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Tuesday, 4 February 2014


I am working on a book about management style and behaviour based on my own bosses over four decades. "Career-View Mirror: 40 Bosses In Forty Years" is a work in progress and each day over the next couple of weeks, I am publishing here rough-cut chapters to test the idea.

The plan is to publish the material in a book, either via mainstream or self-publishing routes and then to take the material and share it in talks, presentations and workshops with business students and current managers.

Today - the introduction.......  Tomorrow, the chapters begin.......

In forty years I have had forty bosses spread over seven different companies.  I don’t know how that sounds to you but to me it is an astonishing statistic.  It is not mathematically complex to work it out as one boss a year over four decades on average, in retailing, wholesaling, tourism and business education, but the answer to the arithmetic still amazes me.  I have no idea if an accumulation of so many bosses is an unusual affliction but, apart from anything else, it gives the lie to the notion that one boss or, indeed one job for life, is probably a pipedream.  I thought about my bosses, their management styles, their strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on me personally and on my career progression to construct professional advice I was asked to give to some college students.  The event was to help kids at school to understand the world of work, the value of career choices and ambitions, and to drive home to them the vital connection between productive education, an appetite for learning and the quest to earn a continuous living.  The preparation for working life seminar was both a chance to share old-hand experience and to prompt discussion about the reality of adult life.  My core role within the agenda was to encourage students to think about what they have to offer a future employer and then to assist them in constructing CVs, writing application letters and rehearsing mock job interviews.  There was a great deal of time spent talking about self-honesty, self-awareness, clarity of realistic ambitions and how to manage the transition from academe to the industrial landscape.  In short, the seminar was a career planning exercise, using student naivete and hard-earned experience to help steer lives and careers.
As a group leader on the day, my first task was to subject myself to a question session where the students asked me about my own working life.  I talked about the companies I had worked for, the various jobs and responsibilities therein, the educational and professional qualifications I offered employers, my attitude to continuous personal learning and development, and the best and worst experiences in my career.  It was during this session that I first considered my many bosses and the kinds of questions I would have asked them if I had been allowed the opportunity to do what these kids were doing with me.  Here I was, an experienced manager of businesses, people, customers and so on, sharing sage advice, and it occurred to me that some, perhaps not all, of these students, would remember me and fragments of the advice and stories I had related to them.  Somewhere in the corners of their minds, my words might just come back and help them on their way through life and work.  It was and is a big responsibility.  Many things shape us as human beings on the path from the cradle to the grave, from family to friends, in school, in work and in various lay-bys and cul-de-sacs along the road.  If we are lucky, we can build on the foundations of a good upbringing, influenced by sensible parents, close siblings, positive teachers, fair employers and other mentors, giving us a basis to at least know right from wrong.  As we grow up, we have opportunities to learn to understand how to conduct ourselves, the advantages of good etiquette, bright personality, punctuality, reliability, smart personal appearance, effective communication, team work and individual drive, amongst many other things.  A proportion of the human race either chooses not to adopt these attitudes and approaches, or is deprived of a fair shot at life because of background and adverse circumstances.  I remember teachers as well as I remember employers and managers in my life.  Some were exceptional, full of energy and inspiration.  Some were average men and women who stumbled along, achieving or failing, according to their individual abilities.  Some, it has to be said, were downright appalling as bosses and, in a couple of cases, as people.  But, from the sublime to the ridiculous, it was impossible not to learn something from every one of them.  Part 1 of the book contains condensed, retrospective appraisals and reflections of each of my forty bosses.  Like the students in the seminar, I am interested in reflecting their personalities and methods of working.  I have not named any of them and I have decided not to run through one to forty in any career chronological pattern.  I’ve shuffled the deck, so to speak, because identifying individuals is irrelevant here.  I want to share my experiences of them as bosses to help anyone in a career or about to embark on what is indeed a journey through life and not simply a final destination. I do not necessarily agree with nor have followed all of the lessons and advice here.  I see these assessments as a kind of menu to prompt ideas, think about solutions and promote discussion in a one-size doesn’t fit all management world.  Some of the lessons and advice might overlap, but that goes with the territory.  From the opening index, you will have noticed that each chapter heading is one word intended to pinpoint my opinion of the style or personality of the boss discussed.   At the end of each chapter, I have included a short scorecard, an estimation of how I rated each boss on leadership credentials, inspiration, trustworthiness and how they cut it as an overall management role model.  It is not meant to be mathematically scientific, more a snapshot of what these people meant to me.  In Part 2 of the book, I take a quirky but hopefully realistic and helpful A to Z look at some of the things you can do if your career is interrupted by redundancy, dismissal or any other form of “letting go”.
I hope you have a great career, regardless of how many bosses you enjoy or endure.  Over to the Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, for our initial team talk:
“As you pass from the tender years of youth into harsh and embittered manhood, make sure you take with you on your journey all the human emotions.  Don’t leave them on the road, for you will not pick them up afterwards.”

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