Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Honor Your Heroes

(November, 2002) It has been my practice every year around Thanksgiving time to devote this space to heroes. I believe that we need to celebrate the people that we value, and we need to do it now rather than later. When we want to complain about someone, we certainly leap right into it; why not extend the same speediness to appreciating people who do well? After all, when we appreciate people who are doing well, we strengthen them and make the world a bit more like the place we want it to be.
In years past, I have celebrated my former teachers, old friends, and community volunteers. This year I’m turning my attention to the world of work.
In the world of work, there are few things as great as a good boss.
The first boss I ever worked for was John Mahaffey. John was an unusual boss, the kind of man whose friends call him colorful and whose enemies call him a loon.
I went to work for Mr. Mahaffey the first summer after I graduated from high school, and I heard more four-letter words out of him in my first week of work than I’d heard in my entire senior year. He could be pretty forceful in expressing his opinion, but you never had to guess what his opinion actually was. I always found him to be decent and honest; he was a good first boss.
I am fortunate that my most recent boss is also a good one. Bill Vonada has not been the principal at FHS for many years, but he has demonstrated most of the qualities that you can hope to find in a good boss.
Bill listens and pays attention. He manages to hear what you’re saying and to listen for the point you’re trying to make by saying it. If what you’re saying is not good news, he doesn’t try to manage you or convince you to stop saying it.
Bill talks (which is not uncommon in bosses), but he speaks in plain English and says what he means. He is what was once called a “straight shooter,” the kind of person who uses words to communicate information instead of covering it up. If Bill thinks you’re right, he says so. If he thinks you’re wrong, he says so. If he doesn’t have an answer, he says so.
Bill works for the team. This whole team concept seems to be a tough concept for some bosses out there. Teams include a variety of jobs, some more critical than others. A good captain knows how to lead, but he knows the value of his team-mates, too. A quarterback with a great passing arm is useless without a receiver.
Teamwork is a two-way street. Bill takes care of his people and does his best to see that we can do the jobs that he does, in fact, expect us to do. This is a simple equation that escapes many leaders—leadership is a relationship, and no relationship can survive when one side does all the taking and the other does all the giving.
Like most of the good leaders I’ve known, Bill seems to have a clear sense of the purpose of his organization. There are lots of good people in leadership roles whose better sense is clouded by ego or insecurity. Bill is one of a handful of leaders I’ve known who never seem to let pride or ego get in the way of doing the job. When someone would rather look good than do good, problems always follow. Bill, I would guess, is squirming as he reads this; he would rather do good than look good.
Whether he knows it or not, I have learned a lot about leadership from Bill in the last few years. This is just my time of year to say so.
I would bet that you have had a good boss or two in your life. If you have become a boss, I’ll bet that somewhere in your past is a person from whom you learned some of the principles by which you now lead.
What I encourage you to do this very weekend is take out a piece of paper and write that person a letter. You can keep it simple: “You are a hero of mine because…” We are far too reluctant to praise bosses. We figure they’re “just doing their job” or we don’t want to appear to be sucking up.
But we live in a world where good bosses are an increasingly rare and lonely breed. Just like anyone else, maybe even more so, they need to hear that their work is noticed and appreciated.
The thing about most heroes is that they never know they’re heroes unless someone else tells them so. It’s up to the rest of us to let them know.


Joe said...

This is a good as time and place as any to say it: you are one of my (exceedingly few) heroes (adventures in babysitting notwithstanding). Why? Because you go and do so many things I merely wish I might do, and better than I could even if I actually did them. To wit: you write exceedingly well, with a clear and seemingly effortless voice, addressing contentious topics every week, thoughtfully yet incisively. You teach. You play your musical instruments. You direct pit orchestras and entire musicals (albeit almost entirely by the seat of your pants). You volunteer and give back to your community. You read omnivorously. You take professional quality photographs. And by your example, you no doubt inspire others to attend to the better angels of their nature. There's more, for sure, but I need not embarass you further in front of your legions of blog readers. So, hail to you, Hero!

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you, Joe, for a well-put tribute!

a not-so-secret Greene admirer :)

Anonymous said...

You left out the part where he beats everyone at trivia games. And he doesn't even (usually) cheat :)


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