Tuesday, August 2, 2022

I was a mediocre boss

It has taken me a long while to get to the point where I can write this post.

I supervised people, usually between 15 and 40 at a time, and I was not a perfect boss.

For instance, when an employee was telling me a lie I was more interested in learning his "tells" and noodling out WHY he felt he had to tell me a lie. My bosses wanted me to jump on him with both boots but many times the lie was about an inconsequential matter. The last thing I wanted was to train my employees to become proficient liars.

I was also less aggressive about "fixing" things than many of my bosses thought I should be. If there was a speck of dirt in the paint and it was borderline for being in spec, I was inclined to tell my people to let it go. Attacking the clear-coat with abrasive (especially on horizontal surfaces) meant that the UV light would quickly attack the color-coat and give the paint "skin cancer". 

You have undoubtedly seen "skin cancer" caused by overly zealous use of a buffer. It is often seen as two, parallel, fore-aft, 10" wide streaks on the roofs of pick-up trucks where the person using the buffer did not hold up the weight of the tool and the wheel quickly removed a major portion of the clear-coat.

Also, some of the repair people were not inclined to feather-out their repair and they left a crescent-moon when they used the edge of the sanding disc to dig out the speck of dirt.

Another "flaw" I had as a supervisor is that I insisted on learning the jobs. One of those jobs was "fitting" newly hung doors in the body-shop. In one shop, that entailed using a 40 oz hammer and a chisel with a notch ground into the edge and "drifting" the hinges rearward to set the gaps to the panel behind the door. 

My trainer was Don Hendershot (his real name) and I filled him with dismay because his instructions were "Three hits and that is going to have to be good enough". I was not well enough calibrated to do it in three hits and the fourth hit invariable loosened up the joint enough that the entire door slid down to the bottoms of the over-sized holes and it became an off-line (i.e. major) repair.

Another problem was that I struggled to treat each employee in an identical manner. When I started my career you worked in the same area for decades and you had evidence of who told the truth and who "told stories". You adjusted your response based on the reputation of the person you were dealing with.

By the time I was at the end of my career the "job" situation was a game of musical chairs. The Corporation was imploding and jobs did not last long. You either moved to wherever there was a job or you did not have one. 

Upper-management's response was to treat everybody the same. Bill, the guy who missed 4 hours of work in five years (the afternoon his wife died of cancer...no shit) was to get treated the same as "N", the guy who took off six weeks during bow-season because...his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and he needed to be home when the hospital bed was delivered. SIX WEEKS? FOR A BED TO BE DELIVERED?

The game-players were quick to pick up on the new rule set. I had one employee who was a straight shooter to called in and told me he had diarrhea every 15 minutes and he begged me to waive the requirement that he bring a doctor's note. His truck had cloth upholstery.

The next day his co-worker, a notorious game player, called in with a "stomach flu" and didn't think she should have to get a doctor's note. I told her to drive to the doctor with her window rolled down. The repercussions of that went up two levels on both the Management and Union side of things.

Experiences like that shape you. Life comes at you like traffic viewed through your windshield. You give each hazard its allotted three whacks of the hammer and move on. Fixating on any single imperfection is guaranteed to cause a wreck. And for goodness sake, don't try to drive while constantly looking in your rear-view mirror. YOUR hazards are in front of you.


  1. Sage advice!
    I'm sure you were well liked by your charges. That speaks volumes more than some statistic in a production file.

  2. You and I are fortunate that we are out of the game now. Everybody I hang around with that is still in management and ownership says that it is really getting much worse. ---ken

    1. I agree.

      Marxist-Leninist theory is that every person is born identical to every other person. The child with an IQ of 85 before he was dropped on his head and who grew up in a home with no books is identically-equal to the a child who was blessed to grow up in a more enriched environment.

      That means that the 85 IQ employee should be running the company/government/military.

      Keep your friends and family close. Keep your enemies closer...and downrange.

  3. The Union "Zone" happened to drop into my break-room the last week I worked. That was weird because I was working 3rd shift and "Zone" is just below the chairman. Seeing a Union "Zone" guy on 3rd was a rare thing. Big George told me that I was an OK guy, in his book.

    You know, it is almost impossible to predict what is going to strike people as worthy of comment. It might be the fact that you nap on your lunch break or it might be the fact that when you find out that one of your employees (or his spouse) is dealing with cancer and you bring in three, frozen lasagna trays...or that you attend the funeral six months later. Those things happen at a distressing rate when you supervise large groups and rotate through three shifts.

    Apparently, somebody thought one or two of those actions were out-of-the-ordinary in a good way and it floated up the chain-of-command on the Union side.

    I did not see my boss in my last two weeks of work.

  4. ERJ - I, too, found ultimately that I was not a good boss. I was not good at universally "enforcing" my will, nor at holding people accountable to the point of being willing to public humiliate them. Also, I spent far more time than was merited trying to understand some of the folks with some significant issues and making sure I stopped and made contact with everyone.

    One of the best things that happened to me was when I was relieved of that burden.

    1. One person in every 20 in the work-force is whack-a-doodle. Presumably, another one-in-20 is so warped as to not be able to hold down a job. That adds up to 10% that are not worth trying to understand.

      It is the next 10% that is interesting. They are not telling lies because they are congenital liars and shit-stirrers. There is useful information embedded in their prevarications.

      I retired. I am SO HAPPY!

      I miss the 80% who just wanted to do their job. I do not miss the 5%-to-20% who made life difficult.

    2. Wow, 5-20%.
      At least 90% of the people I contacted everyday made life difficult, and some of them were my supervisors.
      I am so glad to be retired.

  5. When I was supervising, I only had 13 to deal with, 7 short of getting a whack-a-doodle. It wasn't too bad, mostly.

  6. After tears of running union shops I took over a failing non-union shop in 2000. It was simple , quick , and easy . My guy that spent $200 on tools every week and never once called off plus he worked every overtime day offered him made $32 an hour . The guy that went to a garage sale and spent all of $7.50 a week on tools , called in at least once each week , and refused any overtime because " my weekends are my own " made $15 an hour . Guess who got laid off when times got lean ? My productivity bonus suggestion went through and my top guys were getting $10,000 to $16,000 every 3 months plus a safety bonus of $5000 every 3 months . My salary and bonuses tripled from the union environment to the scab bois . I come from a pro-union family of many generations . My grandpa was an early union activist . Unions are and have been communist for many years . Productivity is what pays the bills and gets those raises flowing .

  7. Those are excellent points that I wish I knew earlier. Three whacks and move on.... Very good.

  8. I'm retired also. I miss it sometimes. I was a site superintendent who had control over up to 10 people of my own, plus semi control over the workers in other trades. In my several years at this job, I only had two idiots, one Hispanic and one mixed race, who accused me of being racist. Both were under performing workers who used the race card when I excoriated them for their lackadaisical work ethic.

  9. I'm topped out on the technical side; if I want further promotion I have to go into management. I've avoided it so far because there is a HUGE amount of hassle for a small pay raise. Instead I'm developing side income streams.

  10. I was a cop for 23 years so different line of work but same issues. I was a patrol guy for 5 years and a Detective for 18 years. I always took the Sergeants exam and was often in the top 3 (which was who they had to pick from for promotions). I always turned down the Patrol Sgt job when offered for the reasons you all cited: I’d be supervising 5-6 cops; 1 would be great, 1 would be an absolute nightmare, the other 3-4 would be mediocre but I’d spend most of my time dealing with the 1 nightmare. Not worth it for 7.5% more money when I had weekends off, could take any vacation I wanted, didn’t work around the clock and would’ve been stuck on the desk answering the phone because we were always short handed. I always took the test for two reasons: one was that in case I changed mind and wanted to go back to patrol or had some Chief decide he didn’t want me as a Detective anymore (in the area I worked, Detectives served “at the pleasure of the Chief”). Two, I was always hoping some Chief would promote me from Detective directly to Det/Sgt. It never happened but I have no regrets. I was always able to be there for my family, I retired with my health intact, was never successfully sued or seriously injured and I have my modest pension for the rest of my life. God is good.

  11. Long ago, and far away, I was a nursing supervisor. It was...interesting. TDW-Mark I (aka "The Plaintiff, nowadays) and I decided that I would, again, be a nursing supervisor, but I had some conditions. Mostly, that I would not do do for less than $100,000/year.

    In 1991 dollars.

  12. "The major component of a good boss' job is helping his employees make him look good."

    The better the boss looks the more he can accomplish for his (deserving) employees because his business unit will excel.

    Since employees are unique (aka: individuals) multiple techniques must be employed to achieve the goal. Of any 10 employees, 1 will fully comprehend The Program and operate accordingly, and be able to take advantage of opportunities so offered; 1 will be dead weight; 1 will be a solid negative; half the the remaining 7 will require 50% of the boss' time in coaching and hands-on direction. 1 of those will, with a fair mount of oversight and direction, eventually learn What The Program Is All About and begin to Operate Accordingly.

    The remainder will be the Time Sink that makes the boss regret ever having taken that job and drives up his liquor bill.


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