As I grow the team at Clairemont, I ask myself on a daily basis what I need to be doing to be a great boss. Two books I like on the topic are Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em and How to Become a Great Boss. More than anything, I reflect on my former supervisors and what they did well.
While I’ve been thinking about this as a blog topic, there’s a reason for me writing this post today. On Sunday, I learned that my first “real job” boss passed away. I want to share four things that made him the kind of boss that nearly 17 years after working for him, I aspire to be.
When I graduated college in the early 90s, the challenge of getting a job was similar to today. I started my job search a year in advance of most of my classmates, but graduation came and went without an employment offer. I left my home state of Illinois and moved to Birmingham, AL to live with relatives. Through networking and doing some office assistance and event planning work for free (in return for the experiences + contacts), I was introduced to Cecil Whitmire who managed the Alabama Theatre, a historic Paramount movie palace known as the Showplace of the South.
The theatre was gearing up for a busy holiday season, and Cecil needed help answering the phones. It didn’t take me long to see that managing the theatre was more than just a job to Cecil. I learned that Cecil led a small group of citizen activists to save this historic landmark from destruction, and I watched as he worked tirelessly to raise the funds to restore the beautiful performing arts center to its original splendor. He took great pride in greeting theatre guests as the doors opened for each event and in thanking them for attending as they left. It was Cecil’s passion that made me want to work with him fulltime. That’s lesson #1: The boss has to be passionate. And remember, it’s contagious.
In between answering the phones and the door and taking out the mail or doing whatever else needed to be done, I started reviewing the theatre’s marketing collateral, sponsor materials and media releases. I’m blushing now thinking about my perhaps overly-confident 22-year-old self as I presented my case to Cecil as to why he should hire me as the fulltime communications person. That brings us to lesson #2. Cecil listened. And, he gave me a chance by creating a position for me as the Alabama Theatre’s marketing director.
Looking back, I’m quite certain that I must have driven Cecil crazy sometimes by all the ideas I would take to him and things I wanted to try for the theatre. He continued to listen, and most of the time, he said yes. #3: Empower your employees through ownership. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to let me use popcorn boxes and concession goodies to make media kits, but it would have been just as easy for Cecil to tell me that they had always simply sent news releases and there was no reason for change. There were certainly bigger things he let me own, but the point is about every day ownership. It is easy to get set in our ways. As bosses, we need to look for opportunities to say yes.
I wanted to keep this to three tips, but I can’t write about Cecil without writing about his sense of humor. So make that #4. The thing I remember most about that job is laughing with Cecil and my friend, Jeannie Hanks, the house manager (then & now) of the theatre. Whether it was telling a story about resolving a difficult situation (that Cecil could somehow always make funny) or simply laughing at himself (“Want to know what I had for lunch? Just look at my shirt.”), he always knew how to make the day fly by with a little humor.
Thanks to Cecil for giving me my first job out of school and for teaching me these valuable lessons. I doubt he knew how much he influenced my career and that throughout it, a part of me has always wanted to return and ask for my job back. Cecil, I hope that as a boss, I can be as unforgettable as you.