I’ve been thinking a lot about bosses the last couple of weeks. Like you, I’ve had good ones and bad ones and, thankfully, a handful of exceptional ones. I’m so lucky that the good ones are still a presence in my life and more often than not, I’m channeling them when I offer advice and guidance to clients and friends. Here are some of the best (and, at times, toughest) lessons I’ve learned from these amazing leaders.

  1. Hire good people and let them do their jobs. If I could shout this one to the skies, I would. Hiring is incredibly tough but once you believe you’ve got good people on your team, get out of their way. Let them do the job you hired them to do and recognize them for doing it well.
  2. A sense of humor will get you through most things. One of the worst moments of my time working in the President’s Office was sending my president off to give a speech to his peers in which I had him congratulate the newly named president of an institution that hadn’t yet selected its new president. His response? “Well, they all thought I had the inside scoop, so that’s not entirely bad.” Which leads to #3.
  3. Hold people accountable quickly and humanely, and then move on. If there’s a problem, it usually doesn’t get smaller over time. Address it quickly, appropriately, and with a recognition that we’re all human, and then let it go. Putting people in the doghouse does no one any good. Which is exactly how my boss handled the incident above. He knew I was mortified and that I’d never let sloppy research embarrass either one of us again. Lesson learned. Move on.
  4. If you put good into the universe, good comes back. It isn’t always convenient to have coffee with your college roommate’s niece who is looking for a job in the communications field. We don’t always have time to chat with colleagues looking to change gigs. It’s not always a good time to share a colleague’s press release with your networks. But if you consistently give of your time and your energy and your network, you will find that when it matters most, these kindnesses will come back to you. Trust me.
  5. Push your people to the front. It’s such a simple equation: Hire well, trust your team, and don’t just get out of their way, but push them to the front. One of my greatest bosses checked his ego at the door every day and put me in the spotlight, giving me more opportunities than I probably deserved. On one level, he understood that if I didn’t screw it up, my performance reflected well on him. But on a deeper level, he understood that while he was established, I was still building a reputation. He gave me opportunities that his bosses—bosses he spoke to me about often—gave him and by paying it forward to me, he was both honoring that long chain of good bosses and ensuring that I’d do the same for others.
  6. Be a person. We all spend so much time and energy on work that we often forget that colleagues are people with whole lives outside of the office. Pay attention to that. Know who your people are. I’m not saying you need to know every nook and cranny of their personal lives, but take an interest. Ask about their new niece. Know when they finish their master’s program. Support their outside interests with an eye toward the fact that that support might bring benefits to their work for you. (See Teresa’s blog post about indulging my whim to attend the ATX Television Festival last summer. Thanks, TVP!) And share what you feel comfortable revealing about your life. Knowing each other as people will make us all better, more collaborative professionals.

On Friday, I’m traveling to New Jersey for my annual holiday lunch with two of the bosses who were such a gift to me professionally and personally. Last week, I had my monthly lunch with another boss who I’m fortunate to still have in my life on a nearly daily basis. I’m so grateful for all they’ve given me and continue to give me, but I’m also thankful for the opportunity to continue to learn from them as I advance as a professional. Do you have similar people in your life? If so, today might be a good day to give them a call or send a quick note to say thanks.