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The Yeller.   The Sexual Harasser.   The Political Operative.

The Bus-Thrower-Underer.

I’ve seen these bad bosses, but never worked for one.

Over a long career I’ve had mostly good bosses.  They cared about supporting my work.  The great ones also cared about my development.

I’ve had a few bad bosses, too — all good people.

What makes a bad boss?   Lack of experience, for one.   By now, some of my less-than-good bosses may have mastered the art of management.   Practice helps.

In our eight-month relationship, my Worst Boss Ever* and I had two conversations that lasted more than 30 minutes:  our interview, and the meeting when he extended the offer.

After that, he hid.  In his office, and by going on the road.

What did he think, or feel?  My bet’s on discomfort and fear.  He was a mid-career professional with a solid track record in staff roles.  Newly promoted, he may have been managing a team for the first time.

Though we met maybe another 3 times, I saw enough to see his essential kindness.

Yet what I experienced was his indifference.  This was actually painful.

He left the company, I stayed.  Life went on.

In discussion over at Fred Wilson’s blog, I blurted that “relationship” was the atomic unit of management.   On reflection, this is not true.

Conversation is the atomic unit of management.

Conversation at work can be strategic.  Some conversations move the ball forward, others are relationship glue.  All are important.

If you’re a manager, one of the best things you can do is make a practice of talking with your team members, individually.  Electronic devices holstered.

Nobody sees a flower, really — it is so small — we haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keefe

Discuss progress towards goals, of course.  Get to know people, too.

Indifference is insidious.   Partly because it’s not obviously Bad.

When you invest precious time and attention in your people, you oppose indifference.  You offer commitment.  Visibly.

The result is relationship.  Work and life are both enriched.

* To protect his identity, I’ve fictionalized details about my Worst Boss Ever.  Knowing what I know today, I’d act to create a different relationship.  And yet, I could only give the best I had at that time — and he gave it his best, too.   Full disclosure:  some I managed early in my career could call me their Worst Boss Ever.  There are no management prodigies.

Photo credit:  1. The chief and subordinated by valeriy osipov, used under Creative Commons license.