

I had a boss at a company where I was in charge of 2 development teams. This boss, while a pillar of the business community, kept changing our company’s focus. As the head of all software development, every time we changed directions, I had to explain to the development teams why we were ‘re-focusing’ our efforts again today. There were times when it was a nightmare. Development teams (as most of you who are reading this know) do not turn on a dime and start off in a different direction. Almost monthly, we would have a new vision for the company. That usually meant the software we were developing was now no longer wanted and we were off to the races with the new software.

He was a bad boss because he didn’t understand software development even though he advertised it as one of the core competencies of the company. Software development, done right takes time and planning.

Good Boss

I was hired at one company to build and manage the development team. This team was pushed hard, we had some demanding clients and difficult projects, most of which involved processing money so they absolutely had to be correct, every time.

In November, my boss came to me and said, “It’s getting close to the time for the Christmas party, I want to do a LAN party again.” The gist of it was that every developer received a copy of the game we were going to play and we made sure all machines could handle the game. (Most of the development staff already had dual 20″ Dell monitors)

We took a Saturday, all gathered at the office including, some of our friends and played all day. The day of the party, my boss gave me his credit card and told me to go up to the local Toys R Us and buy enough Nerf guns so that everyone can have one. it was the only time I have every checked out with $150 worth of Nerf firepower and I’m pretty sure the cashier had never processed an order like that.

Aside from the obvious “cool factor” this boss was a good boss because he took the time to understand his team.

Led by Example

All of the bosses I’ve worked under have helped shape the type of manager I am but none have affected me more than these two, Paul Mueller and Ray Taft. Paul, because he taught me how to lead. He taught by example and he taught with humility. Ray, because Ray showed me how to treat people. I thought I knew how to treat employees but it turns out I really only knew how to pamper them. Ray showed me how to treat them right but be firm when necessary. Whenever I am faced with hard management decisions, I always look at the examples that these men provided for me and usually, the answer, even if it’s not the one I want, becomes clear.

So let me ask you, if you are a boss, are you a good boss or a bad boss? In 20 years, is someone going to look back at their time under you and thank you for the lessons you taught them? If you are a boss, be a good boss and lead by your example.

Until next time,