In my career, not only have I not had a “boss from hell” – I haven’t even had a “boss from heck”.
But when I interviewed in 1979 for what proved to be my first enduring full-time job, I smiled when I saw on the wall of my interviewer a poster of Laurel & Hardy from the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” – laughing in each others’ arms – with the caption at the bottom: “About Your Raise”. When I was hired, I thought “This is someone special”.
Indeed: Wally was everything a good boss should be. If I screwed up, he covered for me yet let me have it – in private. If I did a good job, he told others – publicly. He showed me how to write a report (“Read it out loud” was good advice), to focus on doing the job right rather than quickly, admit mistakes, ask for help at the risk of looking foolish and always sign your name to your work. He also encouraged me to get involved in a professional society – not just to look good on my resume but for personal development. All of which has helped immensely these past thirty years.
I had lost my father two years earlier, and while Wally wasn’t a father figure to me – it was like working for your favorite uncle. More than once he’d pass my desk and say, “Eddie, there’s a new girl in payroll – just your type!” And before I could protest he’d add, “I’m working on it for you” before disappearing around the corner.
Yet one day in 1981, I became truly angered at him. A secretary happened to have an issue of Playgirl in her totebag and Wally (who liked ribald jokes and men’s magazines) muttered to the tax manager how he wouldn’t let his daughter read that.
I was thisclose to telling-off my boss about his hypocrisy. After deciding it wasn’t a good idea for a 24 year-old, I wondered “Why was I so upset?” It dawned on me: it was because I loved this man, and I went home certain I had the best boss in the world.
Weeks later I came in on Monday morning to learn that Wally died of a heart attack that weekend at only age 53. I still regret that I never expressed my appreciation for his guidance nor even sent a Christmas card. I have had great managers since (not least my present one) yet Wally was the perfect first boss. I hope every young person has such luck.