What Does Your Boss Need?

Do you do what your boss asks for? Or do you figure out what your boss really needs?

One of the best lessons I ever learned about “boss management” came from my father, who told me, “I learned early on, seeing things from my boss’s perspective changes everything.”

My Dad describes his experience when as an 18-year-old Navy man fresh from training he was assigned to Chief Petty Officer Charles Mitton’s unit.

A crusty tail gunner, Chief Mitton had two planes shot out from under him, and was on a carrier when the Japanese sunk it. He survived. Feared by young recruits, The Chief as my Dad refers to him, had a practice of requesting volunteers for the grungier jobs.

My Dad says, “Most of us wound up in the Navy for lack of a better plan. We weren’t very motivated. We never volunteered. Since nobody came forward, Chief Mitton always selected someone.”

My Dad’s best friend in the unit was 17-year-old Al Schwartz who dropped out of 10th grade to enlist. One day Al said to my Dad, “I think The Chief asks for volunteers because he doesn’t like to assign nasty jobs. I bet if we volunteered, he would find a way to reward us.”

My Dad disagreed, “Why would a tough guy like The Chief be afraid to assign a bunch of low-lifes like us to a dirty job?” But Al was his friend, so my Dad reluctantly agreed to go along with his plan.

Dad says, “When The Chief requested volunteers to cut grass around the ammunition dumps, our hands went up. After hours dragging old push mowers up and down endless hills of weeds, in the scalding Virginia heat, Al and I proudly told The Chief, “We’re done!” His response was a curt, “Thanks.”

Undeterred – well at least Al was undeterred – they volunteered twice more, for equally unpleasant duties, and all The Chief said was, “Thanks.”

Dad tells the rest of the story, “I was ready to give up, but I agreed to volunteer once more. The next job was replacing several 100-lb airplane machine guns so the plane could fly that night. Our haste and inexperience cost us several badly mangled fingers. The Chief took one look at our black and blue fingers, and asked why we were volunteering so much. Al said, “Chief I don’t think you actually like to assign the dirty jobs, so I figured if we volunteered you would appreciate it.”

Dad says, “The Chief didn’t say anything for a long while and I swear I saw his eyes tear up. I’m thinking, this guy shot down enemy planes with the tail of his own plane blown apart, and now he’s about to cry because Schwartz has discovered he’s actually a nice guy.”

After a long pause The Chief said, “You’re right! – Now take tomorrow off to let those fingers heal and, by the way, keep on volunteering.”

Dad said. “From that moment on, we were the golden boys of the unit. The Chief gave us plenty of tough jobs, but he also gave us extra time off and even invited us to the “Old Gunner’s Card Game.”

My father, who went on to a successful career in banking says, “The benefits I reaped from seeing the boss’s point of view are too numerous to mention. I would have never guessed that those two sweaty kids pushing mowers would go as far as we did. But thanks to Al’s initiative, I learned a lesson I never forgot.”

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