Globe and Mail - Article 3

GEN Y JOURNEY: ONE WEEK JOB 18 jobs, 18 bosses: insights into a great employer


July 20, 2007

Last week, I was the race director for a triathlon in the Northern Ontario town of Marathon. Essentially, I helped co-ordinate the logistics of the event and made sure everything ran smoothly. The week before, I was in Ottawa serving breakfast and cleaning rooms at a bed and breakfast. Before that, in Montreal, I was working with a distribution company in which we picked wild plant products, processed them and then sold them to high-end restaurants in town. Before that, it was helping to match people and employers at a recruiting agency ...

In the past 18 weeks, I have held 18 jobs, and, along the way, have had to work for 18 different bosses.

In my search for an ideal career, I continue to discover characteristics of a work environment that I believe will help make me happy. Obviously, one of these characteristics is a great employer.

I am sure at some point we have all had bosses who, for whatever reason, just didn't click with us. Maybe they didn't communicate effectively, did not share the same outlook, or perhaps they were simply not that nice.

So what makes a good boss? Reflecting on the past 18 weeks, I have been able to identify key traits that I found consistently apparent in the employers I have had the opportunity to work with.

Mentorship A good boss shouldn't horde the knowledge from the rest of the employees. He or she should be passing along their experiences to others. This is quite important to me as I am continually presented with a different work environment each week. I have found that I learn the most when I have been in a situation where my employer took a mentorship approach; openly sharing their knowledge and expertise of the particular position or industry with me. I have noticed that a boss who is constantly challenging and educating staff earns the respect of myself and others.

Provide direction When I show up for a new job every Monday morning, I have no idea what is expected of me or how I can effectively contribute to the organization. It is difficult to be successful in a situation if expectations are not clearly defined. Simply by providing proper direction, this frustration can be avoided.

As such, a boss needs to be a leader. While he or she should not have to micromanage every employee's tasks, it is important to provide overall direction for reaching the organization's goals.

I want to be in a situation in which I feel like what I am doing is contributing to a greater good; that a particular task I have been asked to do will make a difference in helping the organization achieve its goals. I believe a good boss will always explain the reasoning behind why he or she needs something done and relate it to the company realizing its vision. Without knowing where they're going, staff will feel that their tasks lack impact.

Grace under fire A boss needs to remain cool and calm under all conditions. He or she needs to be a source of strength for employees, especially for those whose find their job conditions stressful, or have personal problems to deal with.

Last weekend, in the hour leading up to and during the triathlon in Marathon, things were quite chaotic: volunteers were unsure what was expected of them; some barriers were not where they should have been; the mandatory lifeguard was a no-show - the situation easily could have spiralled out of control.

All members of our event team, including myself, looked to the other race director as if to gauge the severity of the situation and how we should interpret it.

Although I am sure he felt quite stressed on the inside, he managed to stay calm under the pressure. This allowed his team members to follow suit and think rationally about what needed to be done.

There's nothing that saps motivation more than a boss who cracks under pressure.

After all, if the boss can't handle the working environment, how can he or she expect the employees to.

Inspire others A boss always should be striving to point out the positive qualities and accomplishments of employees. This doesn't mean that he or she should gloss over their faults - but the priority should be inspiring employees to do their best work.

One of the most important roles of an employer is to identify the strengths of each employee and place them in a situation in which they can employ these skills and be successful.

Trust employees I am constantly in a new environment that requires a willingness to learn - and make mistakes. I have found that if I know I have the trust of my employer, I am more confident and open to try something new without the associated fear of a negative consequence.

This sense of trust is an essential quality to a great employer and will elicit a higher level of performance from the employee as a result.

A boss should have faith in their employees that they'll do the job they were hired to do. If the boss trusts someone's abilities enough to hire the person, then that person should have the opportunity to develop ideas without the boss hanging over their shoulder.

There will come a time when I will be looking for a job that will last a lot longer than one week. I can only hope that my future boss(es) will have some of these characteristics.

Sean Aiken will write occasionally about his career-discovery journey as he takes on a new job a week across Canada. He is blogging about his experience (and taking job offers) at