Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good Boss, Bad Boss

Throughout your career, you will undoubtedly have numerous bosses. Some will be good, some will be bad. Very few will be outstanding, and hopefully, very few will be outstandingly bad. I will discuss the characteristics that you should look for in a good boss, and those to look out for in a bad boss.

Early in my career at Bell Labs, lo those many years ago, I had the tremendous privilege of having the best boss I’ve ever had, John Sheehan. John was a strong manager with an outlook that has stuck with me throughout my life. His governing philosophy was, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do!” See the link for more. I’ve tried to emulate his approach throughout my career, generally to very positive effect. 

Shortly after working for John, I had the misfortune of working for the worst boss I’ve ever had, who I won’t name. This boss was a petty tyrant, mean, spiteful, vindictive, credit stealing (see Stolen Credit - It’s Not Just About Credit Cards!), and overall a terrible boss. I’m actually grateful for having had the experience (despite the living hell of working through it). It demonstrated so forcefully what I would strive to never become, particularly after working for John, who showed so positively what I absolutely wanted to become. This bad boss set a negative example so bad, that all my other bosses, and many other assorted managers I’ve known, all showed much better characteristics than this one bad boss ever did (see Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More From Bad!). 

Overall, the learning experience of working with such a variety of bosses and boss types has been truly educating, helping to learn what works, what doesn’t, what to emulate and expand on, what to reject and avoid, and how to be as effective as possible in doing your own work and in helping to successfully direct the efforts of others. What follows are some thoughts on the characteristics of good bosses and what they can do to improve the lives of their employees, and what bad bosses can look like and how they undermine the work of their employees (see Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison the Well).