Lessons I learnt from my bosses- Part 1

2014-06-03 17:42

If I have to ask you to provide a list of criticisms of your boss, would you battle to compile a list?

We may say without thinking twice: ‘My manager really ticked me off, you know if I was in charge I would do this and that far better!’  Now I’m phrasing it very politely but chances are that it will come out very differently. However if afforded the opportunity to take the lead then we quickly realize that it’s not that easy. Actually, it’s tough to be in charge. Sure there are privileges and the position usually comes with authority, but often the accountabilities outweigh the perceived privileges. I say ‘perceived’ because as much as a team may look to their boss to give the green light for a request, very often it is also not entirely his/her decision.

I’m writing this article to give credit to some of my previous bosses. Looking back over my time in the corporate sector I feel privileged to have worked with very talented and colourful people as bosses.  One does not necessarily see it in that way when in the situation, but years later you get a different perspective.

I’m sure you would have noticed that the title included ‘Part 1’. Well there’s a reason. This article will focus on my first job way back in the 1990s, and we’ll move on to the 2nd and so on in subsequent articles. I will identify some of my previous bosses who played a mentoring role in my career. I think we need to celebrate the mentors in our lives. At this time for instance we mourn the passing of Maya Angelou, mentor to the world famous Oprah Winfrey. The chances that my mentors will read these articles are very slim, but you never know. So to not draw any unnecessary attention to them I will not disclose surnames. If my previous boss’s name is John Smith, I will only refer to ‘John S.’

Unfortunately I will not be paying them any bonuses or anything, as they were just doing their jobs. I’m sure that they will understand. Many of my bosses had this in common that you never pay anybody anything extra for just doing their jobsJAnd even if I wanted to, I unfortunately lost contact with (most of) them over the years.

Now I had to drop out of university unfortunately after only 6 months but was fortunate to find employment within months. (I bounced back years later and completed my studies in case you were worried there for a moment)  I can therefore claim to have something in common with the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. To be fair though -I think that’s about where the similarities stop.

First up then is a gentleman by the name of Matthew L. He was not my direct boss, but he was responsible for our business unit. The business was based in Cape Town. Matthew was the sort of person who enjoyed motivating people. I think it would be fair to say that I told myself: I want to become a manager like Matthew one day. The first thing he demonstrated to me was how to listen to people actively. He had quite an engaging manner and made you feel like your opinion really mattered. He would always understand one’s position and made a point to say that he did not think that you were being unreasonable. I liked that. Invariably you would walk away from his (open plan) office feeling a lot better.

Matthew also taught me the value of delegation. He said his father told him that if he can delegate something, then he can get busy with something else in the meantime. Delegation is not all that easy: I find a lot of people these days that prefer to rather do things themselves. I’m afraid, this is a definite recipe to at least burnout.

He also showed me the value of maintaining good relations with colleagues. People always had time for him to discuss our various operational business problems. And on the occasions when I needed to escalate a matter to him, usually by the next day, he would call me ‘army style’ to provide feedback: ‘I had a chat with so and so yesterday and he suggested that we do this – so I need you to do this for me and then let me know, ok …’ He also had a particular way of saying ok – almost sounded like ‘aw-kay.’ And that’s the other thing: providing feedback – how many of us value the principle of keeping all relevant parties informed?

So Matthew, your efforts were not in vain after all– at least one bloke appreciated it!

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