Workforce Development / Change Management / Leadership Skills

Bad boss, good job?

Thomas Wilk remembers a boss so bad that he stayed for years…

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

One of my favorite quotes on leadership is attributed to Colin Powell: “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

With this in mind, let me tell you about one of the more challenging bosses that I ever worked with. This was several jobs ago, and like many leaders, he had a strong personality. On the positive side, he was protective of his projects and of his team. He was always arguing forcefully to senior management about budget and head count, and even was able to persuade our always under-resourced IT group into saying “yes” to new projects.

The challenging part came when some of that energy started to turn back on his own team. He would occasionally vent his frustrations with members of the team to other members, usually behind our backs. His leadership style hardened from mostly persuasion to primarily fear and bullying. Productivity was high but morale was incredibly low. And yes, despite his ability to get things done, we all stopped taking our problems to him.

At that point, the only thing worse than being on his team was being off his team. It was the longest three years of my life.

What? Why didn’t I go sooner? In retrospect, this person was adept at fulfilling a lot of the professional needs of our team: steady budget, the ability to take on new projects and learn new skills, and protection from layoffs and budget cuts. As each of us moved on (and we all did move on), we found ourselves not running from something or someone, but rather choosing with confidence to take on new challenges.

With this issue of Plant Services, we’ve taken a detour from high-tech and taken a deep dive into the human side of the job. Our cover story is from Tom Moriarty, who explores the rich combination of needs and motivations that drive people at work. It’s surprising how cleanly my “bad boss” experience maps onto the theories captured by Tom in his story, especially putting up with demotivators in exchange for security.

This issue also includes articles that cover the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from features on how to both hire and train future leaders (i.e., the top two levels of Maslow’s pyramid, esteem and self-actualization) to a study of technologies for physically securing your facility (i.e., the base of the pyramid, needs that center on physiological safety).

Other articles fill out the human dimension of maintenance and reliability, from the advisory work being done by SMRP in Washington, DC, to the power of persuasive storytelling to achieve your energy management goals. And, our Big Picture Interview challenges you to think of water in new and personal ways, especially as a strategic resource that can help you reduce risk at your plant.

Here’s hoping that your boss is good, and that your work life is happy.