Revelations from Boss Hell and Heaven
The last time I had a boss was in 2009. Good God, my mind is doing cartwheels over that sentence!
Bosses can make you cry, cuss, and crumble, particularly if they’re bipolar, unhappy people whose main focus is to inject fear into everyone around them, and make the workplace a battlefield. And while this corporate soldier inserted an invisible middle finger in my resignation letter, I didn’t do it damning the day every boss I had was born.
I actually like most of my former bosses, and have maintained pretty strong relationships with them. Even amidst nervous-breakdown-threatening experiences with bosses, I’ve taken note of everything I’ve learnt along the way.
Regardless of what you endure at work, if you keep the lessons to the forefront of your mind, it means that you leave with some value added to you, and you can use that to your benefit, wherever you end up in your professional and personal journeys.
Two years since being on my own, here are some of the lessons that have stayed with me.
“Karel, it’s not the work that’s hard. It’s people who make it hard.”
This gem came to me via an old boss in 2006. A fatherly figure, he showed me how to try to maintain calm and dignity, regardless of how nasty office politics got, and how torturous people made a simple task.
Think about it. If we really take a scientific approach to workplace stress, we’d see that at least 75% of the stress is related to other people’s inefficiencies, office politics, bad attitudes, and insistence on wrecking your equilibrium on a daily basis.
If people would focus on the objective, and decrease unnecessary stress, maybe we would all see unicorns and rainbows every time we hear of a new project that we have to work on, and overtime would seem like a perk, and not a punishment.
Multitasking and mobilising
Fresh out of university, in my early 20s, I went to work with my business communications lecturer at her small public relations consultancy firm. Our staff made up for quantity with quality. We shared the work among her, an administrative assistant, and myself, and it was amazing to see how much work we got done together, and individually.
Things like planning a 400-person awards ceremony and dinner, and running an office and liaising with CEOs, while she was away became second nature. Talk about baptism by fire.
From that experience, I discovered that I can do a million things at once, and do them well. I learnt the skill of mobilising projects early. And I’d have never honed that skill if she didn’t give me the chance to use my initiative and take charge.
Not every boss will give you a chance to become confident, discover your talents, and trust your instincts. But because she gave young people a chance, I honed two important skills that helped me to be a powerhouse when it comes to turning over great work quickly.
As a self-employed person and startup entrepreneur, let me tell you…the ability to mobilise projects quickly and excellently, and be reliable, will always get you referrals.
Protect your personal life
I had a boss who would stay calm regardless of the situation, even in situations where you wanted him to speak up. But he seemed determined to maintain his inner peace, regardless of how worked up someone else got. And when I think of it, I can see his logic for that.
Where someone else would call it weakness, and I once called it that, I now realise that that was his way of avoiding stress-related illness, and ensuring that he didn’t take that negative energy home. How many times have you taken out your frustrations on your wife, husband, boyfriend, parent, or sibling, when, as you enter the house, they simply asked you how your day went?
These days, we basically live to work, and forget that we have to try to protect our private spaces from the pressures of the corporate world. And, if your personal life is important to you, you’ve got to find a way to make that area of your life successful, even if it means not being the most outspoken person at work.
When I returned to Trinidad with my master’s degree, the first thing people told me to do was to get a managerial position. But I didn’t feel ready.
I believe in doing things when your mind and heart are ready for it. I also believe in paying your dues, and I felt that I needed to get some more experience and feel more confident about taking on a heavier portfolio before I applied for a ‘big wuk’.
In my job immediately before I finally took a manager’s position, I had a boss who was personable, and supportive. She always let you know that she trusted you to work well, but more importantly, she helped me to understand that natural confidence in yourself, and your ability to make decisions makes a big difference between the manager who gets respect and the manager who doesn’t.
Most of the managers out there who make work a living hell for their subordinates do so because they aren’t confident in their ability. They took up the role before they were ready. Force-ripe is what you call them. And just like when you eat a force-ripe fruit, they hurt your belly, and your head.
Great bosses will always share a few lessons that help you during your point of need, and long after. Bad bosses inadvertently help too, because you learn exactly how not to treat people, and identify how to be a better manager or supervisor.
When you look back at what your bosses have taught you, it shows you how far you’ve come, and how much you’ve grown. So don’t touch base with a former, great boss when you want a good recommendation, or need a favour. Stay in touch, because they’ve helped you to create a better version of you.