What makes a good boss is largely subjective, but there are certain universal qualities that leave a lasting impression. For me, that boss was Steve Callahan. I met him in the cafeteria while working in one of my first jobs right out of college. I was overqualified for the position and he noticed it right away. He introduced me to tech by offering me a position on his team, then mentored me while I was there.
I worked for Steve for five years before moving on; first to another department, then to another company and finally to start my own business. To this day, he remains my favorite boss and one of my favorite people. Every time I make a move or question myself, I call him for support.
What made Steve such an awesome boss was his investment in me as a person, not just as an employee. He adjusted his management style according to my needs. Steve is more than a great boss, he is a wonderful person, to whom I am so grateful. Our chance encounter in that cafeteria years ago changed my life forever, for the better.
For women of color, who often feel alone or invisible as they navigate professional spaces, an awesome boss can make the difference between working to survive and working to find your path. In this way, a favorite boss can be transformative. My boss story is one of many. The following stories from three black women in tech point to emotional intelligence and advocacy as some of the key qualities that make a good boss stand out.
An awesome boss has high emotional intelligence...
“Every amazing manager I have had possessed a similar, very important skill," says Angela J. Williams, a global product policy program manager. "High EQ."
For Williams, what makes a good boss is an emotional intelligence (EQ) that inspires employees to engage their strengths.
“Each of my amazing managers genuinely cared about developing their team as opposed to working to impress their chain of command," she says. "These leaders sought out the passions of their team and worked to align their natural passions with their work, making the team feel appreciated, heard and fulfilled."
As Williams moved through her career and changed bosses, emotional intelligence remained a differentiator. One of her favorite bosses stands out because “she taught me humility and that accepting criticism wasn't a sign of weakness but an opportunity to excel. She also taught me very smart ways to influence groups, build relationships, and develop allies.
“Another amazing manager recognized my work ethic and identified my strengths, early on," Williams continues. "She impacted my career by giving me several opportunities to have a seat at the decision-making table. This helped teach me the inner workings of corporate politics and how to be more adept at influencing C-level executives."
... advocates for themselves, their direct reports and their values...
"Some of my best supervisors have also been the best advocators for themselves, their direct reports and their values," says Ashley Glover, a UX designer. "They understood the company's values, their own values and would be willing to stand up for their beliefs even if upper management had differing opinions."
According to Glover, strong core values is what makes a good boss.
“This strong sense of self-awareness was admirable and inspiring and made coming to work more pleasant knowing that I always had someone who had my back and the team's best interest in boardroom meetings."
Today, Glover's favorite boss demonstrated a deep belief in her abilities.
"He encouraged me to speak at design talks, expand my network in the area and allowed me to take on other opportunities that interested me outside of my core duties," she says.
In the end, managing a team is about valuing people. Show up for them, listen to them and help them find their strengths.
Glover says she's inspired by how others recognize the alignment of his values and his commitment to doing good work while empowering his team to do the same.
“Most recently, I had a particularly hard design critique," she says. "The next day, my manager was able to channel a negative into something that could help push our team and my designs forward."
He made a point of uplifting her, an act for which Glover feels deeply grateful.
“Being a Black woman in tech, it is so important to know that you're heard, especially when our narratives are often shut out and disregarded," says Glover.
... and makes you feel seen.
For product marketing manager Vanessa Williams, an awesome boss is, “someone who cares about you as a person, not just as an employee, and makes it clear through their actions."
Her favorite boss makes her feel seen.
“Working with my most recent boss was the first time I felt comfortable bringing my whole self to work. I could talk about topics ranging from my hair to my family, which I had never experienced before."
Williams admits to feeling nervous about finding the right fit with her boss, at first. He hosted a team event and, “was high-energy, keeping folks engaged through his large presence. I was impressed but slightly worried. I'm fairly laid back and wondered if I would click with someone so energetic."
However, her boss settled her worries during a post-event dinner.
“He turned off 'emcee' and turned on the real person, telling me about his family, asking me about my own and more. He took the time to learn more about me and vice versa than my 10 former managers at the company."
And the humanity her boss extends to his employees inspires Williams to bring her best self to work.
In the end, managing a team is about valuing people. Show up for them, listen to them and help them find their strengths. People respond to authenticity and kindness. You'll build a productive, caring team and may just end up being their favorite boss.
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