Home of the Leadership Almanac Blog

Gary Winters

Leadership Coach

Author Archives: Jan Arzooman

  1. Comments Off on Fair weather managers

    blizzardIn one of my favorite blogs, Ask a Manager, a follower from the Northeast asked a question on Thursday: “Is it bad to stay home from work due to weather?”

    In New York on Friday, where I live, they’re predicting a blizzard with between ten and thirty-six inches of accumulation, wind 10-25 mph with gusts up to 45 mph, and limited visibility. The forecaster is advising everyone to stay home if possible.

    The questioner wrote: “My manager seems cool with me leaving early, or even staying home completely if necessary (if the governor declares a state of emergency), but I’ve also heard that employers don’t like it when employees stay home due to bad weather.”

    Alison Green, the writer behind Ask a Manager, says that she wouldn’t question any employee’s decision to stay home in severe weather—unless that employee was someone whose work ethic she already doubted. However, she adds that that’s how she (and other good managers) would respond. “There are certainly managers out there who do indeed frown on people staying home in a bad storm,” she wrote, “even when that decision was incredibly reasonable … and even when local officials are ordering people to stay off the roads.”

    Err on the side that your manager is reasonable.

    If you don’t know whether your manager would penalize you for staying home (perhaps because you haven’t worked with her long enough), Alison suggested erring on the side of assuming your manager is reasonable:

    “…keep in mind that most managers would be taken aback and even a little offended to find out that an employee assumed that they would encourage them to stay home and then punish them for doing so. Wouldn’t you be?”

    It makes sense. But I have worked for managers who expected us to make superhuman efforts to get to work. This made sense when I was a newspaper reporter. It was our job to cover the news and whoever could get there was expected to.

    During one bad storm I lived fairly close to work so I dug my car out and made my way in. When I found out later that those who didn’t come in were still paid, I was rather annoyed. But the company later gave us comp days and made it up to us.

    And then there was Hurricane Sandy

    In Hurricane Sandy, because I was a temp, I went to work as soon as the buses started running again, on the 2nd or 3rd day of the storm. My company does not allow temps to work from home, so I had to come into the office if I wanted to get paid. It’s funny; others expressed surprise to see me there—but no one had directed me not to come in. It was a slow work day and I was left thinking: Did they really need me to come in? Did they expect me to forfeit a days’ pay? Would they have thought me irresponsible if I didn’t come in? Did they think if they told me to stay home I’d be resentful for having to lose a day’s pay?

    I never asked so I never got a solid answer to those questions. When employees dictate most of what goes on at work and yet leave it up to you to decide whether you feel “safe” traveling, it’s odd. It feels like they care, but yet it also feels like they’re covering themselves from liability.

    Managers, I’m sure, are caught in the middle of needing to make sure work gets done while needing to take care of their staff. Where I work now—and I’m not just saying this because I’m blogging about it—I do feel the management cares about staff. But they still have to run a business, and these snow day decisions must be hard to make when it means deadlines might not be met and money might be lost.


    Jan Arzooman, a periodic contributor to the Leadership Almanac, offers leadership insight from the point of the “end user”—a person who has worked for a variety of managers. She is a freelance writer and editor with many years in publishing. Jan is currently focusing on fiction, memoirs, blogging on all topics, social media marketing, and health and medical writing. Her website is here

  2. Comments Off on Honestly, Is Honesty Always a Good Policy?

    honestyMany years ago, I was fired from a publishing job. My boss decided I was not performing to his standards, and without any warning, I was let go. With no similar job immediately forthcoming, I started doing temp work at a pool company. They liked my work enough to take me on as a permanent employee with benefits soon after I began.

    Obviously, it was not my calling in life. I had a college degree and ten years’ experience in publishing. But it paid the bills, I got along with my co-workers, and the bosses were decent and personable.

    While the work wasn’t that stressful, there was pressure to get a certain amount done during a shift. I was still learning the routine and didn’t always do it as quickly as I could. I found myself anxious about getting fired again. After the way my last job ended, I felt it would be even worse to lose a job that “anyone could do.”

    And then came the day…

    I was drinking coffee at my desk one morning, and I spilled it on my keyboard. Oh no! I quickly tilted the keyboard to pour out as much coffee as I could, dabbed it with a paper towel, and left it upside down for a while to let what was left drain out if possible.

    The first day, it functioned as before. But the next day some of the keys stopped working – first one or two on the right and then some on the other side.

    A fine mess I’d gotten myself into!

    I had a mentor at the time, a sort of amateur life coach, and I called to ask her what to do about the accident. I admitted I hadn’t a clue what to do because I feared a horrible outcome.

    She was a monomaniac about honesty. I admired her for that. But honesty in the working world was a completely new concept to me. In my experience, bosses seldom told you the whole truth as far as I was concerned, so I had to cover my butt as much as possible.

    If I screwed up and could get away with it, there was no way (or reason) I’d own up to it. “Listen,” my coach said, “Just go to your boss and tell him what happened. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?”

    That was easy. “He’ll fire me.”

    She smiled and said that it was highly unlikely that a person would get fired for spilling coffee.

    I was young and it didn’t seem impossible that I could be terminated.

    But I could see that it would be an extreme reaction.

    “What’s the next worst scenario?” she asked.

    “He’ll ask me to pay for the keyboard,” I replied.

    “And if he does? Keyboards aren’t that expensive.”

    In the end, she thought the most-likely scenario would be that nothing would happen.

    Because I trusted her, I agreed to tell my boss the next day.

    When I look back now, it’s amusing how nervous I was. I went to my boss and recounted the incident.

    He simply shrugged it off.

    I offered to pay for the new keyboard and he said it wasn’t necessary. He left it with, “These things happen.”

    I felt much better about myself for having the courage to be honest, and I felt grateful to my boss for not giving me a hard time. While I’ve had managers before and since who might have reacted differently, it was an important lesson early in my career about how good leaders don’t sweat the small stuff and actually appreciate open and candid conversations with their staff.

    Because I did want to get back into publishing, when another opportunity came up, I seized it quickly. I only stayed at the pool company for a little over a year. To this day, I remember it as a refreshingly decent place to work, where I had the good fortune to have a boss who truly appreciated and cared about his staff.

    Jan Arzooman, a periodic contributor to the Leadership Almanac, offers leadership insight from the point of the “end user”—a person who has worked for a variety of managers. She is a freelance writer and editor with many years in publishing. Jan is currently focusing on fiction, memoirs, blogging on all topics, social media marketing, and health and medical writing. Her website is http://arzoomaneditorial.com/. 

  3. Comments Off on Thanks for nothing! You copy?

    question over figureMy boss gave me a big smile and thanked me profusely.

    I left her office with a sardonic chuckle of disbelief. I had just made a copy of that month’s publication in manuscript form and brought it to her with a routing slip. She was thanking me – for making a copy.

    I wasn’t hired to make copies.

    I was an editor for this publication. I read and chose submissions, copyedited them, wrote headlines, wrote news briefs, selected and edited photos, proofread, picked stories for the website, updated the website, talked and schmoozed with readers, gave talks about the organization at events, and more. And of course, I occasionally made copies.

    Why did she feel the need to thank me at that moment?

    Who knows? Maybe she’d just read some management advice about engaging with employees more often. Maybe her boss had suggested it. Maybe it just popped into her head and was completely random.

    Mine was often a thankless job, which is why her words of gratitude for something so petty amused me and stuck with me. She must have praised me at one point or another for a good headline, but what I remember far more often was the haggling back and forth over headlines the day we were due to go to press.

    I had the feeling she didn’t trust the staff to put out a good editorial product, or to represent the company well (we were a non-profit organization and most of the staff were strongly tied to this group’s mission).

    When I spoke to outsiders about our company, I said I was proud to work there.

    My job meant a lot to me, and I felt that my work helped others. I often wondered if my boss realized that. I often thought that she believed she alone represented the company.

    I would have liked to hear more often, “The website looks great” or “I loved this headline.”  You know, praise for real work. When someone thanks me for a meaningless chore, it sounds meaningless — and then I don’t trust that any praise is real.

    As someone whose creativity was directly tied to my company’s success, I didn’t want to be told, “Thanks for making the coffee” or “Good job on the collating!” I wanted to be acknowledged for something that mattered.


    Jan Arzooman, a periodic contributor to the Leadership Almanac, offers leadership insight from the point of the “end user”—a person who has worked for a variety of managers. She is a freelance writer and editor with many years in publishing. She currently focuses on fiction, memoirs, blogging on a wide variety of topics, social media marketing, and health and medical writing. Her website is http://arzoomaneditorial.com/. 

  4. Comments Off on 10 Things Good Bosses Do

    good-managerIt’s easy to find and write about bad bosses—the one who yelled at my coworker in front of the whole office, the married one who carried on a very loosely hidden affair with another married boss; the one who stole employees’ lunches—but the good ones tend to fade from memory because they were just doing what they were supposed to be doing. It’s kind of like being the “good student” in school, never causing any trouble and basically being ignored.

    But I can think of some positive qualities that these “good” bosses shared, and I hope for 2013 that all of those in leadership can strive to consider adopting these qualities:

    1. They recognize talent and they let people do their jobs.

    I was hired for a reason, mostly because I knew how to report, write, and edit. There was always collaboration and team brainstorming on what we’d be covering and publishing, but after that it was up to the editors to get the stories done, the artists to provide pictures and design, and the customer service reps to work with the clients.

    2. They see employees as equals.

    We were all working together, perhaps on different professional levels, but still just part of a team. If someone was having difficulty, there were personal meetings with real discussions, not threats.

    3. They obviously care about the product.

    They wanted to make money and be successful, but they wanted to do that in a caring, professional manner. They created and delivered a good product. They didn’t set out to rip someone off.

    4. They recognize that employees care about the product, tooand that the success of a product was a result of the whole team.

    In every place I’ve worked, I’ve wanted to put out a perfect product because that was my job; that was what I was hired to do. A typo is upsetting to me. An article that is unclear is less than perfect. I’m not saying everything can be or will be perfect, but that’s the goal. The client may never meet me, but if he’s holding the company’s product in his hands, that’s my work.

    5. They give people responsibility without hovering or meddling.

    At one job my coworkers and I joked about how much more productive we were when the boss wasn’t flitting about making another suggestion, asking for an interim progress report, or changing another procedure.

    6. They don’t assign unnecessary work.

    Was I missing deadlines? Was there a problem? Only then might a daily log have been needed. Also, giving employees extra assignments just to make your own job easier creates problems. At one publisher the managing editor was always too busy to read the monthly issue and pass it along in a timely manner. He wanted a separate copy so he could read it at his leisure. This meant the person beneath him had to track two sets of pages and add corrections from both sets—some of which conflicted with the previous person’s corrections.

    7. They guide employees into new assignments, instead of just tossing them off the deep end and telling them to swim.

    Do you want me to lead the meeting this week? Please tell me ahead of time, not as we’re all gathering in the conference room. Do you want me to finish a report for you? Please give me the parameters, and explain why the extra work is necessary when I’m already overloaded. If you can’t do it because you “always” leave at 4 p.m., but expect me to stay until it’s done, that’s taking advantage of your position. If there’s a true emergency, I am more than happy to help.

    8. They are respectful.

    In the last 10 years or so, every time there’s been a layoff for financial reasons (not an employee’s bad performance), this is how it’s happened: The employee was called into the manager’s office to be informed (surprise!), while the office manager and/or security was locking down his or her computer and making his or her building keycard inoperable. The employee was told to pack while security or office manager stood by, and was then escorted out, often not even being allowed to say goodbye to coworkers. To me this trend screams of guilt—the boss feels bad about screwing over an employee and now is afraid they’ll screw him over by sabotaging the system.

    9. They are honest.

    Often financial problems were out of my immediate bosses’ control. But most times where there were layoffs pending, the employees were kept in the dark. If it was a big enough company, the news might be discovered online and then employees were even more resentful that they weren’t told. I can’t say knowing ahead of time makes layoffs easier, but I would certainly be more sympathetic with a manager if he told me his hands were tied.

    10. They are hard-working, but they also like to have fun on and off the job.

    There was socializing outside of work. They saw the company as a family. I know that can’t always happen in some corporate structures, but in places where I’ve had it, it was a wonderful feeling and I felt like I belonged. Who wouldn’t want to perform in such an environment?

    Jan Arzooman, a periodic contributor to the Leadership Almanac, offers leadership insight from the point of the “end user” – a person who has worked for a variety of managers. She is a freelance writer and editor with many years in publishing. She currently focuses on fiction, memoirs, blogging on a wide variety of topics, social media marketing, and health and medical writing. Her website is http://arzoomaneditorial.com/.