A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a message. “You should write about good bosses,” she said. Flippantly, I responded, “Do you have someone in mind?”
Well, she did. Me. I was her boss back in Illinois, although I never considered myself a “boss.”
Technically, every one is responsible to some one else above them in the workforce hierarchy. Some in charge use that power as a club. I chose to use it as a collaboration.
But Marilyn’s query got me to thinking of my first boss … Bob Curley back at the old Paterson News. The first day I walked into the office, Bob told me I was part of a team. We were all equal with different levels of experience and expertise.
I tried to never forget that.
I started in Paterson answering phones in the sports department, getting information from our correspondents on the results and highlights of high school athletics. At the time, we covered over 40 schools in four counties. While in high school I was one of those correspondents.
I started with the winter sports season Dec. 8, 1965. Bob stunned me just before the holiday tournaments by asking me to start writing from the notes I took.
And he was a fair and firm editor. He asked me to write a two inch story on a basketball game — about 60 words. I went to work and gave him about four to five inches. It promptly came back. I pared it to about 100 words. It promptly came back. I cut it down to about 75 words. It promptly came back. I got the message and gave him exactly 60 words.
It was another lesson I learned.
I went full time Feb. 14, 1966, just in time to be turned loose for state tournament action. And I was infected with the journalism bug.
I first became a “boss” in 1973 when I became sports editor at the New Jersey Herald. And I used a lot of skills I learned from Bob. The key was to be fair, yet firm, and allow my staff to grow to their full potential. At the Newton newspaper, for example, we started covering girls sports equally with the boys. That idea came from my staff.
Marilyn’s path crossed mine when I accepted a position as production manager at a small newspaper/commercial printer/print house in Illinois. I not only was walking into a new position, but one that was totally foreign to me. My only contact with production had been how they screwed up my story or layout. And I was younger than most of the staff, including Marilyn in composition, Andy in the camera/press room and Henry in the print shop. So I had to win them over while learning — hands-on — about the mechanics of printing.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to win them over by my knowledge. I had very little. But I did listen to them and learn from them and watch them. Through that observation and with their input we were able to some amazing things for a small newspaper. We were one of the first newspapers in the state to experiment with pagination. We were one of the first newspapers/commercial printers in the state to experiment with soy ink. We were able to “expand” the capabilities of our four unit press by wrapping units and direct printing.
But it wasn’t me as their boss who achieved these milestones. It was me allowing them to take ownership in the projects. I would just say “… what if we …” and they not only figured it out but found a way to make it work.
So, to me, a good boss isn’t one who rules with an iron, do-it-my-way fist. It’s one who allows his staff to grow — and even make some mistakes. We were part of a team. We were all equal with different levels of experience and expertise.
I learned that from Bob.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.