How many bosses can you recall?  Do the good ones or bad ones stick in your mind?  I never sat down to count them but I expect I've worked for about 40 or 50 different people over the years and I've seen some winners but I've also seen some real losers.  Most of the people I've worked for have been in the Air Force.  The Services try to develop leadership and management skills in their people but all individuals are different with the result of several bosses that fell short of the mark.


Now when I say bosses I'm not talking about the person over in the other building or across the state.  Rather I'm talking about your immediate supervisor.  What do you use to measure a good boss from a poor one?  Near the top of my list of requirements for a good boss would be someone you'd trust to put the team first.  And that's the team you're working on.  They put the team before themselves and they recognize the need for compassion and trust toward the team members.


I've worked for several people that always put themselves first.  They thought the only way to the top was through visibility.  They were so busy promoting themselves that they lost the vision of where the group was headed.  Usually the system picks up on that but not always.  I've seen cases where people were promoted over the broken and torn bodies of the individuals around them.  We used to call that leadership style Apache Management because of the people that boss had rode until they dropped and then the boss had found someone else to take their place.  It was like how the Apache Indians used the wild horses in the West.  They found a good horse and rode it until it dropped and then they got another good horse. 


Another flaw I've seen a few times in bosses is the fear of making a decision.  Those folks never want to do anything until a committee has studied the options and suggested a course of action.  This is pretty common in government organizations.  I once worked for a general that complained about how things were done in the Pentagon.  When you're working on a project in the Pentagon you've got to get approval from everyone that your project touches.  They have to concur.  The general's complaint was that everyone could say no but you couldn't find any one that would say yes.  Before they would yes they wanted to find a committee to study the problem some more.


One of the things I look for in a boss is someone that knows nearly as much, or more, about the product or project than I do.  And I've worked for some bosses that didn't know anything about what was happening.  It's easy to pity a boss like that but difficult to respect them.  In some cases I had a nagging suspicion about the boss's capability but didn't have it confirmed until I took another job.  I must say that I did work for one boss that didn't know and didn't care.  He spent all of his time lifting weights at the gym.  He knew it was his last job and getting out was all that mattered.


Now I've also worked for people that were simply tough.  What's really difficult is when you find yourself working for a boss that's not only tough but works harder than you do.  This individual was so tough that his last two jobs had "going away" parties for him... after he left.  He micro-managed everything in the office.  He said it wasn't because he didn't trust your work, he just wanted to see for himself.  Actually one event many years before had caused him to double-check everyone around him.  He was part of a military exercise and responsible for firing artillery.  A young lieutenant took a group of people into the field with instructions to go from A to B to C.  He was supposed to get the people to C by nightfall.  They got behind and decided to spend the night at B.  He got on the radio and told his boss they were at C.  It was only a little lie and they could make up the difference the next morning.  No one would have known the difference but during the night artillery guns were fired that impacted area B.  The lieutenant and several of his people were killed by that artillery.  That altered my bosses view of trust and people forever. On the job he worked late into the night.  He was the first person there in the mornings.  And he'd work weekends so that when you went home on Friday night your in-box was empty but Monday morning it would be over-flowing.  One of this bosses employees would go to work Sunday night to get ready for the myriad of questions he'd have to field Monday morning. 


One of the biggest problems with this boss was that he'd berate people in front of others.  Perhaps this is more common in the Services than private industry.  A couple of examples might be appropriate.  One general after some very colorful language directed at a colonel in a staff meeting threw a glass ashtray and hit him with it.  Another general went from Virginia to Colorado to meet with a colonel.  The colonel's unit had crashed one of the first airplanes off of the assembly line in a dumb mistake.  The general told the colonel, "If you crash another airplane I'm going to come to your house and burn it down with your wife and children inside."   Thankfully "ass-chewing's" like these have become more rare over the years as we try to instill a sense of respect for others within the ranks.  It would be interesting to compare how bosses handle such events within the services versus private business.


One of the most famous chewing's occurred slightly more than a decade ago at an air base in Nevada.  This base was home to a group of pilots that had been selected from the best of the Air Force.  Their job was to take their little jet fighter and go to other bases and provide training as if they were the enemy.  A movie called _Top Gun_ depicted similar activities within the U.S. Navy.  It worked fine for a while but soon something occurred.  They started to get careless.  The personnel turned over several times and due to a combination of things they started to have accidents. 


Perhaps you'd like to be a fly on the wall as the general talks with the pilots and controllers.  The text has been altered for brevity and also to avoid identifying individuals involved:


Well, I asked to get you all together as you know by now... and bring you home from where you were at...and to keep you from going anywhere next week... so that we might sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk on where we are at in the Aggressor business.     To begin, I no longer have a warm feeling about the Aggressors.  In fact, I've got an uneasy feeling about the Aggressors and I don't like uneasy feelings and I'm not gonna' have that so we'll do whatever is necessary to correct it.  That doesn't mean the Aggressors are bad but I can tell you we won't be able to survive with the Aggressor program with the way we're going...and I'll be the first one to cut it out.     The Tactical Air Command accident rate not including this air base and the Aggressors is 1.9 [accidents/1000 flying hours].  Aggressor rate is 22.9.  And you don't have to be a mental God-damned giant to know that something's sick here.  Something's terribly sick and terribly wrong.  I look at the the accidents that we've had in the Aggressors over the last 4 or 5 years’s a horror story.  Not a shiny record by any means; it's dumb-shit things; it's non-professionals flying airplanes that either exceed the airplanes capability or their own...or both...and leave wreckage all around TAC.  Even during the good years of the Aggressors when the accident rate in the Aggressor organization was low...they've left wrecks all over TAC [see my story about Nick Hobbie]...with people that've been involved in flying with the Aggressors.  We have cut most of that out...and no longer have people killing themselves all around TAC while trying to fly with the Aggressors.    


I can tell you two years ago at a Commanders Conference the General said when the Aggressors arrive at your base, you ought to treat it like the plague.  Boy, that's a hell of an indictment, for a group of so-called professionals; for a group of people who are supposed to be able to fly airplanes better than anybody else in the Air Force...for a group of people who are supposed to be setting the standards, and getting their Commands air-to-air proficiency up, and knowledge of enemy tactics high.  If you gotta tell an entire room full of Commander it’s like the plague when the Aggressors arrive.     And we brief all the VIP's that come in here that here's our Aggressor force and we bring in only the most qualified people, right?  We stand at this very podium and say "Only the best qualified aviators, do we allow in the Aggressors""...That's bullshit!  The best qualified people don't jump out of into the ground.  Our problem is we don't have the best qualified...that's our problem...and we're gonna change that...we're gonna make some drastic changes.  Some of you sit'in in this room are gonna go, I guarantee you that.  And we're gonna be God-damned careful who replaces you. 


You lose control of an airplane in this might just as well be thinking what you’re gonna do in your new job.  It sure as hell isn't gonna be flying the Air Force.  Is that a threat?  Your God-damned right it is.  I'm sick and tired of so-called professionals and, and please believe me, I'm only talking to a hand-full of you out there, because the vast majority of you go out day in and day out and do a tremendously great job.  You do it professionally, TAC's better off because of ya and we're very proud of ya.  But there's a few that can't get that through their God-damned heads and they're not gonna be with us any longer...     You know it's absolutely asinine that we have lost 5 F-5's in the last year.  There's not a God-damned Wing in TAC that's lost 5 airplanes in the last year.  And we're losin’ it with a simple airplane and highly skilled aviators.  Now how in the hell do you explain that?  Is it because we got our head up our ass?  You tell me, I don't know what the answer is anymore.  But 5 God-damned major aircraft accidents and loss of life in one of the world's simplest airplanes...something drastically is wrong with the attitude of either the leadership or the aircrews that fly in the Aggressors...or both.    


My boss reminded me after the last one that the Russians got 60 wings of airplanes.  In the last two years they haven't had one out of control accident.  So who in the hell are we trying to emulate?  Not the Russians...they're not that bad.  Who in the hell are we trying to emulate?     There are limits, prudent God-damned limits.  You're getting paid as mature, senior, experts in air-to-air.  That doesn't mean that every God-damned flight is grab-your-ass and go for everything you can get.  There are rules, there's objectives.  When they're not met, knock it off and set it up again and you don't keep right on progressing from one engagement to the other.  And as you look at the...the last accident we had where we killed a young kid that should have been stopped after the first engagement.  Shit, he hadn't achieved the objectives on the first,..the first exercise, but yet they went on...and on...and on until he finally went in. 


Sick!     I've lost my patience, I've lost my sympathy, and as you well know it doesn't apply to all of you.  Some of you are doing just an absolutely superb job and I couldn't be prouder of you.  But, as a group you stink.  And you gotta crawl out of the shit so you don't smell anymore.  Is that unmistakably clear?  And whatever it takes.  God-damn it I want you to do it.     I don't want any more business as usual, every God-damn time we get you together its right back to business as usual the next day.  I don't want that.  I want every God-damned one of you to think about what you're gonna do to stop it.  Climb out of the smell that's around ya.  Good guys know how to do that.  If all of you don't, we'll help you. But I'm not gonna lose any more F-5's.  Now I'm not gonna have any more F-5's go out of control.  And if you do, you'd better have another God-damned career planned because it's not gonna be part of the Air Force.  I'll do everything I can to run you out on a God-damned rail. [End Quote]


In the years that followed many changes were made in this organization and the accident rate went way down.  You've heard the old saying about hitting the mule between the eyes with a 2 x 4 to get his attention.  The above speech got their attention.


As the years go by I sometimes wonder if bosses realized how they were perceived by the people around them.  Perhaps they did and were satisfied with that persona or perhaps they didn't have a clue.  Which brings me back to the beginning for I had a few bosses that were clueless.