A Positive Influence


I had dinner last night with my former boss, and somewhere in the conversation I admitted that I was glad we could stay in touch with one another. Indeed, it’s important to me. When asked why, I failed utterly to provide a satisfactory answer. Since I know my former boss reads this site, I’ll take this as an opportunity to answer that question in a little more depth.

I have lunch once a month with Brian, my boss from two jobs back. Brian and I had a very good working relationship, and I learned an awful lot from him. It was my job to design, install, and support a network for the organization. It was a dream job, in many ways, because I got to build everything my way from the beginning. It’s pretty rare to find an organization now that doesn’t have a network or some deeply ingrained technology infrastructure somewhere. Brian afforded me tremendous liberty to do what I felt was necessary, and he would often encourage me to make mistakes. Brian was a firm believer that we only truly learn from our mistakes; and the time was right for me to make mistakes before the network was online and in use on a daily basis. Brian nurtured me, and protected me as best he could from the egomaniac CEO who thought I was his personal tech support number. What I learned most from Brian was how to work with people. Brian and I would have lunch together several times a week, and I relied on him an awful lot as a sounding board. He became a good friend, and I’m glad that we’re still able to maintain that friendship.

My last boss, Bob, was very different from Brian. It took me a long time to adjust to Bob’s style, and I found myself at first longing for the friendship and comraderie I’d had with Brian. That’s not to say that Bob wasn’t friendly – he certainly was. Bob’s style was remarkably different from Brian’s though. Brian’s style worked extremely well for the touchy-feely non-profit social service organization at which we worked; and Bob’s style worked extremely well for the cut-throat for-profit business at which we worked. Bob challenged me a lot more than Brian did, in part because Bob was far more technically-minded (he’s a C# programmer, and has an extremely solid understanding of the principles of systems administration), but also because Bob is an exactingly intelligent person. Bob challenged me to think through my plans in ways I hadn’t previously needed to do. He challenged me to explain my recommendations, and to prepare defenses for his criticisms. It was my own shortcoming that I often took his criticisms personally. Bob took a far more active role in the job I was doing than Brian ever did – in no small part because Bob was equipped to do so. This was hard for me, at times, and I often felt resentful of the fact that I couldn’t do things my way. Looking back, it’s plain to see that had I done things my way, things very likely would have quickly fallen apart.

Bob challenged me, in many ways. I know I challenged him, too. It wasn’t always a contentious relationship, though. Our skills were very different, and there was a great deal of synergy to our work. We could apply our separate expertise to problems, and produce some wonderful results. We were doing stuff that none of our competitors could even approach, and the benefit for the company could not be ignored.

So, why is it important for me to maintain contact with Brian and Bob? It’s important because I am a better person today for their influence in my life, and I don’t want that to end. Their influence on me extends far beyond the employee-supervisor relationship. I (perhaps selfishly) hope that they are better people for my influence in their lives, and I’d like to continue that, too. That kind of reciprocal benefit – growth from both collaboration and competition – is deeply satisfying to me, even if it’s sometimes contentious along the way to the result.

And finally, outside of all the professional issues, both Brian and Bob are great people, with rich lives. They’re interested in and passionate about things of which I am ignorant, so keeping in touch with them broadens my world. I look up to and admire both Brian and Bob for many of the same reasons. I sincerely hope that their positive influence on me will continue for a long time.

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