It’s that time of year when things are falling
where I live. Temperatures. A few leaves. Gas prices.
My hopes for the Jacksonville Jaguars to have a
stellar season. And that tells those of us who follow
these sorts of things that it will soon be, yes,
October 16. National Boss Day.
A ‘holiday’ in its late forties now, Bosses’ Day
originated with Patricia Haroski, a secretary with
State Farm Insurance in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1958.
She selected her father’s birthday, October 16, and
registered the holiday with the U.S. Chamber of
We last wrote about Bosses’ Day in 2000, and figure
it’s about time we do it again. Thanks to you, our
readers, our clients, and audience members who
have, over the last few years, supplied us with
additional thoughts about what sets the really great
leader-bosses apart from the rest. Going beyond the
obvious “communicate better, be approachable,
monitor your instant messaging behavior” and that
kind of thing – you know that already – we hope
these ideas will add, or shift, one or two of your
behaviors and actions, and really make a difference
to those who call you “Boss”.
1. Trivialize the trivial. One common effect of
stress on the part of bosses is the tendency to
mountainize molehills. And let’s face it. We’re all
wound a little tight these days, aren’t we? Keep
things in perspective. The next time you’re tempted
to make a big deal out of some minor-league issue,
infraction or misstep, ask yourself a few
a. Will this matter a week from now?
b. Does it affect the business, or just me, the boss?
c. Does the seriousness of the infraction justify
making it an issue?
d. If I make it an issue, am I prepared to follow
through with help so the person doesn’t repeat the
2. Stop the Madness. I’m talking about, of
course, meetings. Now, don’t get us wrong, we make
a good part of our living at meetings. We’re not
referring to your quarterly or annual conference,
management meetings, and the like. But the next
time you’re tempted to “call a meeting”, first, ask
yourself a few questions:
a. Will this meeting matter a week from now?
b. Will the meeting affect the business, or just me,
Do those questions sound familiar? Well spotted. In
his book "Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn",
Dave Barry has hit the nail on the head. “If you had
to identify, in one word, the reason why the human
race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full
potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’"
There is simply no excuse, in 2006, for having
meetings that are not thoughtfully planned, and
professionally facilitated. With an agenda that
gets “stuck to”. No, we don’t mean go out and hire a
professional facilitator for every little meeting you
have in the conference room. Learn the skill yourself!
Suppose it’s just a small meeting, with twelve people.
Every five minutes spent unproductively equates to
an hour of lost time. Have you got that kind of
surplus time hanging around? (Hint: don’t call a
meeting to find out.)
3. Invest in “Reciprocal Effort”. One thing
we’ve learned in our study of Discretionary Effort
over the last couple of years is that people tend to
expend effort in direct proportion to the effort that is
expended on them. We heard Dan Cathy, President of
our favorite fast food company, Chick-fil-A, define to
an audience of his stores’ managers, their brand of
customer service, which they call “Second Mile
Service”. “We won’t see Second Mile Service in front
of the counter,” Dan told them, “until we have first
given Second Mile Service behind the counter.”
4. Pretend you’re crossing the road. Stop.
Look. Listen. When someone, especially one of your
employees, is trying to talk to you, we could hardly
do better than to follow the advice we were all given
as children for crossing the road. Stop (what you’re
doing). Look (at the person directly in the eye.). And
listen. Really listen. Back to step 2 (look) – if you’re
really listening to someone, you ought to be able to
recall, an hour later, the color of their eyes.
5. NEVER belittle, abuse, or humiliate ANYONE
who calls you their boss (or anyone else for that
matter). And if you do, ask their forgiveness. You’ll
I hesitate to use the following example, because I
don’t – I mean I really don’t want this to be
seen as a backdoor political statement, but the
example is just so perfect, and timely, that I’m going
to use it anyway. Several independent witnesses,
including some with no axe to grind, reported that
last month, following the rather unfortunate interview
between Fox News’s Chris Wallace and former U.S.
President Bill Clinton, in which neither gentleman
fared particularly well, Clinton “chewed his staff out
mercilessly” all the way out of the studio and into the
car that drove them all away. Maybe they deserved a
reprimand. Maybe they failed to perform their duties
as assigned. But they didn’t deserve to be belittled,
abused, and humiliated by their boss, who was
probably justifiably angry at what he had just
When you find it necessary to ‘climb on someone’s
bumper,’ it needs to be done in private – always.
Many years ago, my boss’s boss spent ten minutes
tearing me a new rear end over the phone. I could
tell that we were on a speaker phone, but not until
we hung up and one of my peers immediately called
me back did I learn that two of my direct reports,
two of my peers, and a vendor were all sitting in this
bozo’s office while he was venting his spleen. To this
day, if I were to see that guy in a cross walk, I’m not
sure my car’s brakes would hold up.
6. Start a campaign. Not a crusade, but a
campaign. Identify one (you can count, can’t you? –
we said ONE) skill that everyone, or most everyone,
on your team could benefit from developing or
improving. Maybe it’s public speaking. Writing with
better grammar and usage. Facilitating meetings (see
item 2 above). Whatever it is, figure it out, and then
start helping them with it. Make it visible. With
specific goals, targets, and rewards. Encourage a
sense of team and individual accomplishment
throughout the quest. And celebrate the victory
when it is achieved.
Maybe the best general advice any U.S. president
ever gave about being a good boss came from Teddy
Roosevelt, who said, “The best leader is the one who
has sense enough to pick good men to do what he
wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from
meddling with them while they do it.” We know that
Teddy was a man of good character, and had he said
these words a hundred years later, he would have
used more inclusive personal pronouns. But we think
you get the point.
Happy Bosses’ Day!