The best boss I ever had
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I've worked for great bosses and terrible bosses -- and learned from both. But the best boss I ever had wasn't obviously a leader and, in fact, when he was offered promotion, turned it down. He had found work he loved and wanted to stick with it. That in itself was a life lesson. But what else could be learned from him?
Risk taker. Although many of his projects won prizes and acclaim around the world, he was always capable of delivering a stinker. This was because he never repeated himself but always found ways to be stretched and challenged. I never once saw him take the lazy, predictable route.
Focused. Although charming, he never had a lot of small talk and it was obvious (sometimes embarrassingly so) that chit chat wasn't a favorite activity. He loved his work and wanted to get down to it. Although not politically blind, he wasn't interested in departmental dynamics and his desire not to be promoted freed him from hours of wasted time. His work -- and only his work -- gave him the clout he needed.
Independent. I remember being asked once whether I liked him. Strangely, I'd never asked myself that question before. When I did, I realized that the answer was: no. I didn't especially like him as a person; having dinner with him was not my idea of fun. What I liked about working with him was that he wasn't needy. He didn't treat work as a social club. He set high standards -- and got out of the way.
Egalitarian. It never seemed to occur to him that anyone was less able than he was. Whether he was talking to a janitor or a senior executive, he treated them all the same and expected each of them to have valuable insights. For junior people (as I then was) this was liberating. Because I was treated seriously, I did serious work.
Looking back now, I'm struck by how much freedom he won for himself by choosing not to climb the ladder, not to play politics and, instead, to focus on doing better and better work. It didn't surprise me to learn that, after retiring, he was just as contented, finding other areas to apply his knowledge and expertise. What he had never done was become institutionalized. He joined a big corporation but never belonged to it. That's been the greatest inspiration of all.
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