Archive for the ‘Boss’ Category

Service of the Similar Reaction to Temper and Humor

Thursday, October 1st, 2020


I know about temper. Mine is the worst. Batten down the hatches when I blow up. Nothing funny about me.

I think reactions to some humor and temper are similar in their disparity. The way the same words and tone are interpreted in a range of ways–as nasty by some, humorous by others–works for both comedy and anger.

In vintage slapstick movies, when a character slips on a banana peel, I wonder, “Did he hurt himself?” I never chuckle while many think such scenes are hilarious.


Does anyone remember the 1980s Broadway audience participation smash comedy in which the actors ridiculed participants mostly for things they couldn’t change? I don’t recall its title. The audience doubled over as I sat stone-faced when actors ridiculed an older man sitting next to an attractive much younger woman. They brought on stage the nerdiest looking short man to stand by one of the actresses, a 6-foot beauty and kept returning to a bald man in the audience to make a hat slip off his head [and bald pates were not in fashion]. Sidesplitting for most but not for me.

The day after the presidential debate Michael Riedel and newsman Joe Bartlett, on WOR Radio’s Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning, thought what the president had said was “funny.” I love to laugh but I reacted to his barbs, fierce faces, incessant, uncontrolled interruptions by pacing my bedroom and shaking in dread. I felt no connection to the laughter they mustered while producing sound bytes of his performance.

A friend worked for a man who terrified the office by screaming at his employees. She said she’d freeze at her desk when she heard him even though the verbal arrows, at top volume, weren’t directed at her and never had been. I suspect the man thought he was garnering respect. Maybe this is what the president had in mind.

Sometimes when an angry person feels cornered, outmatched or out of control, he’ll say things he doesn’t mean, that make little sense, are not true and are uttered only to hurt. Has anyone ever said to you, “I was just joking” after such an encounter?

The inspiration for humor that makes fun of others–especially about physical things they cannot change such as age, height and lack of comeliness–may be different from what sparks anger but the impact strikes viewers/listeners in two ways: they think the words are funny or not.

Do you see a resemblance between people’s contrasting reactions to temper and some humor? Have you found words of an angry person funny? Is mocking a person’s physical deficiencies or trip-ups a source of amusement for you?


Service of Who’s the Boss II? Social Security, A Bank & A Museum

Monday, July 1st, 2019


The answer to “who’s the boss?” often muttered as a rhetorical question, isn’t always negative, though in two of the three following examples it is. Sometimes a decision-maker deserves praise and other times, he/she doesn’t seem to be watching the ball. In either case, you really may want to know.

I’ll start with a happy surprise.

Feeling Secure


I’ve recently needed to make countless calls to ask for documents and information. I lucked into Mr. Gopaul who picked up the phone at the West 48th Street NYC Social Security office. He didn’t pass me on to someone else as seems to happen increasingly these days, but quickly answered my questions, some relating to recent correspondence. I asked for his name so I could write a letter to recognize his exemplary service. His voice, at first impatient so as to get on to the next call, softened and he ended our conversation saying, “bless you.”

Who’s the boss? I took to Google.  My letter to the regional Social Security director went out that day.

One + Zero=Five


In the private sector, I had a different experience. A bank handling my husband’s pension—Bank A–needed to take back a direct deposit payment I wasn’t entitled to.  My retail bank—Bank B–said it happens all the time and would handle the request from Bank A.

But Bank A didn’t take that one simple step. Instead, it sent me three documents, each one with different information and dollar amounts about upcoming payments. Two customer service people couldn’t figure it out any more than I could. To pay itself back Bank A has instead given itself five steps–that many more times to mess up—instead of one. I’m neither a banker nor a numbers person but this doesn’t compute. Who’s the boss?

Water, Water Everywhere….

I received a sell piece from a major museum for a five day trip to the Berkshires accompanied by the institution’s curator of American paintings and sculpture. I know this area well and have been to most if not all of its museums—there aren’t many–but was tempted by an excursion not too far from NYC with a knowledgeable curator. The fee got my attention–$5,999 per person double rate or almost $12,000 for two—but the charge is not why I ask “who’s the boss?” The “Rate Includes” section on the sell piece was the reason. You get “bottled water and coffee/tea with all meals.” For $12,000, I wouldn’t call this out any more than I would put on a dress’s price tag “$175 includes thread and zipper.” The program director should have deleted this and created some toothsome or valuable perks for the sell piece. [I also noted that not included are “meals not specified.” Let’s hope participants get all meals.]

Do you sometimes wonder who’s in charge and if the person is focusing on the work? Do you take time to find out who’s the boss to credit people who have done a superlative job as well as to gripe about those who don’t?


Service of Prepping the Boss: Why are Shoes Dropped?

Thursday, June 6th, 2019


Employees have their bosses’ back–or should–and do what they can to make the woman or man look good. When he/she trips up in public it’s often hard to tell whether the advisor poorly prepped the chief or if the boss neglected to pay attention.


The Clintons once received Holy Communion when Bill was President. Their advisors should have told them that Catholics don’t welcome non-Catholics to the Communion rail. They no doubt meant well yet the blunder was so easily avoided.

Speaking of Presidents, the advance team of a Presidential visit to any city foreign or domestic should know what is to happen every minute. This week in London the president failed to recognize the gift he had given to the Queen on his last visit–a pewter horse [photo below, center]. She’s a well known breeder and lover of horses so it was an apt gift. His wife had either read the cliff notes or perhaps she remembered. People magazine’s Adam Carlson, quoting the Royal Collection’s curator Tim Knox, wrote: “We just asked him whether he recognized it and he said no but the first lady did recognize it, which is rather nice.” While insignificant, a boss should never be blindsided like this.

Once my job was to listen carefully to what the boss said at new business meetings. Take the number of employees at the place: I ensured that proposals matched his claims. If a prospect wanted a company with 20 people, that’s the number he’d declare. Next time it could be 30. Almost every proposal was different in this regard.


A friend researched and informed the chairman of the large corporation he worked for with the names of wives and children of those who shared his table at the many events he attended. Remember the scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Anne Hathaway, playing Andy, [photo above, left] is similarly advising Meryl Streep, as Miranda, at Runway magazines’ yearly bash?

Have you ever had such a responsibility? Can you recall gaffes at high levels because of insufficient research and/or shoddy boss-prep?


Service of Presidents: I’ve Worked for Great Ones

Monday, February 18th, 2019


It’s Presidents Day so I wanted to honor two great ones I worked for—both at PR agencies: John Havas and Bob Schwartz.

I’ll try to be brief—I see eyes glazing over as I type–though I could write pages about each.

I wasn’t at Havas’ shop long when he invited me to lunch to tell me that my job was not in jeopardy. He didn’t give details, which was appropriate, but he’d had to fire an account exec and didn’t want me to think I was next—last in first out. Another time he called in from a trip to learn that a supplier was asking about an unpaid bill. He immediately instructed the office manager to cut and mail the check. We got good prices from the suppliers—loyalty went both ways.


A freelance person was doing the work I’d been hired to do. There was plenty for both of us. I had one weekend to get my arms around an account and its products and write a press kit full of releases for an impending press conference. That Monday the freelancer, Havas and the AE who seemed unable to do the job, met to review the material before sending it to the client for approval. After witnessing the snarky, nasty approach of the freelancer, who was trying to discredit what I’d written, he got up, said, “You all work this out among yourselves,” and left the room. She wasn’t around for long after that though had she not been so nasty she might well have been.

Havas ran the agency well and took the term profit sharing seriously—and so he shared. Another plus: I like the man.


Bob Schwartz ran the first agency I worked for which was one of the largest in the U.S. When he entered a room I thought someone had turned up the lights between his smile and presence. The agency made up a title for me when I joined—writer–after the magazine I worked for folded: I had zero PR and little relevant experience.

The agency had a major crisis minutes after I was promoted to AE. They discovered the billing department director had absconded with a large sum of money. My raise was delayed and when my boss told Schwartz she was afraid I’d leave, he had me in his office to assure me that the raise would be retroactive as soon as things settled down. Remember: I was at the bottom of a large totem pole but he wasn’t an arrogant president. He was the kind of boss who would pick up a secretary’s phone if he was walking by and nobody else was around and, in spite of his title, he rolled up his sleeves and collated the entry to the industry’s most prestigious award late into the night before the deadline–along with the others in the group.

Do you currently or have you worked for a great president?


Service of Taking All the Credit: When Your Boss is a Glory Hog

Thursday, December 13th, 2018


I recently wrote about humble bosses. This post is about a different kind.

Many bosses don’t realize—or don’t care–that they are doing themselves a disservice in the long run to take credit for or steal their staffers’ ideas. It doesn’t cost anything to give due credit but some can’t help themselves. That was the topic of Sue Shellenbarger’s article in The Wall Street Journal, “Hey, That’s My Idea! When Your Boss Steals Your Work.”

Eventually, the people who report to such a superior ask for a transfer, leave the company or save their ideas, divulging them only at an opportune moment, such as when they walk out of the office with the boss’s boss or when they substitute for the boss at a meeting.

A close cousin of this behavior is what has happened to women in meetings for generations and still does. They’ll propose an idea, nobody reacts and a few minutes later a man makes the same suggestion. At this point the team leader goes bonkers with praise and the strategy is added to the “to do” list. Joanne Lipman, author of “THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together,” addresses it.


If you’re chairman of a volunteer committee and you pull either stunt you’ll eventually find yourself to be a committee of one.

How have you handled a credit-grabbing boss? Have you manipulated such a boss into proposing something that benefited you? Do you think it’s the boss’s prerogative to take all the credit for a good idea as he/she would be given the blame should a project in the department go south?



Service of a Humble Boss

Monday, November 26th, 2018



“I made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you won’t believe it. And I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can’t even believe it.”–DJ Trump on Thanksgiving 2018

In contrast to the quote above, my best bosses were humble and I was lucky to have had a few.

A standout was president of a major PR firm–he was my boss’s boss. He never stood on ceremony. If a phone rang on a secretary’s desk as he walked by and nobody else was around, he’d answer it. If a team was working into the night preparing a major presentation or award entry, he’d be editing, proofing, stapling and collating with the rest. Many of us would walk a plank for him.


Elizabeth Shellenbarger’s article, “The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses,” backed up my experience. She wrote in The Wall Street Journal that while charm and charisma are sought by some corporations for their leaders, humility trumps those characteristics. [The best boss I describe above had these traits too.] Shellenbarger wrote: “In an era when hubris is rewarded on social media and in business and politics, researchers and employment experts say turning the limelight on humble people might yield better results.”

She reported: “Humble leaders can also be highly competitive and ambitious. But they tend to avoid the spotlight and give credit to their teams, Dr. Sherman says. They also ask for help and listen to feedback from others, setting an example that causes subordinates to do the same.” Ryne Sherman is chief science officer of Hogan Assessments that makes workplace personality tests.


At Patagonia, a manager will ask the receptionists how a potential recruit treated them. Arrogance and/or self-absorption are usually deal killers.

“If you think you know which of your colleagues are humble, you could easily be wrong. Humble people don’t flaunt it. And many workers, including arrogant ones, try to be seen as humble and helpful to make a good impression, says Kibeom Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta.”

Humility and honesty are considered stable personality traits. The H factor, as it’s known, usually comes with other traits which Shellenbarger lists as sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness and unpretentiousness. “The same people tend to avoid manipulating others, bending the rules or behaving in greedy or hypocritical ways.”


There are exceptions. Shellenbarger wrote: “Some challenges may call for a different leadership style. For example, employees facing extreme threats or intense time pressure might perform better when a leader takes a more authoritative, top-down approach, Dr. Owens says.” Bradley P. Owens is an associate professor of business ethics at Brigham Young University.

I’ve observed that some workers need to be nudged to perform and in certain industries, others might misinterpret humility for weakness.

Do you agree that the best bosses are humble? Have you had any who were or some who were arrogant and manipulative? Did either have any impact on your performance?


Service of Responsiveness

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Speed of light

I’m all for acknowledging a client or colleague’s query with lightning speed if possible.  

I’m in a business that involves juggling so adding to communication the high velocity component that emails and texts do wasn’t as hard for me as it might be for, say, civil servants or postal workers with unmotivated managers.

bananaSplitBut there are limits. I have two friends whose boss—or bosses’ boss–have unrealistic expectations regarding responsiveness. Neither saves lives nor does their work involve hospitals, tow trucking, the fire or police department.

Apart from the fabricated stress they feel because they are expected to reply in split-seconds, they love their jobs. They are on tenterhooks long into the night 24/7 waiting for urgent emails or texts that demand information immediately.

In all cases they shared with me their responses could have waited until morning. Sometimes a question involved the input of a vendor available during daylight to early evening hours so there was no choice but to wait.

One boss, in a job with one deadline a year, makes herself feel important by creating false ones the rest of the time. The other doesn’t sleep much—three or four hours–and with nobody to speak with at home late at night he launches questions about facts or requests for additional analysis that his direct report would forward to my friend who is responsible for the nitty-gritty.

responding on smartphoneThe first friend has already changed jobs and the second is looking to do so.

This is why a paragraph in the middle of Michael M. Grynbaum and David W. Chen’s article, “Offstage, Quinn Isn’t Afraid to Let Fury Fly,” in The New York Times caught my eye. The Quinn in question is NYC mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, currently speaker of the New York City Council.

The reporters wrote: “Ms. Quinn’s aggressive style extends to private sessions with her staff, with whom she can be demanding. Her aides operate under a Quinn-imposed “15-minute rule”: e-mails or text messages from the speaker must be acknowledged within a quarter of an hour, or there will be consequences.”

urgentI cannot imagine that every thought that comes to Quinn’s head is crucial, urgent, pressing and vital. Can she prioritize? This is a crucial quality for a mayor. What’s the turnover on her staff that’s worn down unnecessarily? A consistent lineup of nubies doesn’t enhance performance in either an administration or department. If the staff is racing at a hysterical pace day-to-day, it can’t summon the energy to rise to a real emergency. Until I read this about her, Quinn was a top contender for my vote.

I am not impressed. People who work scared or feel used can’t do their best. Do you agree?

exhausted employee

Service of who’s the Boss?

Monday, November 28th, 2011


A friend who lives in New Jersey sent me this guest post.

It covers several vivid examples of frustrating civil disservice. In a period of high unemployment, with thousands willing to take the place of the rude, inefficient staff she describes, I wonder how these people keep their jobs. They also seem to have no idea of who the boss is.

She writes:

After the freak late-October storm, the debris from our decimated trees was piled so high along both sides of our narrow road that cars could barely navigate.  I called town hall to find out whether the township would be collecting the debris or if we, the homeowners, would need to find a way to dispose of it. I was told that the township would collect it all within three weeks. 

snowstormThe township underestimated how long it would take to collect the mountains of debris in our hard-hit town.  As our yard services collected leaves and put them in the road for collection, it became almost impossible to drive down our one-way road without damaging the car.  We were among the last in our town to have power restored, so I had hoped we would be among the first to get our branches collected.  A dream, as it turned out.  The county and the towns around us began to clean their streets, but we saw the piles get bigger as more deadfall and leaves came down and were added to the piles.

On the day before the three weeks expired, I came home to find my street blocked.  I didn’t mind because it meant the township was finally collecting the debris.  It also meant that all traffic had to go the wrong way up my one-way road.  So anyone leaving home and heading out the correct way was encountering a neighbor trying to get home and coming the wrong way.  With next to no road left to start with, it was a disaster. 

snowdebrisAt the end of the day, the crew had barely cleaned up in front of the first four houses.  Municipal employees are not known for working weekends, so I assumed it would be Monday before they resumed.  And at the rate they were working, it would take a week just to clean our road.  By then, town hall was closed so I called the police station to find out what information they had.

I got a snippy female desk officer who basically told me that the township was doing this out of the goodness of its heart and had no obligation to assume what should’ve been the homeowners’ responsibility.  So I should just be patient.  She repeated that over and over.   So I lost my cool, developed a little attitude of my own and finally hung up on her. 

The more I thought about what she’d said, the madder I became.  The officer’s attitude spoke volumes about the sense of “us” vs. “them” you see so often in local government.  And she clearly felt part of “us” – meaning municipal government — as opposed to “them” – meaning residents.

The municipal government is not some paterfamilias dispensing favors.  It comprises elected officials, who serve at the will of the residents, and municipal workers, who are hired to serve those same residents.  Their salaries and the costs associated with providing services are covered by the taxes we residents pay.  My township is in Essex County, NJ, which means those taxes are pretty hefty.  The township, then, is us – the people who reside there.  

The whole thing recalled a situation several years back.  One of our neighbors (a serial “flipper” who got caught when the economy headed south) tried to get four variances to subdivide an unsubdividable property. At one of the endless hearings, I found myself making a speech to the planning board members about the essence of their job:  to represent the rights of the many against the rights of the few.  Those of us opposed to the subdivision and what it meant for our neighborhood – the majority of households around the property in question – did not have the sense that the planning board understood that.  All too often lately, it seems that elected officials and the civil (too often uncivil) servants they hire forget who the boss really is:  We, the voting, tax-paying people.

Have you had such an experience with local authorities? Any ideas of how taxpayers can get efficient, cordial service from them? How do taxpayers cajole civil servants to do their jobs and represent their interest? Do you think they realize who the bosses are?



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