The twelve gifts of a great boss

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

As we celebrate the holiday season with all of the festive celebrations and gift giving, I feel compelled to reflect on the gifts my managers have given me throughout the years. These gifts enabled me to become a successful professional and a better person.

While these leaders may not have considered their actions gifts, they made me a happier and more productive employee.

The first gift is probably the most hard to find: time. Never too busy, never rushed, always approachable, that’s how I remember my best boss. While we never had formal one-to-one meetings, I could always count on her to be there for me when I needed her most. She did make the rounds, checking in with us; sometimes to talk about the latest restaurant she had tried and more often to find out how things were going in our lives. Always genuine, you knew she really cared about how you were feeling and what was happening for you personally and professionally, good and bad.

Appreciation is the second gift. Timely, sincere, specific and tailored, he rarely missed an opportunity to catch you doing something right. He celebrated progress, not just results. I remember how he would tell the story of your accomplishment with such passion and pride, you wanted to have him write it down so you could read it over and over again. I don’t even remember if I received an award. I’ll always remember the story.

Never glory seekers, I respected my managers who demonstrated great humility. It was never about them; it was always about the team, the customers, our organization. In their actions, these managers demonstrated the ability to be vulnerable, admit weaknesses, apologize for missteps and ask for help. Their motivation was intrinsic, helping others and making a positive difference not on position, title or having a six digit salary. This built a trust bond that was never broken; gift No. 3.

The fourth gift was living a life of integrity; doing what was right, not popular. His decisions were always based on ethics first. True to his values, even under intense pressure, he wasn’t always the most liked person. That’s because he told the people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear; he spoke the truth. I could always count on him to be straight with me. His compass was true north. I appreciated how you could tell him anything because he would never break your confidence.

The gift of feedback and coaching, No. 5, helped me to grow, eliminating negative behaviors that were detrimental to me and others. She was masterful at asking the right question at the right time for the right reason. Never leading or manipulative, our conversations were about exploring problems and opportunities, applying multiple solutions and options. In the process, my decision making and problem solving skills were honed so that I gained the confidence necessary to take risks on my own. Priceless.

Happiness comes from serving a greater purpose, having a deeper meaning in what you do. It’s not a job, it’s a mission. According to Tony Hsieh, CEO of, there is a difference between motivation and inspiration. He said, “What are you so passionate about doing that you would do it anyway, even if you never made a dime?” I would agree. My managers gave me the gift of their passion, enthusiasm and vision for something greater. They helped me to connect the details of my work to a bigger picture.

Gift No. 7 is allowing me to do what I do best everyday, playing to my strengths and helping me to manage around my weaknesses. I thank these managers every day for not trying to make me into something that I could never be successfully. Each saw in me my unique talents and found ways for me to develop those  into strengths: my positivity, energy, action orientation and communication skills were nurtured and celebrated. My organizational skills were coached and given support.

The gift of sharing their knowledge and experience is unbelievable to me. Never worried about the possibility of me being promoted beyond their position, these managers willingly share all of their tips, techniques, shortcuts and best practices to help me avoid the land mines, duck the hazards and take advantage of opportunities. If you ever have the chance to mentor another person, please do it. The gifts flow in both directions.

Along with the gift of mentorship, is making connections, No. 9. According to Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, the business of business is people. My best manager would always be introducing me to people who worked in different departments or with other organizations. She helped me to develop my networking skills so I would be comfortable and confident making the necessary connections with those who would be instrumental to my career going forward.

While it was hard to recognize then, stretching me to accept challenges was an invaluable gift. There were many times when I was given a task, assigned a role or put into a position that scared me to death. I wondered if I had the right stuff to get it done and done right. The confidence and unwavering support of my managers was like an invisible hand, always lifting you up. They never said I couldn’t quit, however they always pointed out the choices and consequences of my decisions.

Lastly, gifts 11 and 12 support each other. Autonomy and the ability to learn from mistakes enabled me to become the entrepreneur I am today. My managers created the direction, established the goal (with my buy-in) and then let me define the best way to get there. Did
I make some mistakes? Sure. I said “how fascinating” a thousand different times. Their willingness to let me choose my own path, use my experience, knowledge and talents created a sense of ownership and commitment. As a manager, the greatest gift you can receive is to know that your character and your actions made a positive difference
in the lives of the people who work with you.

To those managers, I say, “thank you for the gifts and Happy Holidays.”