Have you ever had a boss that you could never make happy? So now you are the boss and have employees that annoy you. They came with qualifications, but they just don’t seem to be working out. I know you would never be the annoying one. But in this age of millenial trophies for just showing up, we should probably talk about it.
Years ago I had a boss like that. I was working as a reporter for a small town in Central Texas. In that scenario you cover both regular news and sports. I worked for two bosses — the managing editor for hard news and the sports editor for sports news. I regularly wrote hard news for the managing editor and never had a bit of trouble or criticism. It wasn’t that way with the sports editor.
The town was a hot bed of high school sports. First round draft picks in both football and baseball regularly came out of this town of 10,000 people. The players who “only” made All-America teams would look like a who’s who from the College Football Hall of Fame. But my problem satisfying him wasn’t football.
I never played it at any level other than sandlot pickup and have knee surgery to show for that. So in covering it, I always made sure I double checked facts, wrote about players’ emotions in the moment and had coaches school me on background about how plays were designed and why they were called. My problem was baseball.
What’s hard about baseball? You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you run the bases, you tag the runner. Right? Wrong!
My boss was a wisp of a fellow; he looked like he couldn’t throw a baseball through a paper bag or hit one through it, either. But he knew pitching (“if you have top stuff, you have to show them your second and third pitch; if you have garbage, you have to show them all the garbage so they can’t tee off on any of it.”) He knew hitting (“Bad hitters hit change-ups and hate heat; good hitters hit fastballs and hate junk.”) And he knew strategy (“Everyone leaks oil under pressure; the great ones accept it, deal with it and overcome it”).
Professionalism Under Pressure
When I wrote for him, if I didn’t have all the angles covered, it was a personal insult. He sent me back and back and back to get it right, regardless of the deadline. And if I missed the deadline, I caught it from the publisher.
What I came to realize over time was his level of required professionalism drug me forward as a writer. He wasn’t going to accept anything but the best in his section. He also taught me that perfection was a virtue and perfection under fire was true talent.
I am not sitting here trying to tell you I had true talent. In reality, the closest I ever got to a compliment was when I wrote a piece during a state championship game. After I turned it in, he edited it without a comment. Others in the office came marching through telling him what a great job I had done. His only remark once was to look at me, grin and say, “Well, it wasn’t bad once I fixed it.” I could not take the success. I took the rest of the day off.