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A Good Boss

Originally published on LinkedIn on May 1, 2020

I was recently lucky to have contributed to the latest book from communications expert Roger D'Aprix, Bosses: True Stories of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Roger included my ‘Ugly’ story. To balance things out, here is my ‘Good’.

The best manager I ever had was a young but wise civil servant, called James.

James was extremely clever, particularly in terms of seeing the big picture and influencing policy through senior management and ministers. Yet far from outshining others, James always seemed most energised letting team members be the star. He was empowering in giving direction and feedback, helping you to not only improve the task at hand but gain a skill you could apply long into the future.

In important meetings, such as with senior management or external stakeholders, he happily ceded the limelight to me - making it clear to all concerned who they should look to as policy lead. Sometimes this inevitably led to situations that stretched me to the point of making mistakes. When that happened, James was professional enough to intervene rather than allowing the error to stand. Yet he was always mindful of his words, somehow contriving to make it appear he was endorsing and elaborating on what I’d said, rather than criticising or undercutting it.

Less than a year into working for him, James left the team for another role. I was disappointed. Mostly, though, I was grateful, realising how much I’d learned and enjoyed working with him. Typically, his final words to me before leaving us were generous. He said how pleased and confident he was to be leaving the work in my hands, implying I was a worthy successor - a confidence-booster that, while untrue, acted to make it true.

That was more than 10 years ago. There’s hardly been a time since where I’ve not benefited from having James as my manager.

Outtake from Bosses: True Stories of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, by Roger D'Aprix (published February 2020).

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