What Do Great Bosses Do?

By Posted in - Professional Development & Wonderfully Random on September 14th, 2010

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.



(10) awesome comment(s)...

  • Lewis Kennedy - Reply

    September 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Dana, we are legions. I’m speaking of anyone who has had the pleasure of experiencing cinema at the Alabama Theatre and those of us lucky enough to have been involved with Cecil and Linda Whitmire in one way or another. I find your “picture” of Cecil to be both accurate and lovingly respectful of such a kind, good-hearted man. I would add that Cecil’s experience in the hardware industry came in very handy in the earlier days of great need and few dollars. His resourcefulness and enthusiasm was key in bringing donations, volunteers and peaking the public’s interests in restoring this majestic theatre to it’s former glory and expanding the utilization of the facility by many different parts of the community for so many different performance venues.

  • Lynda Whitmire Wright - Reply

    September 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Dana, I have read many, many tributes to Cecil Whitmire over the years. Recently, there have been more and more tributes. Your article captured the essence of Cecil Whitmire. You have mentioned all of the qualities that made Cecil Whitmire a wonderful boss, friend, individual and especially a very, very special “Brother”. Thank you for showing others and for realizing what a very unique human being “Brother” has always been. He was unique when I met him and he was eight years of age. He continued to be unique when I surrendered him to God when he was 74 years of age. Thank you very much, “Sister”

  • Dana White - Reply

    September 15, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Thank you for this article. Cecil was my Uncle and you have definitely captured his character in this article. Many of the articles we have read since his passing have been centered around what he did for the Alabama and I apprecaite the reminder of the example he provided us all on a day to day basis. I think your point #4 captures him best – he could laugh at himself best of all, which made him a JOY to be around! If I can be half the manager he was I will count myself successful!

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      September 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

      Oh Dana, it is so nice to hear from you! Cecil was definitely a joy. I didn’t see him much over the past few years, but I always felt like he was there if I needed him. Jeannie and I used to tell him that he was the theatre, and it is hard to imagine it without him. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Kristy Yule - Reply

    September 14, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Dana this is a great post and a wonderful reminder to bosses everywhere! If I may be so bold as to add a #5 intellectually challenge your employees. I have had some amazing bosses but the ones who pushed me to be more, think more really impacted me!

  • Amy Hampton - Reply

    September 14, 2010 at 11:13 am

    That was great. I can’t believe that it has been so long since you were at the Theatre. The service Sunday was nice. Cecil did a great job gathering good people around him to strive for a common goal. My dad, Bill, is down there full time now as managaing director, Jeannie is still there. I live in Selma now, where I am an attorney. HOpe you are doing well and thanks for such a nice piece. Take care!
    Amy Hampton

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      September 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm

      Amy, it is so nice to hear from you. I wish I could have been with you, your dad and Jeannie on Sunday. Cecil certainly did know how to rally people! Thank you for your comments.

  • Christie Blake - Reply

    September 14, 2010 at 10:45 am

    What a great post, Dana. I have been fortunate to have had some amazing bosses in my carer, as well as a couple who were disasters at managing people. The difference a good boss makes in an employee’s motivation and success is beyond measure. On the opposite end, bosses who struggle to be effective managers have a tremendous negative impact on their employees. I would like to see companies embrace a culture where employees have an opportunity to evaluate their managers. It a regular practice for employees to be evaluated by their bosses, but it is not often that employees have the chance to return the favor. I think that a 360 degree team/boss review would be effective in many companies – and it may just reduce turnover. After all, having a fancy degree doesn’t always equate to being a great leader.

  • Phil Buckley - Reply

    September 14, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Great post Dana – I have memories of my early boss that I still think about, and on reason is the same… listening.

    It’s amazing how someone listening to you and respecting your ideas can make you feel like a million bucks. I think sometimes we all get so busy we tend to forget just how much respect and honor you can show someone by just stopping and honestly listening to them.

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      September 14, 2010 at 10:36 am

      Thanks for the comment, Phil. It is true that listening can make or break a relationship. I think it is becoming a bigger challenge for those of us who have become always-on multi-taskers. I like what you said about stopping… that is exactly it. We must stop, put down the iPhone and really listen. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Please leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.