Monday, February 4, 2013

who's got your back?

“This would not have happened if I was still at the Mesabi Daily News,” stated my previous boss in an e-mail.

I had contacted her to request a letter of recommendation to have on hand as I begin my new job search. She had heard that I had been terminated and she was disgusted. She promised me a “GLOWING” letter and suggested letting her know where I was might be applying for work "in order to spin your talents to the job at hand and how good of a fit you would be.”  

Shelly was a great boss--hands down better than any boss I’ve ever had. She had the natural qualities of a leader. In whatever group she was in, people deferred to her. But she also had the very deliberate qualities of a good leader. She made sure she was well informed. If any of us had any question about what we were doing or what we should do, she expected an e-mail. Then she quickly responded. Almost always she affirmed what we asked. But when necessary, she would give specific and concise instructions on how to proceed differently. If we disagreed with her, we would come to her office and discuss the situation. Hers was the final word. We knew that, but Shelly carefully considered our input and she let us know that she did not consider our input to be defying her. Of course some did not like her hands on approach. It takes a certain amount of humility to be led.

But me, I’m a great follower. To use Biblical language, servanthood is what I was made for. 

When I was a teenager, my uncle and I did a 40 mile trek over a mountain trail near Bailey, Colorado. He had the map and the compass and with every step, he looked for the next marking that identified where the trail went. He was not a talkative man. For the first couple of hours, I don’t think he said a word. But then he stopped and looked very carefully at his map. Then he looked back and looked very carefully through the woods. And then he said, “I’m pretty sure we are lost. But I do have a compass. So I think we’ll keep going. Are you okay with that?” I nodded. As the sun started to go down, we found a good flat place to lay our sleeping bags. Very early the next morning, a couple of chattering squirrels demanded that we get up and get moving. As we started out again, my uncle said, “We’re still lost, you know.” I didn’t know. But that was all right. I figured it was his problem, not mine. He did find our way back, and it was a great hike. I would have been delighted to go again the next day, as long as he led the way.. 

My sister said to Roxanne before we got married, “He’ll be a great husband. He’ll do anything for you, I have trained him well." Roxanne agrees that this has been the case. I’m guessing though, that at the time, she found some cause for concern from what my sister said. I was to be her husband and thus the one to whom she was directed to submit, “just as the church submits to Christ, so also the wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph 5:24)

Though Roxanne has the same natural leadership qualities as my Mesabi Daily News boss, she is a godly woman who is careful to know the Scriptures and to obey the Scriptures. Though sometimes it may appear otherwise, Roxanne very consciously defers to my leadership and we share a healthy, loving, and Biblical relationship. 

(We don’t really believe in St. Peter questioning people at the Golden Gates, but we heard there are two entrances into heaven for husbands: one labeled “hen pecked” and the other labeled “head of the home.” One morning St Peter looked out and saw the usual long line of men waiting at the “hen pecked” entrance, and only one scrawny little man at the “head of the home” entrance. St Peter went over to congratulate this little man. “So tell me your story,” said St Peter. “How do you happen to be in “head of the home” line? The little guy shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. it is just where my wife told me to stand.” –Just so you know, that little guy was not me as, duh, I haven't arrived yet at The Gates.)

About six years ago, my manager  in the circulation department of the Mesabi Daily News took off without giving notice. I went in to Shelly's office. “I’m willing to take the job of Circulation Manager,” I told her. Shelly was skeptical.  “We’ll give it a try,” she said. 

Much to our surprise, I was a good manager. Our newspaper had sixty contracted delivery people, most of whom were adults. At the time we had four other circulation people on payroll. Sixty four adults to supervise—for someone like me, pretty amazing! But my people deferred to me and overall their quality and quantity of work was excellent, and I know they liked having me for a boss. 
So here's what I've leaned is necessary to be a good boss:

  • Always treat everyone with dignity. When they need your attention, give them your full attention. Even the tiniest demeaning thought must be pushed out of your brain whenever you are talking with someone under your charge.
  • Be honest and fair. Never blame those under you for something that is even partially your fault.
  • Communicate very clearly, and communicate in triplicate any new information you need to get to your people.
  • Empower your people as much as possible. Give them the responsibility to make good decisions.
  • Praise and thank them any time you can think of something to praise or thank them about.
  • When correcting an employee, talk to them first and allow them their dignity. Don’t demand that they tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (Everyone sees situations through their own eyes.) If that person does not correct the problem, send them a note that is signed and dated. If they still do not correct the problem, they probably need to be dismissed.
  • Most importantly, let your people know you've got their back.
As Shelly wrote to me about my termination, “This would not have happened if I was there.”
I knew that to be true. Bad stuff can happen at any moment. If the boss is not there to watch your back, you’re always up on the high wire.

David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd…I will fear no evil.”

The Lord Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me. I lay down my life for the sheep.” –now that’s a good boss!

Back to my present reality: I’m uncomfortable not having someone oversee what I do every day. It’s my nature to be led. Pray with me that our Good Shepherd will specifically lead me during this leaderless time in my life. 

But for right now, I'd better get back to Henry's biography!

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to take at least partial credit for the leadership skills you have honed. I would especially like to take credit for the "Communicate very clearly, and communicate in triplicate any new information you need to get to your people." part. Just think, if it wasn't for your son and his uncanny ability to expose any hint of a loophole in any and all direction, you wouldn't have made such a great boss. I'd like to take this time to say "you're welcome"
    Love ya Dad, come visit eh. We have internet too.