By Scott Freitag
Quite honestly, Boss’ Day on Oct. 16 has always been a bit confusing to me.
It’s a day dedicated to the one person an employee might rather avoid on a regular basis, depending on the situation. Maybe the day’s project won’t come in on deadline. Maybe spending lunch together is not the employee’s idea of a good time. Maybe the boss isn’t so interested in stepping out with subordinates.
Plain and simple, Boss’ Day can be an imposition for employees and the boss on an otherwise pleasant October day. The safest option might mean following avoidance tactics: keep head down, eyes averted, and pretend the day doesn’t exist, at least on your calendar. I think a lot of it has to do with the day’s expectations. What is the message? Does a boss expect praise? Should staff be obligated to give it? Is this one way to win favor with the person in the presiding position?
How did this happen?
A State Farm Insurance employee in Deerfield, Ill., registered the holiday in 1958 with the United States Chamber of Commerce. Patricia Bays Haroski wanted a day to show appreciation to her boss and other bosses, anticipating that setting aside a day was a good thing to do. It obviously hit a chord since the day has been around for more than half a century.
But what was her true motive? Maybe, she was the boss. Maybe, she was self-employed. Maybe, she wanted to create a team? In other words, was her point to thank the boss for keeping us employed, or are we thanking the boss for putting together a team that makes it worthwhile to spend the day away from home?
I believe it was about teamwork.
From what I’ve learned, a boss looks for the same qualities in his employees as the employees want in a boss. It’s a reciprocal deal. Most might say they like their boss and the boss his employees for reasons such as integrity, clarity, honesty, sticking up for a fellow worker, and passion about what they’re doing. While skills are certainly important, the fit keeps the ship afloat.
A good boss sets the example and builds confidence levels. Nobody is better than the next guy; we all have something valuable to offer. Good employees look to the boss for leadership and don’t undermine motives and direction; after all, that’s the reason that person is boss. They’re not trying to climb over one another to win favor and the prize in their eye isn’t who gets the job once the boss retires.
The qualities may sound simple enough unless you take human nature into play. Idealism isn’t something we can always put into practice. Nothing is easier to fail than trying to achieve perfection.
Lesson from the master
I like the description Chicago Tribune business writer Mary Schmich provided in her article about good bosses (Oct. 15, 2010), which can be applied to good employees: [The boss] understands that power is fleeting and borrowed, a fancy suit on loan. He doesn’t forget that his real power comes not from the realms above him but from the rank-and-file, and the rank-andfile trust his leadership. A good boss shares a view his employees embrace and work together to achieve. The “he” is used generically.
View from the top
Schmich’s take reminds me of the many lessons I learned as a kid from a favorite author, Dr. Seuss. While some of his work was for the sake of having fun, many of the stories contain messages that can hit us right over the head. Remember Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories? Though it contains three short stories, it is mostly known for its first story, “Yertle the Turtle,” in which Yertle (Oh! Marvelous Me), king of the pond, stacks his subjects to build a throne that reaches higher than the moon. The burp of the bottom turtle forces Yertle to fall into the mud, ending his rule.
I’ve always looked at the book as a reminder in keeping perspective. No one is better than the next guy, no matter where they sit in the hierarchy, which doesn’t mean we can exist without our leaders. It does mean, however, that we can have lunch with our boss on Oct. 16 without feeling it’s a move to stack the deck in anyone’s favor. No flattery necessary, although don’t expect the boss to pick up the check.