When we are children and young adults, parents and teachers are our mentors, helping to shape our abilities and our approaches to life. As adults in the working world, however, not many of us are fortunate enough to find mentors who can guide us in the same way.
I was so fortunate. Not the first time out though. In my first job out of college, I worked for a woman who made horses whinny at the sound of her name. She was a horrid tyrant of a person with absolutely no people or management skills who had been promoted because of seniority alone.
Fortunately, before I could get completely disillusioned, two years later I was lucky enough to go to work for the dream boss. I'll call her Linda. What made Linda the dream boss? Was she completely apathetic when it came to my working hours? Nope, she was very understanding in emergencies but smart enough not to let you take advantage of that.
Did she shower me with compliments and raises? Nope, although in group meetings with executives, she would never take credit for a win. She always named the person in her group who was most instrumental in making the win happen. She never praised falsely but she was uncanny at uncovering individual strengths in our team members and bringing them to light.
Did she imbue a leisurely pace? No, she was one of the most driven people I'd ever met but she made me want to follow her lead. I wanted to live up to the standards she imposed on herself. Because she made it very clear that my efforts made a difference, I was always eager to take on new challenges. And she was always generous enough to delegate those challenges out of her own management duties. Before I knew it, I was groomed and ready to manage my own team.
She made our team feel that anything we did to make projects succeed was making our team succeed, and in turn, making the company better. It was never about just furthering individual careers.
She listened, really listened, to our concerns and complaints. Sometimes she would point out the error in our thinking but the rest of the time, if she thought the complaint was valid, she would carry it up to the next level and see what could be done about it.
The ability to effectively manage people is a talent, a gift. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you can improve your own abilities from watching it in action.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.