My children are both now working (ages 22 and 24), and every few days they come by and we talk about their jobs.
There is always a conversation about how much fun they’re having, what great achievements they have, and then of course… a discussion about their boss.
I wont mention specifics, but as we talk I realize how important it is for people early in their careers to have a great boss.
During the first 5-10 years of your working life you have much to learn:
- How do I get things done?
- What will satisfy my boss?
- How do I compare with other people?
- Should I mimic or copy behaviors of others?
- How individual can I be?
- How hard should I work?
- Should I speak up in meetings?
- even something as important as… What should I wear?
Early in your career this is all very stressful. Of course you want to succeed – but you’re not always sure how. My advice is to be yourself (topic of another blog). But in the meantime, it often comes down to having a great boss.
What Do Great Bosses Do?
I’ve had a bunch of “bosses” but my very first one was by far the best. He was an old-fashioned IBM manager (I only remember him taking his jacket off once in ten years). He played golf, shmoozed with clients, and was generally a formal but very nice guy. His name was Bob, and here is what he did.
1. He always listened and always had time for me.
It didn’t matter how busy he was, Bob would always stop what he was doing when I walked in his office. Somehow he knew that when I took the time to come in, it was worth his time to listen.
2. He rarely gave criticism but always helped.
His philosophy was to give great advice, help us succeed, and always work as a team. I looked up to him and always “copied” what he did to make myself better. The few times he gave me specific advice, I really listened.
3. He would take an arrow for me or our team.
In those days IBM was a very successful company (IBM in the 1970s and 80s was the Google of today). His job, as a sales executive, was to battle other IBM managers for our quota, territory, bonuses, and many other things. He always put us and our customer first, often being be the “bad guy” and pushing management to make changes we needed.
I remember walking into his office one day when he was preparing an account review for a bunch of execs and I could see he was really exhausted and dejected. Many in the organization considered him a bit of a “pain in the rear” because he pushed so hard. I knew he was arguing with management to do what was right for us and our customer, and I never forgot that vision of him sweating away worrying about what he needed to accomplish for us.
4. He always put our customer first.
We were in a sales office, and our customer was a very large, demanding, complex organization. Bob was best friends with all our customer executives and they adored him. He would always push us to get out of the office and go meet with people before we made any decisions about anything. That “customer first” culture I learned at IBM made me successful in every job I had over the last 35 years.
5. He took us with him.
Bob was the type of manager who would always take someone junior with him on the big customer call. He drove an Oldsmobile (he was an engineer and to him, the Olds was “the engineer’s car.”) and he would grab me in the office, we’d throw on our coats (we wore suits and ties every single day) and our briefcases (yes we all carried briefcases) and we’d head out to see the customer.
I often just sat and listened, but I learned so much by just watching him in action, taking the followup notes, and then taking the next call by myself.
6. He took care of us.
Bob was the kind of guy who always worried if someone wasn’t in the office or had a problem with a client. He wasn’t interested in our personal lives that much, but he sure cared if we had any problems. When one of our team-mates developed cancer, Bob spent the better part of his remaining life (our team-mate eventually died from it) taking care of our him and helping his family.
7. He was fun.
Bob really was a fun-loving guy, and even though he intimated almost everyone (he always had is coat on and he looked you right in the eye), he always told a joke at just the right time. He knew that even though we had a huge quota and a million problems to solve every day (our team was over 100 people all over California), it was all part of the game. He took work very seriously, but he also knew it was only a job.
8. He went home on time, usually.
Believe it or not, in those days we worked incredibly hard but we rarely stayed in the office past 6. We had an enormous job but we got it done in 50-55 or so hours a week, and Bob would just “disappear” somewhere around 6pm. It set the tempo that we were all expected to get stuff done without staying all night.
9. He made sure we all had a good role.
One of Bob’s amazing strengths was his ability to value every single member of the team. He realized that some of us were more technical, some were more salesy, and some were more administrative. He made sure we shifted work around so people did things we were good at.
I worked for IBM for ten years in the 1980’s and we accomplished many amazing things. But for me personally, having the opportunity to work for Bob is the one thing that stuck with me for the rest of my life. And when he died (about 10 years ago), his wife came up to me and said “he always loved you young people, he thought about you like his own kids.”
If you can find a “Bob” early in your career, you’re very lucky. Do whatever you can to find this kind of manager early in your career.
If you’re a manager, remember you can “be Bob.” Consider it an awesome responsibility. You could possibly impact someone for the rest of their life.
About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at @josh_bersin and follow him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bersin . Josh’s personal blog is at www.joshbersin.com .
Other Recent Articles by Josh Bersin:
- Are you an Overwhelmed Employee? What to do about it.
- Why it’s time to Redesign HR
- How to Build The Irresistible Organization
- Learning to Be Yourself
- The Secret to Effective Motivation: Purpose
- The Myth of the Bell Curve
- What’s Good for Women is Good for Business
- How to Make Work Fun
- Why we Do Need The HR Department
- Are Performance Appraisals Doomed?
- How I Hire: Trust Your Gut
- The MOOC Market Takes Off
- Employee Retention: The Time is Now
- The Datafication of HR
- Quantified Self: Meet the Quantified Employee