October 19, 2007
Good bosses! Workers explain how their leaders won their hearts and minds
Seattle Times staff reporter
TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
We've all heard the stories about awful bosses: The moody, self-important autocrats who take credit for our accomplishments and blame us for their mistakes. The petty tyrants. The bullies.
What we rarely hear about, however, are the decent bosses. The ones who not only make our work life better, but in some cases they make us better. Our mailbox has been filling up with stories about supervisors who motivate, support and inspire. They're bosses who treat their employees as teammates to be encouraged, rather than subjects to be ruled.
National Boss's Day is Tuesday, so we asked readers to tell us what makes their boss special. Tyrants, take heed.
"Our best interest at heart": The surprise in center field
Mike Phillips, 60, had never been to Safeco Field before. Heck, he'd only been in town a few days. Phillips works for Overland, Pacific & Cutler, which helps companies and government agencies buy right-of-way for various projects.
His supervisor, Faith Roland, is "the best boss I have had in my life." Last spring, she hired both Phillips, who was working in Oklahoma City, and his girlfriend, Kathy [then Smith now Phillips], who was working in Boise. When they arrived, she helped them find a place to live.
Not only that, she took them to a Mariners game in May and – unbeknownst to Kathy – helped Phillips have his marriage proposal displayed on the big screen in the sixth inning: "Kat, Will you marry me? Love, Michael."
Kathy nearly missed seeing it, because she went for a soft drink just before the messages were posted. But quick-thinking Roland alerted an usher, who got a new concession line open so an unsuspecting Kathy could get back to her seat in time.
When the message went up, Kathy "was just in total shock," Phillips said. And when she stopped hyperventilating, she said yes.
It was an unforgettable moment, said Phillips, but just one example of why he calls Roland "a very considerate, understanding person who truly has our best interest at heart."
A surrogate dad
Erin Simmons, 27, calls her boss, Martin Flynn, "my extra dad." And for good reason.
"My father died in 2006, and Martin gave me away at my wedding. Not only that, he bought my wedding dress for me."
Simmons works for Martin Flynn Public Affairs, a contract lobbying firm in Olympia. Two years ago, her boss co-led and funded a group trip to Juarez, Mexico, where Simmons and others helped a community center that serves the poor.
"It was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of my life," she says. "Though I moved to Ballard this summer, Martin and I used to have frequent commutes from Olympia to Seattle. Those drives were full of conversations with good advice, good-natured teasing and talks that challenged my beliefs. Martin is a prime example of a father, husband and employer."
He gets 'em laughing
Mike Kirk, assistant operations chief of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, expects his people to get the job done. But it's how he motivates them that draws the admiration of Kathleen Bonner, 61, a paramedic/firefighter.
Kirk routinely shows up early to ask the outgoing night crew about any problems they had. Then as members of the day crew, he'll help map out a plan for the shift, often opening his comments with a "dry-witted anecdote, a la Johnny Carson."
Then he makes his move: "He deftly slides a pile of work orders in while we're still laughing," Bonner said. "And he proceeds to work harder than anyone for the rest of the day, doing both his chiefly duties and often showing up to help wash a truck or scrub some hose. ... This man could write the book on 'How to Be a Decent Human Being.' "
Going the extra mile – times 300
Kathi Ferguson's boss, Jim Owens, chief information officer at the Navy's Bangor submarine base, enjoys a good argument, perhaps a bit too much. But he's a great mentor and motivator and when a crisis arises, he comes through, big-time.
Three years ago, Ferguson's husband was being treated at a Spokane hospital and suddenly took a turn for the worse. Owens insisted on driving her to Spokane, stopping only at his home long enough for his wife to hand him a packed suitcase.
"My husband sat up and greeted us as we entered the room, then laid back down and never spoke another word," said Ferguson, 48. "He entered a coma and died the next morning."
Ferguson said if she had taken time to find someone else to accompany her, "I would have missed my husband's last words."
She inspires their hard work
Slackers beware: You wouldn't like working for Shahin Karim, managing attorney for USAA Insurance's Seattle office. But attorneys Peter Diamond, 49, and Dan Johnson, 46, say she's a top-notch motivator.
"Shahin demands hard work and competence from all her employees," said Diamond. "She demands the same of herself, and stays at work as late or later than most of us. She is also extremely fair and compassionate."
Johnson adds: "Her upbeat attitude and sense of humor make the long days actually enjoyable. She is, by far, the best managing attorney I have worked for in the past decade."
A gift that crossed the ocean
Giving gift cards to receptionists and mailroom staffers at Christmas may not set attorney C. James Judson apart, but it's just one of many acts which earned this partner at Davis Wright Tremaine the firm's "most generous" title a couple years back.
"His philanthropy is contagious," said Mary Dougherty, 50, Judson's assistant for 14 years, noting that he gives time and money to many worthy causes.
One gift to her stands out. "He sent my husband and I on a trip to Europe ... he and his wife paid for everything, including spending money."
Perhaps just as important, though, is his willingness to give counsel and attention. "I have witnessed many people over the years who call to run something by him, ask for advice or just to talk and he is there for them," she said.
What happens in Vegas ...
Count yourself fortunate if you, like Bunny Neu, work for someone "considerate, understanding and patient." But Neu, 60, a designer at South End Florist in West Seattle, says shop owner Bill Shinbo is even more than that.
It's not unusual for him to bring in doughnuts or bagels for his staff. "When it's someone's birthday, he lets us take an extra-long lunch break, and he buys the cake – and it's always a really good cake. ... And when he returned from a trip to Las Vegas last fall, he gave us his winnings so we could throw a big party!"
Maybe staffers will encourage Shinbo to go to Vegas more often: "After this year's trip," Neu said, "he brought us all jewelry."
First (grade) things first
Janie Sheridan, 41, knew she'd be late to work if she took her younger daughter to her first day of first grade, but her boss, Eric Eddings, quickly put her at ease.
"He just said, 'That's important. You should be there for her. ... Your family should be No. 1.' "
To some, such courtesy might seem commonplace, but Sheridan, Eddings' executive assistant at Monterey Gourmet Foods, said, "It wasn't like that where I worked before."
Eddings' employees know his concern for family life is sincere, because he doesn't just preach it, he practices it. "He holds his family in high regard, making an effort to be at his daughter's weekly soccer games, speaking highly of his wife and taking her into consideration while scheduling his travel arrangements," Sheridan said.
What would Mike do?
A co-worker dubbed Mike Sipes "the human anti-inflammatory" because, explains Karen LaRoché, "he had the ability to defuse nearly any conflict in a calm and soothing manner."
Sipes was a clinical specialist at Harborview Medical Center, where LaRoché is a respiratory therapist. She says Sipes was a supervisor in title, but acted more like the captain of a team.
"When another colleague was debating whether to take a certification exam, he had so much faith she would pass he said, 'If you don't pass the first time I will personally pay for you to retake it.' " Adds LaRoché, 37, "Did I mention that it is a $400 exam?"
Sadly, LaRoché speaks about Sipes in the past tense. Last month, he died of a heart attack at 57. Now LaRoché and her co-workers treasure "our memories, his teachings and a saying we mutter every day, 'W.W.M.D.' What would Mike do?"
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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