Great Boss: Working Hard

It may seem obvious to many people, but it’s hard to set a great example for your subordinates if you don’t “walk-the-walk” yourself.  Over my career I’ve seen many bosses chastise employees over a lack of dedication and effort that they, themselves, didn’t demonstrate.  As a boss, you can’t exhibit a weak work ethic and expect your subordinates not to skip out on their obligations at every opportunity.

That kind of behavior simply doesn’t compute for most people.

And by “working hard,” I’m referring to both taking on the difficult tasks and putting in the hours – skimp in either category and you’re just asking for sneers when you’re not looking.

Playing hooky

I’ve had a couple of bosses that regularly worked less than a forty hour week.  One of these bosses loved being on the golf course and took every opportunity to play – sometimes excusing his passion by claiming it had a “business purpose,” and other times simply slipping out of the office when the weather was cooperative.  We all knew what was going on.  We all understood.  And we all rolled our eyes any time he urged one of us to work harder.

Fortunately, that boss rarely took shots at his subordinates over their work hours and start/stop times.  Doing so would have been the height of hypocrisy.

Of course, no one in the group felt compelled to put in any kind of extraordinary effort – why should we subject ourselves to all that pressure when our leader clearly didn’t do so himself?

The other boss had some personal issues that often drew him away from the office.  I never inquired exactly what this entailed – never wanted to know, quite frankly – but I and my compatriots understood.

At least until he started giving his people “the business” over their work habits.

Bottom line, if you don’t walk-the-walk, you won’t have any credibility when talking-the-talk.

Setting an example

My best boss was in the office a lot.  While he rarely beat me to the door in the morning, he was often in the office well past my end of the day.  I never had any doubts that he was working as hard as I was.  Or harder.  I found the example he set to be important to my development in three ways.

First, he was communicating to me through action (and with words, as well) that if I wanted to get ahead I needed to devote more than a basic 40 hours per week to the effort.  I needed to go above and beyond the basics of my job description and work on hard problems that took skill and effort to solve.  I needed to impress the “higher ups.”

Second, as the strength of his work ethic became well known across the company, I could see the grudging respect it garnered among his peers and others.  People valued managers that put in the kind of effort they demanded.  Rather than eye rolls, he earned respect.

Third, the longer-than-normal hours became a part of our shared experience together as boss-subordinate.  There is nothing like shared sacrifice to make people work together for a common goal.  This was a lesson I tried to apply throughout my years as a manager.

That damned strategy conference

One important event that happened each year – the companywide strategy conference – was pivotal to our “shared pain” experience.  Business groups were responsible for aggregating the individual strategies of their component divisions and turning the agglomeration into something more than just a scattershot of tactics.

It was tough work, and often times required postulating ideas and selling those concepts to the senior managers within the individual divisions.  Getting this part of the equation right was critically important, and I never saw my best boss give up any ground to what he believed to be the right path.  Regardless of the resistance often offered by the divisional staffs.

In the final few days before the conference, we pulled together the overarching strategies and constructed PowerPoint slides to convey and justify the core ideas.  Dry runs could be intense during this stage as tempers were often short and time was running out.  My best boss worked along side of me, helping to develop the message and assisting with the massaging of the data.  He was a participant rather than a detractor standing on the sidelines and throwing rocks (which is what most of the company’s senior managers seemed to do).

At the end of the process, I owned the strategy as much as my boss and the senior division managers.  It was the perfect way (painful though it might be in terms of long, hard hours) to make sure we were all on the same page.


Great bosses walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, and nowhere is this more evident than in their dedication to hard work – often exhibited through long hours or the taking on of tough assignments.  While I found myself snickering over weak efforts from a typical boss, and downright irate when a boss’s hypocrisy surfaced, my best boss never failed to put in at least as much effort as his most dedicated subordinates.  Hard though it may have been, his work ethic could only be described as “inspirational.”

Other posts in the Greatest Boss Series (in Chronological Order):

Posts in the “On the Way Out” Series (in Chronological Order):

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To the right is the cover for INCENTIVIZE.  This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.