Back in the zenith of 2012 - the penultimate month of November - I somehow landed myself a supervising job. I say “somehow” because…I didn’t remember actually applying for it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t. Rather, my mother had applied in my stead because I was too chickens**t to do so. Even after thinking I’d botched the interview, I still landed it. Given that this was the first time I’d ever landed a leadership role of any kind (with pay), I went in with a few preconceived notions…and a few unrealistic goals.
One of those was to be “the cool boss”.
You, fine reader, know the type I’m talking about. The manager that everyone likes and respects, from the top-tier down; one of the guys but still manages to get the job done. All without ever losing their cool. I had no idea how to pull this off, but I’d seen enough movies to garner a rough idea. I thought…
For the first couple of months, I seemed to be pulling it off. It was a hectic gig, but one where gratitude was bestowed. I answered to a departmental head, and - in turn - took over their duties whenever they were absent. The staff appeared to like me well enough, and when I was in charge, I kept things a little more informal. A balance of sorts was struck.
By the third month, the unthinkable happened. I was nominated Employee of the Month. Whatever I was doing, it was apparently working. Staff and superiors congratulated me. It was the first time I’d ever earned that coveted prize. In all my occupational “glory”, I was often quite far away from that lofty goal. Not anymore.
There was only one drawback to this apparent success. I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. When I returned home, I simply collapsed and vegetated. Other responsibilities took a far-flung backseat to blissful decompression. No job, to my knowledge, wiped me out to such a degree.
It hit me about a month later what the problem was. Granted, supervisory/managerial work was more complicated and occasionally more difficult, but was it supposed to be the job of three people? Two months later, I got a talking-to about not meeting some of my core responsibilities. I was flabbergasted. How?! And where was I supposed to find the time to improve?!
Another thought occurred to me. In my pursuit of being the “cool boss”, I’d lost sight of the ability to delegate responsibility. If something extra was added to our department, I tried to take care of it myself. If an employee missed a task, I attempted to rectify it myself instead of sending them back. So fearful was I of stepping on anyone’s toes that I’d lost my stride.
I brought up my concerns about meeting my responsibilities within the right timeframe to my general manager. Compounded with that, I also outlined what I was doing to make the jobs easier for those on my staff. He simply laughed and said, “If I’d known that, I would’ve slapped you long ago. Your job is not to do their job.”
“I just don’t want to be the bad cop,” I replied.
“It’s not about being good cop or bad cop,” he corrected me. “It’s about being indifferent cop. Firm but fair. The important part is that they respect you, not like you.”
Whoah, maybe I’d been going about it all wrong. I thought it was important to be liked. Everyone has at least one boss they’ve liked. I’m one of the lucky ones that can name three or four. They were examples I tried to emulate, but was I really earning any respect?
The following week, on a particularly busy day, I tried to put this to the test. The day ahead promised to be exceptionally busy. There was no way I was going to make quota if I tried to do everything myself. I huddled everyone together in a little powwow, and explained how the day was going to progress. If certain tasks weren’t completed to specs, I would be sending them back. Not completing it for them.
Three employees outright lied to me about tasks being completed, I counted at least fifteen times when I had to send people back (sometimes twice), and two people outright snapped at me over the request to redo certain assignments. Something about my approach wasn’t working. Was it that they weren’t used to me expecting them to complete their jobs themselves…or was it something else?
Respect. I didn’t have it. I hadn’t earned it.
My own staff didn’t view me as an authority figure. Hell, I barely viewed me as an authority figure. I wasn’t a boss. I was “like a” boss. All of the responsibilities, but none of the authority.
This came up during a birthday party for a friend. The conversation went like this:
Friend: “Can’t you write people up?”
Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority.”
Friend: “Do you make the schedule? Could you shorten the hours of problem employees?”
Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority?”
Friend: “So, you have…a badge, and that’s it?”
Me: “That’s it.”
Friend: “I’d stop caring if I were you. Just try to be their friend.”
That was directly counter to what the general manager had advised me to do. But given that I could issue no consequences short of “…or else”, what “else” could I do? Could I get by on not giving a damn?
For your information, the answer is “No.” The inner dilemma all came to a head on Sunday (the day before the time of this writing). One employee called out sick. Two were due off the schedule by noon. My immediate manager couldn’t make it in to assist. Our tasks had grown by thirty percent. And I was caught in the middle. I ended up pulling a fourteen-hour day.
That’s when I said to myself, “I’ve had it.”
In closing, if you have - or if you are - one of those magical/mythical beasts known as a “cool boss”. Hug them or yourself. Time with them will be fleeting. They will either cripple under the pressure, or realize they are worth more than where they are. Or they will succumb to dick-bossedness by sheer necessity.
Me? I didn’t succeed. I didn’t fail. I’m simply postponing any direct conclusions by looking at cat pictures on the Internet…
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