Since leaving college and entering the world of work, I’ve had my fair share of experience working for bosses and leaders, and no- they’re not synonymous.
My very first job was working in IT for a school. The superintendent I worked for was a boss. He bossed. There was no leading there. He made requests that were actually demands, never took ‘no’ for an answer, and failed to recognize that not every technical difficulty that the school encountered was something I could something about. I remember specifically one instance where the internet went out. The problem was nothing in house, but our provider was having issues- evidenced by my calling their tech support line and being told I was #57 in line for service. He wanted to know what I was doing about the outage. I told him “There’s nothing I CAN do.” That didn’t sit well with him, and I took an ass-chewing for it. Leaving that job was a wonderful experience.
On the other side of the coin, my next job in IT was for a real leader. His hiring me was the reason I left the school, and I not only spent three years working for him, but on several occasions have gone BACK to do work for him while between or out of other jobs. He taught me everything I know about IT, and was a constant resource. I never had a bad thing to say about him. He could often be found in the field with us, crawling through frozen crawl spaces in high-bays running wires, or in basements installing hardware when he wasn’t at a desk running the day-to-day operations of the company. He led by example, and was always great to work for. Parting ways with him finally was a tough thing to do. I know he invested a lot of time and money into my training, but he still always supported me in my quest to change careers, and was a valuable reference when the time came.
When I got into law enforcement though, the line between a boss and a leader became so much more clear.
The first department I worked for was going through a change in administration while I was doing my training. The chief that hired me was elected to another position in the town, and while they selected a new chief officer, we had an interim chief, and a OIC. (Officer In Charge) Finally, a new chief was hired. He was, and still is, an excellent administrator. If there was equipment or training needed, he was the guy to get it, even from our notoriously tight-fisted municipality. In spite of that though, we never seemed to mesh. He’d give suggestions that retroactively turned into directives, he’d pick apart a decision made in the field and punish for it if it wasn’t to his liking, and went do far as to call me abrasive, coarse, and argumentative at one point. Nothing I did ever pleased the man, and I began to feel like I might have made a mistake in joining law enforcement. Even what little confidence I DID have in my abilities was dismissed as arrogance one day. Seriously, he made me question the validity of my choice of careers. I’d go home at the end of my shift feeling like crap. The five months I worked full-time for him were among the worst I’d ever spent in a job. I got down on myself, and every time I saw his vehicle at the station, I’d get the “What did I do now?” feeling in the pit of my stomach, because even when I HADN’T made a mistake, I felt like he had one waiting in the wings.
One time, I was dealing with what could have been a delicate matter. A town official’s relative was involved in something stupid. I called the chief and asked him “What do you want me to do?” His response was “He’s a minor, make sure the parent is there when you’re interviewing him.” So, I set up the interview. Half an hour later, he came storming into the office wanting to know why I hadn’t turned the case over to a different agency, and that I should have done so right away…completely ignoring the fact that I had CALLED him asking for his input.
Another day, we were attending a multi-day training course in another town. We all rode together in a department vehicle, but on the last day I had some personal errands to do when training was let out.
“Hey chief” I said on the day before last. “I have some things to do after class, I’m going to take my personal vehicle instead of ride down, I’ll meet you there tomorrow morning.”
Two weeks later, I was chewed out for that, because I had told him I was taking my car, and didn’t ASK him if I could. He openly stated that if I had asked, he wouldn’t have denied me permission, but the declaration of my intentions instead of asking permission was a problem for him. Seriously.
Ultimately, I resigned from that position. Largely because I felt like it was only a matter of time before he found SOME reason to have me terminated, and I had begun to feel like I was terrible at my job. At the time I never once figured the problem was anything but me.
Fast forward to my current job. I’m still in law enforcement. I stuck with it. I’ve spent the same amount of time working full-time at both places, doing the same type of work…and I don’t feel like crap when I get home every morning. My immediate supervisors are not constantly poking holes in my judgement calls. When there are mistakes, (and there are) they’re addressed in such a manner that I don’t walk away from the meeting feeling like I don’t belong here. When we go on calls, particularly the tough ones- they come with us. They write reports, they make phone calls, they help me make sure my paperwork is done so as to satisfy the chief, the college, and the judge when necessary. I’m being LED.
The chief himself, I don’t have a lot of interaction with. But when I do, I don’t get nervous. I worked a rare day shift last week and got a call on the radio from him telling me he was going to lunch and asking me if I’d done that already. I hadn’t, and met with him for almost an hour as we talked about the job, the campus, the work I’m doing, and such. Not once did I feel like I had to explain myself, make an excuse, or apologize. I didn’t walk away from our meeting feeling like my job was in jeopardy because I made a decision in the field. Hell, he honestly took my input on a number of matters into consideration, something that would have never happened at the old place, as it had been made very clear on a number of occasions that my lack of time on the job dictated that I keep my mouth shut and not ‘speak above my experience level.’ (Actual quote.)
Look, I’m not saying that every issue at the old job was someone else’s fault, or a complete lack of leadership, but when you consider that I’m doing the same work under different people, and I go home at the end of my shift now feeling like I’ve accomplished something, and I can’t wait to go BACK and do it all again? There’s something to be said for that. I have once again found joy in the work I do, trust the people I work with, and respect- without fearing- the people I work for.
I’ve worked for bosses, I’ve worked for leaders, and I can tell the difference between the two now. My road has led me to a place where I think I belong, and I move on ahead with a train-wreck of an experience that almost saw me leaving the field altogether getting ever further in my rear view mirror.
My point tonight, is that I’ve come to fully accept that my rough experience at my last job might NOT have been entirely because I sucked at it. I can only have reached that conclusion by having something to compare the experience to; and now that I have, I sleep better at night…er….in the morning.
Night shifts still mess with me a little bit from time to time.