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Details of your incompetence do not interest me

The Devil Wears Prada is a 2006 film set in a fashion magazine. Uber boss Miranda Priestly is world famous for being impossible to please. She greets a subordinate in one scene with:

Details of your incompetence do not interest me.”

My first job was with an airline. I was in my 20’s, excited to be on my own for the first time, doing the type of work I loved, and had free air travel anywhere I wanted to go. It was the perfect setup… and I was miserable. Why? Because I had a suffocating, terminally negative, micromanager for a boss.

My second job was with a manufacturing company that was built in the Jurassic Period- and a lot of the original people, processes, and equipment were still there. Nothing about that scenario screamed “work here,” but I loved it. Why? Because I had an inspiring boss that trained me, coached me, had my back, and made me feel invested in company success because he was invested in mine.

In my opinion the single greatest factor influencing job satisfaction is your boss. You spend a lot of time with that person and they influence you so much; if you are miserable at work it will eventually manifest itself in other areas of your life. When evaluating taking/leaving a job, I believe this should weigh heavily in your decision-making process. Even today as a consultant, I always ask myself when meeting a new client whether its someone I could be happy working for. If I imagine it would be a nightmare, it’s very instructive regarding the type of problems they are likely to have and how much change will even be possible.

It must be noted that my definition of the perfect boss may be different than yours. The coach/athlete relationship is a great way to illustrate that. I played college football, and there were two position coaches I worked with every day. Both would scream and push and harass on the field, but off the field they were completely different. One was just as much an unapproachable ass off the field as he was on it. He was a one-trick pony, using only intimidation to drive us. The other cared about us- I’d see him talking to players about their grades and their families in addition to football. When he yelled at me then I knew he was just trying to make me better, and I felt bad for letting him down. That’s leadership- his style made me want to go the extra mile for him.

Some employees/players are self-starters. They don’t need to be told to do extra work on their own. Others need gentle prodding/reminders. Still others need to be pushed hard and constantly to drive them to reach their potential. A great coach / manager knows how to tailor the approach to get the most out of each individual, which in turn optimizes the performance of the team. That is the kind of boss/coach to look for- and to be yourself when you are in a leadership position.

Ralph Smith

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