Friday, April 26, 2019

What makes a good boss?

A friend of mine who is the CEO of a vaunted (and hot) creative agency just tweeted something that got me thinking.

“WHO you work for early in your career is more important than WHERE you work.”

It got me thinking about what makes a person a good person to work for. Not to be too reductive about it, but I’ve boiled it down to two things.

1.    Your boss should have extremely high standards. Not just for you, but for everyone. Standards of professionalism, humanity, creativity, integrity and more. Your boss doesn’t have to stomp her feet or yell or scream. She just has to create an environment where you strive to do more than what’s expected of you, where you keep learning, challenging yourself and improving.

Sometimes the best creative direction can be, ‘try to do something else.’ Or ‘throw away the paper and try again.’ Or, ‘you can do better.’

2.    Your boss should trust you. Trust is something you gain over time. But over time, when your boss sees that you’ve inculcated her high-standards and added to them with demands of your own, she should stop micromanaging. Her super-ego, which set those standards, has been incorporated into your psyche. You know what you have to do, and you take the time and have the skill to do it. Now’s when a good boss learns from you—your unique view, taste, disposition, interests and passions. You’re trusted in other words, not just to cookie-cutter the work—but to bring your own soul to it.

As an early boss, Ed Butler said to me about six-months into working for him. “That’s good. It’s not how I would do it. But it’s good and it’s your way.”

The thing about these two components is that you can’t be a good boss without both of them. If you set high standards, but don’t trust, you’re oppressing and probably micro-managing your people. If you trust without setting high standards, you have created an environment where anything goes, where complacency can thrive.

Looking a trifle closer, high standards and trust are probably the most important components of being a decent parent as well. But that might be another post.

I’m sure there’s more to what makes a good boss. Maybe they bring in coconut patties when they return from vacation, or ask about your kids, or fight for raises and time off for you. I’m not saying those behaviors aren’t important.

But if you’re fighting for your career, find a boss that exemplifies the first two. You’ll do ok. And if you work hard enough, you'll become a good boss yourself.

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