What a Boss Wants


Mallory and Rosanne

I got into the management gig early in my career: I was responsible for other employees as early as age 23. Each work relationship taught me something new, and every lesson I learned the hard way.  I also acquired a sense of how to be a better employee by knowing what it felt like to be somebody’s boss. As I reach my 25th anniversary of boss-ness, (hopefully not bossiness), I offer advice on how to endear yourself to the person in charge of your employment.

It goes without saying that a boss wants an employee to show up on time, look presentable, do a good job, and get along with others. There is nothing more frustrating than having conversations with people about basic things like attendance, punctuality, attire, grooming, and being agreeable. I could tell stories of screaming matches in stockrooms or temper tantrums in dressing rooms, but today I’m operating from the assumption that basic competencies are in place. If you were just starting out as one of my new associates, what would you have to do to rise in my esteem?

Communication-aka “No surprises”

My lead associate Rosanne knows that one of my pet peeves is to find out something significant after the fact. She keeps her ears open for anything that may be of interest to me, and -as it turns out- almost everything is of interest to me. As Public Relations Manager, I am responsible for the culture of the dealership, so if a sales consultant is unhappy, or there is a plumbing issue, or the internet is down, or we have run out of coffee, it’s relevant. Rosanne’s most commonly used phrase when speaking to me is: “I just wanted to let you know.” I love her for it. All of my associates are good about communicating with me, and I encourage it. Before I leave each day, the last things I tell them include “I appreciate you” and “text me any gossip”.

Attention to Detail

The best associates I have had under my purview do things in a way that show they are not just trying to rush though a task- they want to do it well. They have nice penmanship, they make spreadsheets for simple projects and they organize work areas. For example, when asked to lead our dealership “bell-ringing” day for the Salvation Army, Mallory created a schedule of shifts, recruited volunteers, created back-ups, sent reminders and took pictures for posting on social media. When I told her she was in charge, I said she would have to take ownership of every aspect of the endeavor, and she did. Attention to detail builds trust. Surprising me with details I don’t expect creates value.

The ultimate job of everyone is to make their boss’s life easier. In order to do that, you have to think of all of the possibilities that they likely didn’t have time to consider. It means you have to use a planner and write yourself reminders. You cannot let things fall through the cracks. Your boss can either count on you, or not. My objective each day is to be the kind of employee I would want to have if I were in my boss’s shoes.

No Friend Zone

Cecil Donahue said, “If you’re completely comfortable with your boss, you are either incredibly naive or independently wealthy. Confusing friendliness with friendship is a rookie’s mistake.” The employee-boss relationship is a tricky thing, especially if you get along well. Let’s say your boss is a nice person and takes an interest in your life; maybe you have even shared time socially. It would be easy to assume that you are friends, making it awkward when the boss has to reprimand you for something. It is wise to err on the side of caution and keep the relationship strictly professional. Remind yourself that at the end of the day, they can still fire you if the situation warrants. Also avoid getting overly chummy with anyone who is in a position of elevated stature in your company. I was once addressed as “babe” by a technician who thought he was being casual and sweet. I was insulted at his lack of respect and had a hard time thinking that he took his job seriously. Beware the temptation to be too informal with people who can make decisions about your job security.

(Related note to supervisors: do not socialize with your employees after hours. Go to lunch with them? Sure. Attend Baby and wedding showers? Ok. Meet for drinks? No. Ask them to take care of your pets when you travel? No. Go to dinner at their house? No. Take a vacation together? Hell no.)

Since I’m on the topic of friendship, I feel compelled to comment on “Friend-ship”, as in Facebook. It is ok to be Facebook friends with your boss, and I prefer that all dealership employees friend me. Facebook helps me to learn more about my team and to remember birthdays. Of course, we should all remain aware that decision-makers will see our posts and judge accordingly. But if you’re posting things you wouldn’t want your boss to see, you likely need to stop posting that kind of stuff anyway. Social media is a public domain-create your image with care.


I once managed an employee who seemed to have a bad day if I didn’t talk to her at length every morning. For some reason, if I invested 30 minutes asking about her life and letting her vent about health or spouse issues, then for the rest of the day, she would be fine. If I launched into my duties without this personal chat, she would be crabby the entire day, and other employees would complain about her disposition.  Her health was a roller-coaster, and between her back pain, her dental issues and her hormones, it seemed like she always had a reason to call out sick or complain at work. I constantly had to cover her shift or console her. I considered her to be a “high maintenance” employee, and promised myself I would avoid this type of personality when hiring in the future. It is difficult because high maintenance personalities are not always easy to spot.

My goal is someone who does their job with minimal drama. I care about you in a peripheral sense, but I do not intend to become overly emotionally invested. I like my current staff as people, and know the basics about their lives and interests. We don’t hang out beyond the dealership walls, but we are loyal to each other within those walls during the day. I aspire to always be a supportive and direct supervisor, and hope that you will be an honest and strong member of the team. Keep it professional and simple, and we’ll get along just fine.

3 thoughts on “What a Boss Wants

    1. Marie

      This is all so true, I wish I had read this in my early days of supervision. I just always assumed that “everyone” did the right things for the right reason. Boy, did I learn the hard way and every day there is something new. I stopped being “amazed” at the things employees do – I just add it to the list. Thanks for sharing this.


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