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The best boss I ever had Add to ...

What makes a great boss? Empathy? Guidance? The ability to say thank you?

From The Office to The Devil Wears Prada to Horrible Bosses, pop culture has presented us with a vast array of awful employers who torment and frustrate their hapless underlings. Most of us could likely rhyme off the traits of a bad boss pretty easily, but what’s more valuable is knowing the traits of really exceptional employers who can motivate their charges to greatness and create an energetic and positive atmosphere.

Report on Small Business went looking for stories about the actions of truly great bosses. Here are some of the highlights:

Steve Wright, co-founder, Brand Arcade, Montreal

“I had a boss a few years back who fired himself. The agency was going through a bit of a rough spot, so he stood up in front of all the staff and handed in his resignation, effective in one year if things weren't turned around by then. He took personal responsibility for our future success and it inspired a lot of other folks to take a personal stake in making things better rather than pointing fingers or waiting for someone else to fix the world.”

Carolyn Abbass, vice president, Paradigm Public Relations, Toronto

“My son spent several days in the hospital a few years ago so I was off work for the week. My boss, Tracey Bochner (President of Paradigm Public Relations), sent my family a care package and we didn’t have to think about cooking for the rest of our family for the entire time. Another story of her kindness and generosity: I had a colleague years ago whose fiancé was working in another province for several months. He was scheduled to come home and visit my colleague. His flight got cancelled and he wasn’t going to be able to make it, but Tracey re-booked his ticket so that he and my colleague would see each other.”

“Tracey recognizes everyone’s hard work and keeps our staff happy by ordering in sushi for lunch if people can’t get out, or hosting late Friday afternoon cocktails to give everyone a break at the end of a long week.”

David Allison, co-founder, Braun/Allison Inc., Vancouver

“My second job after graduating from university was at a sadly-now-defunct advertising agency in Calgary called Highwood Communications. The people running this company, Barry Styles and Blane Hogue, both believed that you should hire great people and then get out of the way and let them do what they were hired to do. Coming from a larger company where I was an inconsequential cog in the machinery, I was given the responsibility to manage a piece of business worth north of $5 million - and that was in 20-years-ago-money!”

“It was an honour, a bit of a shock, and scary as hell. The trust they placed in me was a kick in the pants, and forced me to start thinking like an entrepreneur. I credit those bosses with whatever success I have now in my own company, 20 years later. I hope I can pay it forward, and be that boss who lets people figure things out on their own.”

Leerom Segal, president and CEO, Klick Communications, Toronto

“My story dates back 17 years. At that time, my boss was Peter Cordy. He had a large marketing agency and recognized my passion for technology immediately. Peter went to bat for me and convinced my parents it was worthwhile for me to dedicate myself to the business, despite being only 14 years old. [Mr. Segal had started a company that assembled computers with a schoolmate when he was only 12 years old. That company was subsequently acquired by Mr. Cordy, who is now Mr. Segal's business partner]. Following that, he had to negotiate a double co-op with my high school and the board of education. This was no small feat, as co-op programs are supposed to complement and not replace traditional education.”

“Great managers... focus on strengths over experience, and they bend the rules to maximize the opportunities of their people.”

Sarah Kelsey, editor/writer, AOL Canada, Toronto

“I had one boss, Debra Goldblatt, who actually convinced me to leave P.R. (in other words, quit her company) to pursue writing because she knew that’s what I was passionate about. She could see right through me. Without her and the opportunities she gave me, I’d never be here. I wouldn’t be known in the industry. I wouldn’t have anything, frankly.”

Steve Widdrington, rigger, Visualize It Inc., Toronto

“We design and install decorations (for holiday displays) in office buildings, and the season starts around the beginning of November. And because we have around 60 buildings, it's about a five-week period of absolutely getting slammed.”

“We do the Commerce Court building at Bay and King and about three years ago they wanted to do something like, 'Wow.' So my boss, Judith Crombie, saw this tree she wanted to buy. It was 32 feet tall, 18 feet in diameter at the bottom, the second-largest artificial tree in Canada. It came from Mexico, so we head out to this huge supply store and go to the back and there's probably 25 boxes and two big huge wooden crates. We open the crates and we're looking for the instructions, and there are none. We have to put it together piece by piece and there are about 180 pieces.”

“It was a high-risk investment, and she's scared to death because she's just purchased this thing for $14,000 dollars. But Judith demonstrates the ability to adjust to any situation. If something goes wrong, she doesn't yell, she doesn't scream, she has this aura about her of calmness that seems to make the team produce. It's very unique and very special.”

“We did it, and it was one of the nicest buldings in Toronto by far.”

Sarah Liss, columnist, The Grid, Toronto

“At cbc.ca/arts, Andre Mayer and Greig Dymond had a tradition of concluding every year with a faux-formal ceremony called the 'Artinis,' modelled on the Oscars, during which the members of our small but scrappy team would have our accomplishments over the past year recognized with raucous applause and general hilarity. By ceremony's end, each and every person would have 'won' at least two or three Artinis.”

“The key, though, was how detailed/tailored the awards were -- they showed the kind of insight and caring Andre and Greig brought to the position of team leader. Categories would include things like 'Most dogged, selfless pursuit of a celebrity interview,' or 'Most lewd-sounding pun in display writing.' And of course, there were some more substantial awards given out, but never in a way where it seemed as though one writer's work was more valued than another's. I swear I've never worked on a team that was so loving and supportive and engaged and close-knit.”

Antoinette Blunt, President, Ironside Consulting, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“I had a boss early on who I admire because she had the ability to be strong and firm when dealing with difficult situations, but at the same time she was also very compassionate.”

“I remember going to a national conference and I had my daughter and husband with me because I travelled so much and it was one time I could take my family and spend a little time with them in the evenings. My daughter was six years old and I was so excited for her to meet my boss. I walked her up to my boss and said this is my daughter, and she looked up at my boss and with her finger shaking at her, said, 'You quit calling my mommy to so many meetings.' I was just astounded and embarrassed and I said, 'She's not the one, that's mommy's other boss.' My boss laughed and she looked at me and said, 'Can I talk to your daughter for a few minutes?' and I said, 'Sure.' She leaned down so she wasn't towering over my daughter and looked at her and said, 'Would you like to talk with me? I can take you over and get you some of those strawberries with the chocolate on them, and maybe I can tell you about mommies who work.' She took her aside and explained to her that sometimes moms have to go away and it's okay. And I thought, this is just an amazing person, this is someone who understands what employees need but also understands peoples' lives.”

“Taking a few minutes to speak to a child who was obviously struggling with a mother who has to travel for work - I'll never forget that.”

 

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