My wife and I attended the opening of our town’s newest library, which is magnificent, and on the way home I said I was glad to live in a fairly small place that manages to have six libraries. “You forgot one,” she said, and she mentioned another that I’m not going to name here.
“That doesn’t count,” I said, noting that it is part of a different borough.
“They are all crabby there anyway,” she said, “Those ladies are all sour and rude to everyone. Except there’s one lady, she’s nice.”
It’s true: they are a very sour pack of library ladies. “That’s the sign of a bad boss,” I said. “For whatever reason, the boss sets the tone. And then the workers pick up on it and dial it up a notch, and they get used to it, and it keeps going. That one nice lady probably just wants to have a nice day and doesn’t buy into the negativity. But the boss is letting the other ones get away with it.” It was an easy diagnosis for me, because I run into this same thing myself.
I sit in a very small office with my administrative assistant, my two sales engineers and my design engineer. All five of us hear each other’s conversations and are privy to most of what we all do each day. And inevitably there are moments when we get off a phone call or finish reading an e-mail in which we have encountered some bad news or something irritating, and we vent.
I do it; the others do it. It’s just human nature. But I’ve learned to make sure that I take a deep breath and try to get my mind back to a better place. And I make a point of listening with sympathy but then reminding everyone that most of our clients and vendors are good people who are easy to deal with. And I repeat that to myself. Again and again. I really need to keep thinking about that as often as I can.
After 26 years of long days, bad pay and dealing with a million fires, it would be easy to let the fog of cynicism and negativity engulf me. But if I do that, the bad attitude will spread quickly to everyone around me. I find it’s one of the hardest things about being a boss — keeping that smile on my face, answering the phone with the perfect jaunty greeting no matter how crummy I feel, and staying calm even when the situation calls for running in circles and screaming. Understanding that the staff will mirror the attitude of the boss, I know I have to set the tone. If I let my guard down, I can do great harm.
And most of the time, I do O.K. But I’m bad about one thing: at work, I have a very foul mouth. I’m not sure where I picked this up. I could say that it’s a result of working on construction sites, but I haven’t spent a huge amount of time on construction sites. I think it’s just a way I have of letting off steam. Clearly, I can communicate without swearing when I want to. But if it’s just me and my workers, I am one swearing — oops, almost did it again!
Maybe I could stop doing this, but I haven’t made the effort. It’s not something I’m proud of, but no one has ever complained to me about it. I should probably cut it out. But I have limits to what I’m willing, or maybe able, to do to be the perfect boss. I have enough trouble with the basics of running a profitable factory. Perfect behavior seems to be too much of an effort.
Do you have a bad habit that you know you should stop?