The Best Bosses Of 2019: Remarkable Companies Start At The Top


The U.S. is enjoying the strongest economy and the lowest unemployment in decades, but the downside means that the pickings are slim for companies looking to fill open positions. With a smaller candidate pool and the direct and indirect cost of replacing workers running $3,500 and up, it makes more sense than ever for companies to work hard to hold onto their good employees—and that starts with looking at why employees leave.

A survey conducted in late 2018 by TinyPulse of 25,000 employees worldwide and published by Inc. magazine reported the No. 1 reason that employees leave jobs: poor management performance. The research found that “40 percent of employees who don’t rate their supervisor’s performance highly have interviewed for a new job in the past three months, compared to just 10 percent of those who do rate their supervisor highly.”

Companies experiencing a lot of employee churn may want to look at those who manage others and work to improve their skills. Managing others is not a talent people are born with, but it can be learned. Take a few tips from these 23 who were selected from over 100 nominees submitted by their direct reports from industry companies of all sizes in PPB’s annual search for the best bosses in the promotional products industry.

 


Why he was nominated:
“I have been working on Larry’s team for four years now and have grown tremendously in regard to my work (I came from print advertising and was not familiar with the promotional marketing industry),” says nominator Karen Tihalas, pictured here with Alford. “From day one, Larry continuously mentored me and challenged me with learning opportunities. Not only has he taught me so much by hands-on coaching, he has faith in me to learn on my own which has allowed me to grow with confidence.”

Larry’s insights on his best boss:
Among my best bosses, three come to mind. At my first real job out of college I learned to trust my instincts and convictions. I was 22 and marketing director for a tiny company with little guidance. That boss was also a horrible mentor and not particularly available but that bad habit taught me a lot—especially how to treat others. My current boss (Larry Cohen would not like me calling him that) has helped to strengthen my belief in instincts and expectations. However, the greatest thing I have learned from him is that 100-percent perfect does not exist, so we all need to adjust our expectations. This holds true for all the many relations within our industry. The third of my best bosses are my parents. After all, household chores were my first “job.” I learned how to prioritize at a young age and the value of hard work.

His advice for managing others:
Respect. You get what you give. Regardless of being a boss, you also need your team for success and partnership. You are not always right and often more wrong than you may know. Be willing to listen. Communicate clearly, understand where others are coming from and be willing to accept your mistakes. Allow others to make mistakes. When I hire, I look for a few very important characteristics in no particular order: passion, humility, resourcefulness, accountability and a sense of humor.

I am not a fan of the word “boss;” I prefer team lead—this is a much better description of my management style. We are a team, yes, I am the team lead, however, from the very definition of us being a team, we work together—no one works for me. We all have a common goal.

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Why she was nominated:
“It’s rare to find a manager, in any walk of life, who strikes that perfect balance between compassion and motivation, and Joe’l does it better than anyone I have ever worked for,” says Matt Klang, one of 15 nominators. “She leads from the front and sets a tremendous example for her team to follow. Not only is she smarter than anyone I have ever worked for, but she works harder, which is why she has the respect and admiration of everyone in the company. On top of her professional accolades, Joe’l is an awesome person to be around and is the glue that holds our entire team together.”  

Joe’l’s insights on her best boss:
John Caputo, president of Arrow Uniform, led the company during a time of economic downturn in the Detroit market. John was the finest example of remaining calm and productive under pressure and coping well with change. He managed with a clear vision and strategy with open communication. John fostered a culture of empowerment and innovation. He motivated me to do my best work by providing an environment where I was trusted to make decisions and empowered to get things done. He allowed his team to learn from failures and achievements. He encouraged innovative ideas and approaches and then helped us to implement them. While focused on results, he also celebrated progress. John made me feel valued. He supported me endlessly at Arrow Uniform and still to this day. I consider him a mentor, teacher and role model.  

Her advice for managing others:
I don’t see myself as a boss, I view myself as a coach. If you think about the best coach you’ve ever had they provide immediate feedback, recognize achievements (even the small ones) and help develop you on and off the field. They build relationships that allow for tough conversations. And, most importantly they create a culture of positive teamwork. Sharing best practices to foster a team environment helps a sales team feel connected. I feel passionately about serving our team as their coach and their biggest fan. I find my sense of success and accomplishment through my team’s development and success. 

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Why she was nominated:
“Trina is a wonderful communicator; she gives a clear vision of what current priorities are within the organization and people are excited to share their success stories with her,” says Rita Fraser, one of six nominators. “She provides coaching and counseling and is ‘present’ for every one of her many direct reports. Trina sets high standards and she is demanding in terms of what she expects for results. People are driven to do better based on her leadership.”

Trina’s insights on her best boss:
I had the privilege to work for Jerry York, the iconic CFO of IBM and Chrysler who mentored me early in my management career. He was by far the toughest boss I have ever had, but he taught me to always be prepared and know my business inside and out. He also taught me to never be a victim. If I am having a rough week, I hear his words in my head: “Don’t be a victim of your circumstances; take the reins and find the solution.” 

Her advice for managing others:
Listen to your associates. Create a mentoring, energized and kind environment where people feel safe and empowered to bring you the good and bad news. Many times, the best opportunities to grow and improve the business comes from listening to your team.

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Why he was nominated:
“Since day one, Bret has acted as my mentor and has helped me grow the department in ways neither of us expected,” says one of his three nominators, Kate Oscarson. “Every day Bret challenges me with new projects, encourages me to share my opinion and gives me plenty of room to figure things out and continue to grow. It’s a great feeling to have the trust of your boss, the freedom to do your job and to feel the passion and excitement of working every day. Bret has definitely inspired that in me, and it has spread throughout our entire department.”

Bret’s insights on his best boss:
I’ve worked for myself and/or as my own boss for most my life. The best boss ever has to be my partner in crime at QLP Michael Wenger. I swear he’s the byproduct of a Tony Robbins and Adam Sandler love child. The man is unstoppable, inspirational and the definition of the freaking Energizer Bunny. He’s taught me more in our time together than all of Wikipedia.

His advice for managing others:
I’m the farthest thing from your traditional boss or leader. For better or for worse, I lack a filter of any kind. My advice is “honesty is the best policy.” Transparency matters. Never lie. I’m also a terrible liar so I’ve got that going for me—LOL.

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Why she was nominated:
“She is by far the most balanced, fair, intelligent and hardest working boss I have ever had,” says nominator Maria Hoffman, who’s reported to Bosse for over four years. “She gets in the trenches with her troops when needed and when she is not needed, she allows us to do the jobs she hired us to do and trusts that our work will get done and done well. She is a fearless leader—the total package in a boss. She has been here 50 years and I hope she never retires.”

Laura’s insights on her best boss:
I’d like to take this opportunity to honor two people. Peter Geiger has been a great boss because he has confidence in me, keeps me informed and is a great role model for being a good corporate steward and extending his leadership throughout the community. He is thoughtful, generous and caring, and has been a huge part of making Geiger the respected company that it is. Although I’ve never worked directly for her, Jo-an Lantz has also always been a leader and mentor from whom I have drawn resources over the years. As our new CEO, she has a lot on her shoulders yet always makes time to discuss a business issue with me. She works hard and has done a great deal for our company and our industry. Her drive and energy are amazing, and her accomplishments are inspiring.

Her advice for managing others:
Be the leader you would like to have. I like to create an environment where people can grow to their full potential, and where it is safe to fail and make mistakes as long as they learn from them. Being a role model is important, as well as knowing when people can fly on their own and when they need your support, encouragement and the proper tools and information to do their jobs well. It’s also critical that you balance empathy with the need to make difficult business decisions with compassion and fairness. I have a great team, which makes it easy to be a great boss.

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Why he was nominated:
“Scot shows exactly what it means to be a leader. He always has our best interests at heart and overcommunicates with us to ensure that we understand our jobs every step of the way,” says Chelsea Harshfield, one of nine nominators. “His passion for his job and his excitement for working with people is evident every day, from emails to customers, to buying lunch for the office when he is out for the day.”

Scot’s insights on his best boss:
I have had dozens of bosses in my life and I did learn a lot through these bosses on how to treat those they manage. I also learned what not to do as a boss, which is just as important. I have made many mistakes managing people. Being intentional about getting better every day is the sign of a great boss or leader. Never stop learning. That is what I strive for.

His advice for managing others:
This one is easy: hire great people who are in line with your core values. Our team right now has never been better. They amaze Chris and me every day with how good they all are at their roles. Our corporate culture has also never been better and this is a direct result of their positive attitudes. Our No. 1 core value is exceptional customer experience. Everyone under our roof knows this and lives it. My best advice for being a great boss? Have exceptional people on your team.

Why he was nominated:
“I think one of the cool things about Chris’s management style is that we all have a different interpretation on each situation, and he allows everyone to share how they interpret the situation and their solution,” says Destiny Bieller, one of eight nominators. “It creates an amazing work environment.”

Chris’s insights on his best boss:
The best boss I’ve had in my career was Rich M. from my high-tech days selling telecommunications equipment from about 2001-2007. Rich was a total sales professional who provided his people with the tools they needed to be successful and then set us loose. I always knew he had my best interests in mind and had my back if I needed it. 

His advice for managing others:
It starts with having great people who truly believe the company’s core values and purpose; I’m so grateful for our team. Beyond that, take a true interest in the lives of your colleagues, encouraging them in their unique abilities to continue growing personally and professionally.

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Why she was nominated:
“I wasn’t the most qualified person in the world when I was hired, but Bridget took a chance on me and she was able to help me succeed in my role,” says nominator Jen Jezeirski, who has reported to Dahlgren for five years. “She’s always looked for my strengths and has given me the projects she knows she can count on me to knock out of the park. She celebrates all our successes inside and outside of work. Bridget is more than just my boss; I consider her one of my friends as well.”

Bridget’s insights on her best boss:
I have been very lucky to have wonderful bosses throughout my career. The qualities they all had were strong character, high value for integrity, visionary, direct with their communication and an understanding of how I learned the best. They all had a drive for a standard of excellence; there was never an option to choose to be successful, it just was expected and then achieved.

Her advice for managing others:
Forgive. This may not be a conventional answer, but I do believe that we are all humans and need some grace sometimes, especially when learning. Creating a culture in your workplace that encourages learning and constructive criticism will go a long way. Also, know that people leave managers, not companies, so never stop learning  whether that means reading a book, listening to a podcast or joining a networking group—surround yourself with people and information that will help you become a better leader.

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Why he was nominated:
“I had never worked in sales until this job and I had never experienced a boss like Graeme before—he actually cares about his employees,” says nominator Christina Clark, who has been at the company for three years. “His open-door policy makes it easy to approach him. He will help provide all the training we ask for and sends us to events so we are more confident and happier in our roles. He expresses the importance of taking care of ourselves and each other so it makes the job more enjoyable. And he’s respectful and humble—seriously is one of the greatest people on the planet. He deserves all the good life has to offer and then some.”

Graeme’s insights on his best boss:
I worked for my dad and he was the one that I respected as he always says you get the respect you give to others.

His advice for managing others:
My rules of thumb are “Treat others how you want to be treated” and “Respect is earned.” I value my staff very much and feel they are a big part of what we achieve every day.

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Why she was nominated:
“Kimberly has the ability to give feedback in a way that challenges people directly and shows she cares about them personally. There is never a day where someone on the team wonders how their role and accountabilities contribute to the big picture,” says her nominator Tony West of Fulford, who works almost 1,000 miles from AIA’s headquarters in Wisconsin and manages a team of seven.

Kimberly’s insights on her best boss:
Harvey Hill was my first boss out of college at Kimberly-Clark. He was the best boss because without his patience, mentorship and guidance, I would not be where I am today in my career. He taught me how to be a great leader and provide a solid foundation for my career.

Her advice for managing others:
Being a great boss is about putting wind in each person’s sail and creating a team that feels valued and appreciated. As a leader you must build a team with the right person in the right seat so that they can excel in the seat they are in and grow to advance to the next seat that they desire in the organization. Being a great boss entails being “radically candid,” which creates a team that has trust, accountability, commitment and is results-oriented.

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Why he was nominated:
“Dave is an example of what a boss should be in our industry—to motivate you to want to learn, be successful and stay humble,” says Nicole Schouten, one of three nominators. “He reminds me that the harder you work, the more your goals are achieved and noticed. He thinks outside the box to give you options to attain those hard-to-reach branches of sales and to never take ‘no’ for an answer.  He motivates with a positive outlook to any situation and, honestly, is a friend when needed.” 

David’s insights on his best boss:
While I’ve never worked professionally for my father, Jim Glaser, I’ve devoted my life to make him and my family proud—especially in my professional life. I’ve always taken his advice and guidance to heart. He trusted me and stayed by my side even if he didn’t have the same vision as I did at times. He was patient and honest which are two qualities I use and value as a leader.

His advice for managing others:
Whether you’re responsible for leading one person or a hundred people, treat them all as individuals. Listen to them, learn from them and only then can you successfully lead them. Oh, and love what you do and who you do it for. Your career is far more satisfying when you surround yourself with an amazing team.

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Why he was nominated:
“He lets us be us. Through success and failure, he is right there along for the ride. It’s really hard to put words around it. It’s his charisma, I guess. It’s infectious,” says Lee Simerly, who’s worked for him for 14 years and is one of three nominators. “You can be having a terrible day and even have a list of all of your problems and one comment from him turns it all around. People just feel his genuineness.” 

Michael’s insights on his best boss:
I can’t name just one because I have learned to take the best parts of several bosses to form my own leadership style. In the industry, I have only had two bosses up until we sold BEST Promotions USA to Hub Promotional Group in 2017. What I learned from them, in summary, was a relentless work ethic—having the habits and mindset to where no one will outwork us. Also, to have the interpersonal bond of trust that puts the other person first.

His advice for managing others:
Culture will beat strategy every day. Treat people as you want to be treated and be authentic. Have the courage to face problems and behavioral issues head on and protect the culture you want to have.

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Cathy Houston, left, with her direct report and nominator Melinda Lathrop.

Why she was nominated:
“Cathy is a leader who truly listens to everyone before she makes a comment or forms a decision,” says nominator Melinda Lathrop, one of four direct reports. “You will never find her talking over anyone in a meeting. She promotes open lines of communication for all her employees by offering us the opportunity to chat with her directly on Google Hangouts or shoot her a text if we need something urgently. Cathy is great at listening to employees when they have an issue. She always tries to find a way to help overcome these obstacles.”

Cathy’s insights on her best boss:
My best boss was at one of my first jobs as an administrative assistant at a ski resort. He was great to work with and for because he was a patient teacher who had this approach: try it and if doesn’t work, let’s figure it out together. He valued my input and I felt like I was able to make a difference. He was also very supportive of me as a full-time working mom with two small children.

Her advice for managing others:
The best piece of advice for any boss would be open communication. My goal is to empower my team with the tools so they can learn, grow and succeed. This enables me to trust and value their input which allows me to learn, grow and succeed. And, I never act like the boss. I am just the team member with the most experience.

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Why she was nominated:
“I think the biggest quality Tanya has that makes her such a thoughtful leader is that she coaches us without taking over,” says Lucy Taylor, one of six nominators. “Her feedback is always thoughtful, constructive and spot on. She empowers us to manage our areas of expertise—never stepping on our toes or micromanaging a project—but will make herself available to talk through any areas where we might be stuck. And it’s never a burden. She’s an incredibly busy woman but when you are sitting in her office, she has all the time in the world for you.”

Tanya’s insights on her best boss:
Dan Halama is my best boss, my current boss and the owner of BrightStores. In addition to being incredible in business, Dan inspires with his vision and passion for what our company is and what it can be. He continually invests in the company infrastructure but also in our greatest asset—the people who work here. Dan is compassionate, fun to have around and, overall, an incredibly supportive boss.

Her advice for managing others:
I believe that being a great boss starts with recognizing that every person on the team is equally important and equally vital to our success. Nurturing a culture of respect and trust allows us to each do our jobs well independently while also bringing together our best ideas for successful collaboration. Additionally, I believe that to be successful at the office, it’s important to be happy outside of the office.

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Why he was nominated:
“Doug does not expect more from anyone than he does of himself,” says one of two nominators Kathy Mayo, who’s reported to him for 12 years. “He puts 110 percent into every work day and inspires his people to want to do the same. Doug also gives credit to every person’s success and never claims it as his own. He is quick to point out what his team accomplishes.”

Douglas’s insights on his best bosses:
Vera and Greg Muzzillo have been both instrumental and inspirational, mentoring me in all aspects of Proforma’s business and vision, enabling our Proforma owner members to enjoy their best business success through technology, finance, operations, sales and marketing. Specifically, they have taught me the value of strategic thinking while deploying tactical solutions to accomplish Proforma’s vision. Their collective mentoring enables me to serve our Proforma team members and owner members.

His advice for managing others:
It’s all about serving your team members to enable them to serve others. Once you achieve this objective, you should then ask yourself daily, “Am I the type of leader that I would follow?” If you truly serve your team members, you will be able to answer “yes” every day.

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Why she was nominated:
“Deb’s main goal as a leader is to lift up team spirit and provide guidance and support at all times,” says her nominator Debbie Martin, who’s reported to Marmo for 15 years. “She makes us feel like we are valued and that everyone’s voice matters. Deb has created such a positive work environment that others can’t wait for the chance to work for her.”

Deb’s insights on her best boss:
I’ve been fortunate to work for many great leaders throughout my career, especially here at BIC Graphic, which I’ve called home for 22 years. One leader stands out as she was a very strong customer and employee advocate. Early on in my career, this person took the time to help me develop these skills. She led by example with owning challenges until the customer was taken care of. 

Her advice for managing others:
Listen, listen, listen. It is very important for me to collaborate and share ideas with my team. I believe in an open-door communication policy. This method has helped me create strong teamwork within any teams I’ve led.

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Danny’s insights on his best boss:
Bobby Epstein, who was my boss when I was in the fixed income/bond business, taught me how to expect employees to be productive and be a good supervisor at the same time.

His advice for managing others:
Unlike sports, everyone in the workplace can be a winner.  Kati is where management, employees and customers come together to reach a common goal where we can all win.

Why they were nominated:
“One great thing about my bosses’ management style is they don’t micromanage,” says nominator Laurie Gerber, who’s been with the company for five years. “I truly can’t say enough great things about these guys I call bosses. The way they go above and beyond for all their employees is truly unheard of. I really believe they are the reason this company is so successful. We are not just co-workers we are family.”

Gary’s insights on his best bosses:
This has pretty much been my only job, so my best boss would be my mentor at this company, Lane Kalmin. I also cannot forget my best boss ever, my father. They both taught me to always get up and go to work and take care of business like you would want someone to take care of your business.

His advice for managing others:
Listen to your employees and treat them as you would want to be treated. Always remember that your company is only as good as the people who work for you.

 

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Why he was nominated:
“He lets me take the reins on projects and allows me to find my own solution,” says his nominator Susan Carmen, who’s reported to Nelsen for four years. “However, time and time again he will chime in, ‘Don’t forget to use me as a resource,’ or, ‘Remember, if you hit a problem, I am here.’ He is true to his word. He gives the entire team the freedom to work things out on their own but also acts as our safety net.”

Eric’s insights on his best boss:
Jim Childers [president of BrandVia] is a great leader, consistent and compassionate and he always “seeks to understand.”

His advice for managing others:
Treat your team with respect, be polite, ask—don’t tell (that applies to how we treat our suppliers, too). Be impeccable with your word, do what you say you are going to do (this applies to me and them), don’t take things personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best. Always be learning (I ask them frequently “What did you learn today?”) and teach, don’t preach. My team members are empowered to make decisions. I often answer their questions with a question: “What would you do if I wasn’t here?” Pick up the phone and call and remember, “Their perception is their reality.”

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Why she was nominated:
“Jodie has always been approachable and considerate, open with praise and tactful with constructive criticism,” says her nominator Shana Gardner, who has reported to Schillinger for 10 years. “She works hard to make every employee feel appreciated and help them find the best way to do their job—even if it’s changing the job description. She’s open to and encourages lateral thinking, but also provides guidance when someone is struggling and spurs employees to improve their skills and themselves. I’ve worked hard to model my managerial style after her example. She’s an inspiration to me to constantly strive higher.”

Jodie’s insights on her best boss:
Tom Riordan [company president] set the standard in everything he did for the customer: how he approached the customer, thought about their needs, how to make it a win-win for customer/company and how to communicate it. He taught the philosophy behind the approach when working with customers vs. teaching the sale and the win. I feel I learned how to do that for our internal teams at MRF.

Her advice for managing others:
Be open, genuine, real and honest. With this, we trust in one another and focus on strengths. Organically we shift to an innate sense of accountability, which is followed by empowerment. The best way to be a great leader is to be a great person. It’s natural and simple to treat people the way you would like to be treated.

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Why he was nominated:
“Steven does not micromanage and is always open to change, especially when it improves our organization, roles and/or productivity,” says Michael Jolly, one of five nominators. “He is open to furthering our education and training, while also remaining flexible with working hours and responsibilities. I also enjoy how well established our responsibilities and delegations are but he’s never afraid to get his hands dirty with troubleshooting and fixing code when he can or needs to.”

Steven’s insights on his best boss:
My current boss, Steve Paradiso, has taken a vested interest in my growth as a manager while being a sounding board for my personal life as well. He has given me the freedom to build the IT department to support our business needs. 

His best advice for managing others:
Trust your team. Answer questions and empower them to make decisions.

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Why she was nominated:
“Shari is always leading by example. She will often take new employees with her on sales presentations so that they can see how she presents the projects and generates ideas for the clients,” says nominator Chris Wilson. “She has also initiated an internal self-development program called Stackable Sensations University. In order to graduate, each employee is required to take a language course (Rosetta Stone), LinkedIn courses, health and wellness program and read a book and give an oral presentation of their choice to name a few of the classes.”

Shari’s insights on her best boss:
Scott Taroff, from my ADP days, always worked hard and smart, had a formula to drive success in achieving any goals, was encouraging and supportive, plus led by example. What I liked most, and I bring this over to my team, is he always cared about his people and was genuine.

Her advice for managing others:
Create a fun, inclusive, positive team environment as this is really a second family that you spend so much time with and you want to enjoy your time together. Show appreciation for their efforts and successes. Be fair and consistent. A nice surprise here or there (like dinner, coffee or a night away) is gratifying and appreciated by the team member. I also feel it is important to lead by example as I never expect anyone to do anything I did not or would not do myself.

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Why he was nominated:
“Five years ago, I met Tad at an interview for a sales associate position at Brandinc,” says Callie Labriola, one of his three nominators. “At the time I knew very little about the industry and the extra time he took with me that day blew me away. He was so energetic and passionate about the industry—it was one of the reasons I wanted the position. Tad takes the time to answer your questions and deep-dive into his knowledge to help you with your client projects or even basic, day-to-day operational questions. He is one of the few who are not only passionate about their work but also about helping peers be successful as well.” 

Tad’s insights on his best boss:
I have been fortunate to have had a few great bosses and mentors in my career including Bob Waldorf, Jim Buescher, Lew Ginsberg and Steve Paradiso. 

His best advice for managing others:
Be open. Communicate honestly. Work with your team in an open collaborative way.  

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National Boss’s Day began in 1958 when Patricia Bays Haroski, who was employed at State Farm Insurance Company in Deerfield, Illinois, conceived of the idea to honor her own boss and to give other employees a chance to show appreciation to their bosses. She also thought Boss’s Day would help improve employer-employee relations. She registered the holiday with the United States Chamber of Commerce and in 1962 Illinois Governor Otto Kerner officially proclaimed the day as an observance. Today, it is celebrated not just in the U.S. but in India, Lithuania, Australia and South Africa—and is always celebrated on October 16 unless that day falls on a weekend; then it’s celebrated on the closest business day.

 

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If you can check off these attributes, your team is lucky to have you.

You don’t have obvious favorites among your team.

You treat your employees like human beings.

You are willing to try new things to experiment and innovate.

You hold everyone on the team accountable, including yourself.

You give support and build trust.

You remove obstacles.

You’re a good coach.

You’re able to manage expectations.

You give feedback.

You keep the environment open and transparent.

You ask for insight.

You explain yourself.

You care about solutions.

You care about challenging your employees.

You don’t micromanage, but you’re not too hands-off.

You check in with your employees.

You have a sense of humor.

You care about the dreams and goals of your employees.

You’re not nice just for the sake of being nice.

You’re a good listener.

You take an interest in your employees’ lives.

Source: Excerpted from an article by Jacquelyn Smith in Business Insider

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Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

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Comments (1)
Bill Wood
October 1, 2019
This is a great feature. Key part of our industry, recognition. Well done!
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