Posts Tagged ‘Fairness’

Best BossI got my first job at age 16.  I was a clerk at a locally-owned grocery store in my hometown of Winchester, Kentucky, happy with the $1.60 per hour starting salary.  I did my work to the best of my ability.  I was thrilled when I got my first raise of five cents per hour.  I got along with the owners and the extended family that ran the store.  They were each different with their own personalities and ways of doing things.  In that environment, I got my first taste of the differences that bosses can bring to the workplace.

That was 40 years ago.  Over four decades of working, I’ve had experience with a lot of different bosses – some great, some mediocre, some awful.  In this post, I will share with you the characteristics and practices demonstrated by the bosses I consider to be the best that I’ve had the privilege to work with.  My next post will discuss the flip side – those dreadful characteristics and practices that have made working under some bosses a painful time of endurance testing.

The best bosses I’ve ever had:

Are encouragers.  We like to be encouraged with kind words and with recognition of a job well done.  We like to know that others have confidence in us even if we aren’t quite as confident in ourselves at times, especially when tackling something new.  If you tell me you know I can do something, I will do everything in my power not to let you down.

Are approachable.  Whether via an open door policy or by ample other opportunities to engage with employees, bosses must create an environment where their direct reports know that they are welcome and encouraged to approach them any time with questions, concerns, suggestions, complaints, etc.  An unapproachable boss will be detached from the team and woefully unaware of the reality around him/her.

Are organized.  A boss who knows how to set priorities, plan and successfully execute sets a great example for those who report to him/her.  On the contrary, unorganized bosses can leave a whole team disorganized and discouraged by the constant chaos.

Are willing to do grunt work if needed.  I appreciate bosses who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, digging in when necessary to help the team churn out what needs to be done.  This can’t be the primary role of a boss, of course, but in those times when extreme work loads or looming deadlines tax the ability of others to get it all done, this is a great gesture of teamwork that goes a long way in developing good will.

Give me a job to do and turn me loose to do it.  I work best when I’m left alone to get things done without anyone peering over my shoulder or constantly checking up on how things are going.  If I need help or hit a roadblock that will take a boss to overcome, I’ll let the boss know.  Until then, he/she can assume all is well and on schedule – maybe even ahead of schedule and expectations.

Help me understand the big picture.  I don’t want to just know how to do tasks A, B,and C.  I want to know how the work I do fits into the overall purpose of the company and its larger mission.  I don’t want to just be good at tactics; I want to understand strategy.  I am helped by having core values that underlie the business reinforced in word and deed by people at all levels of the org chart.  I want a leader who can help a team take a step back when needed and help us remember why we do what we do.

Exercise fairness in how each employee is treated.  Any hint of favoritism from a boss toward one employee over another creates a very dysfunctional team.  If some employees seem to get away with poor work performance, excessive absences, or inappropriate behavior that is not tolerated in others, fellow workers are potentially demotivated from doing their best because of the disparity.  I don’t expect better treatment than other employees, but I do at least expect equal treatment.

Address personnel issues quickly.  This may be with an under-performing employee or it may mean stepping in to mediate interpersonal tensions between two or more employees.  Regardless, issues cannot fester or they do more damage the longer they are ignored.  Dealing with conflict or difficult situations must surely be among the least favorite roles a boss has to play, but it is an essential one that pays big dividends in the long run.

Tangibly reward top performers.  While recognition and encouragement go a long way toward job satisfaction, it is also true that none of us are employed full-time merely for the fun of it or the kind words that may come our way.  We work to earn a living, and if we go above and beyond what is expected, then we should be compensated accordingly.  Any business that places arbitrary limits on how much people can earn in certain roles or who do not allocate funds for increased salaries and bonuses only demotivate employees who feel like they have maxed out their earning and growth potential in a role.

Expect accountability.  My first boss at my current employer ten years ago was as good at this as any I’ve ever had.  Like clockwork, we had one-on-ones with a common, simple agenda that showed what we had accomplished since the last meeting, what we would do before the next one, and any issues standing in the way that we might need her to run interference regarding.  There’s something about knowing that periodic check-in with the boss is coming up to sometimes light a fire under you to get things done.

Do what they say they’ll do.  Just as I expect to be accountable to my boss, I expect my bosses to follow through and do what they say they’ll do without needing frequent reminders from others.  I know schedules can be crazy and demands from above and below in the org chart can be hard to juggle, but failing to follow through on commitments is discouraging to those impacted.

Challenge me to do better.  Regardless of how well I may perform my duties, I know there is always room for improvement.  When I was a training manager for about two dozen trainers at a previous company, I took seriously sitting in on the classes they taught and meeting with them afterward to discuss what they did well and what they might work to improve.  If someone comes to me and praises me for how I do A, B, and C, but suggests that I might consider some suggested changes to improve how I do D, E, and F, I’m going to value that information and take it to heart, trying to improve in those areas.

Welcome innovation and initiative.  I can’t think of a job I’ve had in 40 years where I did not go above and beyond what was expected, voluntarily taking on new responsibilities and attempting new things that I thought would be beneficial to the business and/or its customers.  That doesn’t mean that I was in a role where such was expected or demanded, however.  Good ideas can come from any level of the org chart at any time.  Good bosses hear those ideas, weigh them, give guidance, and, where appropriate, approval.

Delegate authority – not just responsibility.  There is not much more frustrating in a role than having responsibilities without the accompanying authority.  The power to make decisions and implement them needs to be pushed as far down the org chart as possible instead of being concentrated up the chain.  Work gets done more effectively and efficiently when this is the case.

Have my back.  Nobody likes being thrown under the bus by anyone, but especially by your boss.  I appreciate bosses who have gone to bat for me, defending decisions made and actions taken when challenged by others.  It’s like having an older sibling step up to a playground bully and say, “If you want to get to him, you’ll have to go through me first.”  Of course, it won’t be in those exact words in a business conversation or email (although that would be awesome!), but the positive emotional impact is the same when a boss takes up for you in discussion with others.

Show a sense of humor.  Humor goes such a long way in strengthening relationships, in making an environment fun, and in showing someone’s personal, human side.  Work days can get long and stress can take its toll, but if days are broken up with regular moments of laughter and fun, it makes them seem shorter and the stress more bearable.

So, there you have a number of characteristics or practices that I consider to be among the most admirable I’ve seen in the best bosses I’ve had through the years.  What about you?  Which of the above resonates with your experience?  Do you have additional ones from your work life you could add to the list?  If so, let me know in a comment.

(Side note: Some may question why I use the term “bosses” throughout this post and not something more positive or official sounding like “supervisor,” “manager” or “leader.”  Nothing negative or insulting is intended.  Any of the terms could have been used.  I chose the shortest.  Actually, I like the term and have on many occasions affectionately referred to various managers as “boss man.”)

Paula DeenHas there been a single major newscast in the past week that did not talk about the current Paula Deen controversy?  Not that I can recall.

For those of you living under a rock, she has been in the news for revealing in a deposition that she used a racial slur – the so-called “N-word” – 30 years ago while being robbed with a gun at her head.  Since that revelation, she has lost her television show, many corporate sponsorships, the right to continue with her buffets in numerous casinos, the right to sell her branded products in several major retail stores, and I’m sure others will jump on the train in the days to come.

Enough, already!

Use of racial slurs is, of course, wrong and nobody can justify using them today.  Please understand, though, that to ask any 66-year-old woman such as Deen who was raised in a very different culture decades ago if she has ever used a racial slur is a ridiculously unfair question.  I’d like to make a note of everyone who is criticizing her for something done 30 years ago so I can go to those holier-than-thou critics when they are 66 and ask if they have ever done something, especially something that was condoned in the culture in which they were raised.  Nobody on the face of the earth could stand up to such scrutiny.  No one should be held to a standard of perfection for decades (or for days, for that matter) – nobody!  Not a single person reading this post could withstand that level of examination.  I know I couldn’t – not by a long shot.  Does that mean I’m a horrible person unworthy of carrying out my profession?  No, and neither does it mean that with Deen.

One of the frustrations with this selective crucifixion of Deen is how none of her critics are directing the same outrage at unlimited, regular use of the word in rap and hip-hop music.  What’s the difference?  If the word is offensive and unacceptable, then that standard applies to all, not just to certain people you’re inclined to stereotype and crucify while giving others a pass.  We have a word for that – hypocrisy.

A biblical story comes to mind – the one where some holier-than-thou types brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery.  She wasn’t caught 30 years prior – this was fresh news.  There was no doubt of her guilt.  Nobody condoned the behavior.  But how did Jesus respond?  To the accusers, He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  Eventually, the accusers so eager to stone the woman walked away one by one, starting with the oldest.  The oldest were well aware of the sin in their past.  The younger ones took a little longer to realize they were guilty in their own ways.

Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s behavior, either.  He told her plainly, “go and sin no more.”  So he spoke equally to all in the incident, clearly telling the guilty party to stop the behavior while also telling others to cease their unwarranted self-righteous condemnation.  That’s a message we need to hear again in this Deen controversy.

Deen has apologized and I have no reason to suspect that the apology is anything but completely genuine.  I accept her apology at face value and think it’s time to put it behind us.

Hypocrisy is an ugly thing.  We cannot hold people to a standard of perfection that we do not assume for ourselves, crucifying people because at some point in their decades of life they did something wrong or stupid.  Culture changes.  People change.  We learn, grow, and move on.  There are too many people in glass houses throwing stones right now and I’m tired of it.

Forgive and move on. You may well need that same forgiveness some day.

[Edited on 6/29/2013 to include the following addition: Several have rightly pointed out that the legal issues currently confronting Deen are not from what was said 30 years ago, but due to far more recent accusations.  Fair enough.  We’ll let that play out in the courts to see where the truth lies.  If a consistent pattern of racist or illegal behavior is proven, Deen deserves the legal consequences.  My beef as expressed in the above post is that in the majority of newscasts I have heard, the bulk of the media attention has been given to the fact that she admitted to “ever” using a racial slur.  That question and the self-righteous, hypocritical  response to her answer are where I take issue.

For a similar perspective, see]

Blind JusticeVery few days go by without someone complaining to me about something happening in our company’s internal social network.  Usually it’s about a specific discussion that someone takes offense at or because they think a rule or two have been broken that requires my intervention as community manager.  That goes with the territory of managing a community of 23,000 people that posts over 1,000 messages a day.  Given the activity level, the number of complaints is remarkably low.

An interesting phenomenon of late, however, is the complaint that suggests I don’t moderate political discussions fairly – that I allow people on the left (or on the right) to get away with more than the other side.  The funny part of that complaint is that I hear it from both sides.  The fact that both sides complain tells me I’m being as fair as I know how to be.

While there is some subjectivity to moderating online communities, there are also specific rules in place that I have communicated and that I follow.  The clear-cut rules when broken are the easy ones to enforce.  It’s the more subjective guideline such as showing respect to fellow employees that is up to interpretation and more challenging to enforce.  These are also the ones where people are more likely to disagree with my decisions.

I have no fantasy and no goal of trying to please everyone.  My goal is to do what I think is in the best interests of the community and the business.  As was mentioned by my manager earlier today at a team get-together, you have to develop a pretty thick skin as a community manager given all that comes at you.

If you are in a role that occasionally requires you to make a judgment between sides, then you know the situation I’m in.  Heck, even a parent of two kids knows that situation, much less anyone in a work-related role that calls for mediation between two parties.  As challenging as the role may be at times, there is some comfort in leap year lesson #355: You’re likely being fair if both sides accuse you of favoritism.