Be A Good Boss

Posted: Mar 07, 2012 12:01 AM

In my professional life, I have been lucky to have a few great bosses. I have been lucky to be exposed to some pretty amazing people. There have been a lot of articles written about how to be a great boss. A good friend of mine, professor Mike Gibbs has written and studied extensively about labor economics within organizations. He has a pretty good handle on what makes a good leader and what doesn’t.

Many of us have been exposed to pretty stupid bosses. It taints us. Since 1986, I have been basically self employed so I haven’t had to deal with too many of them. When I was a clerk on the trading floor, I was lucky to have clerked for some decent people. I saw some pretty rotten behavior though. I vowed never to treat employees that way.

Inc says there are five qualities to being a good boss. I like them, so I will reprint them here. Click over to read the whole thing.

1. Develop every employee.
2. Deal with problems immediately.
3. Rescue your worst employee.
4. Serve others, not yourself.
5. Always remember where you came from.

My first boss out of college(1984) was Harry Toussaint. He was the branch manager of the Auto Trades Division for 3M ($MMM). You can see why 3M is such a great company. It has employees like Harry. I was full of piss and vinegar. One time I wrote a memo that I felt was so important I sent it all the way up the chain of command. Harry called me immediately. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so you called into the branch for messages from a distributor’s phone. He said, “What the hell are you doing?”. Then he calmly explained the protocol for such messaging. Like I said, I was young and didn’t know better.

Harry talked about his entire branch. He worked to develop everyone, because he knew his bonus was reliant on all of us performing. Before Harry was in sales at 3M, he was a football coach. I don’t think he ever grew out of coaching. Instead of coaching pimply high school kids, he had a branch of about 10 type A salespeople to corral.

Interestingly, Harry had a great boss when he first was with 3M. A guy named Warren Wasecha. When I used to work trade shows at McCormick Place, I’d speak with Warren. I could tell why Harry liked him. I wanted Warren’s job when I grew up. He looked for small companies for 3M to monitor and buy. What a great job.

Anyway, we aren’t all perfect. Up there on the list of five, I might also add humility and the ability to admit when you screwed up. I think that your employees will trust you more, and work harder for you if you let them know that indeed, you are human.

I remember once Harry said to me, “I screwed that up. Now, let’s figure out together how we can make it better.” Then, when we were in front of the customer, Harry said, “Hey, this isn’t Jeff’s fault. It’s mine.”. The customer was in the palm of our hands after that. I don’t think customers hear that from their suppliers very often.

Anyway, if you are the boss, keep learning and listening. Follow the rules above to the best of your ability and you will be a great one. If you aren’t a boss, find great bosses and pick their brains on how they do what they do, and how they got to where they got. Maybe they will help you find your path there.