I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years and have learned things from them. Sometimes because they were good bosses, sometimes because they were bad. But bosses are good people to learn lessons from, one way or the other.
The first boss I had was in a little radio station in a small town in Oregon. He was a diehard Baptist and I think that colored his approach to things (not to say Baptists are bad, just using his religion to show where it came from in him). He thought every other song on the air we played on the top 40 station was about picking up girls and having sex with them. Okay, I thought that was a little weird, but when he said it time after time, I realized he was a little obsessed.
The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life?” Yup, about picking up girls and having sex with them.
Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown?” Same thing, only a lot funkier.
Sammy Johns’ “Chevy Van?” Well, definitely. In fact, if you listen to the lyrics, that’s exactly what it was about.
So maybe he had a point.
He was also rather high-strung besides being focused on songs being about guys picking up girls. There was the time he rushed into the station all aflutter and demanded that I stop the record so he could go on the air and deliver an urgent news report. I waited until the record was over, turned on his microphone in the newsroom and put him on the air. His urgent report? He’d seen an accident where someone ran a stop sign and hit another car going through the intersection. Which was basically a side street in a residential area. So it wasn’t really affecting anyone except the people in the cars, and it was a minor crash anyway.
My takeaway and the lesson I learned? If you’re a boss, being high-strung is not a good way to operate. Unless you like to inject fear into your employees. To me, that’s never been much of a motivator.
A number of radio Program Directors I either worked for, or heard about from fellow DJs, approached dealing with their subordinates by yelling at them. Putting the fear into them. “STOP DOING IT THAT WAY! DO IT THIS WAY!” And so on. Again, not a good motivator. It made you fear the next time you were on the air, knowing he’d be listening and ready to nitpick you to death.
Another boss I had years later in radio – the best boss I ever had in radio – taught me a lot about how to communicate with employees. His name was Carl, and as Program Director, he was my direct boss. When it came time for an “aircheck” session in which we’d listen to telescoped recordings of my on-air presentation, he approached it completely differently than anyone I’d worked for before. We’d listen for a few moments as he made notes, at which point he said something like “That was good, this was good, and I’d like you to work on this, this and this.” This critique was delivered pleasantly and with encouragement. And you frankly couldn’t wait until you got behind the microphone again. No pressure, just build you up while you work on things that he requested.
Another boss I worked for in radio was the station owner in a mid-size town. He respected all employees as professionals, so there was very little he said about our on-air work. But I do remember a few things he said.
“When you have good news, bring it to me immediately. I like to celebrate good news. When you have bad news, get it to me even quicker. I want to be able to know it, understand it and deal with it as quickly as possible.” Makes sense to me.
In dealing with clients or partners, he’d always try to get the last dollar from them in any negotiation. He told me he wanted “to see how much money was left on the table.” Another good lesson.
Finally, the last “real” boss I had was Ed at Interpretive Exhibits, the first and only boss I had outside of radio. Since Ed, the only bosses I have are clients. And generally, they’re all great to work for and with.
Ed did a number of things that were important. He showed me the spreadsheets on how he estimated monthly, quarterly and yearly earnings, a format I still use today (he retired and closed the business in 2011 which led me to start TradeshowGuy Exhibits). He also spent a lot of time explaining how things worked in the industry. In particular he walked me through, dozens of times, how he created estimates for big exhibit jobs. He’d break it down step by step, figure out the reasonable time it took to do something, and added about 50%. Why? Because in his experience, he saw that the original estimate was almost always low. Which meant that even experience shop managers didn’t accurately calculate the amount of time it takes to do something. Even down to how many steps and how much time it took to offload something from a truck using a forklift. Armed with that info, I’d occasionally clock the time and the steps it took, and he was right: the shop guys almost always underestimated how much time it took.
And time is money, so if you’re estimating time (labor), you’d better be right, or as close to right as possible.
You can learn lots from bosses: what to do, and what not to do. Some are good role models, others not so much. Take away what you can from each one.
And by the way, if you’re wondering who the world’s worst boss is, you should read this.