The Best and Worst of Female Bosses

Column by Janine Popick, "Female CEOs"
October 30, 2009

I don’t know what kind of boss I am at VerticalResponse—you’d have to ask my staff about that. I think they’d say I’m fair, fun, I like to cut to the chase, and will use fewer words than most to try to get my point across. They’d probably say that as long as they’re getting their jobs done, I don’t interfere too much, and I’d like to think I try to remove obstacles for them. I hope that they’d say I believe in growth from within a company. I like to think I learned this from a few bosses in my past that just happened to be women.

Cut back to the early 90’s and my second job out of college when I was a sales assistant at a major media corporation in New York. I was privileged to have a wonderful boss, Tracy. I was a bit nervous to take the job because I was leaving one department to go to another and I felt guilty for leaving my current boss, but I was really in a dead-end position. Tracy really gave me a chance given that I didn’t know anything about sales in a media corporation and she went out of her way to help me grow.

Tracy was a nice, elegant, Southern woman, about late 30’s, and even though there was nothing pretentious about her, she probably made over $250K a year. She took me under her wing and made the time to sit with me and teach me the ropes. It was my job to make sure her sales orders got processed and instead of telling me to "just do it," she explained why it had to be done. It took an investment of her time up front, which took away from her selling, but in the end, she knew it would benefit her.

Tracy had respect. When things were going awry with her clients, she never let it get to her and never blamed me. "What’s the worst thing that can happen?" she always said. She made me feel very much a part of her work life and let me really get to know our clients. And although I made a mere $19,000 a year, she always took care of me and encouraged me with spot bonuses and beautiful holiday gifts all tied to work well done.

In the end, she wanted to help elevate me so that one day, if I wanted it, perhaps I could "graduate" into a successful salesperson like her.

Now for the dark side.

When Tracy left her job, I was re-assigned to Liz. She was a tough, divorced, single, fast-moving, New Yorker who was looking to "climb to the top" and she was taking no prisoners on the way. Liz was anything but calm; she ran around the office shouting orders at me, but always stamped her shouts with a wink and a smile as if that would make me feel better about being yelled at. If something was going wrong with a client, her first thought was to point the finger at me: "Let me see the order YOU wrote up." She rarely took responsibility.

She never made me feel like I was part of her accounts and often kept the clients to herself. I often wondered, Was she so shallow that she thought I would rise up through the ranks and compete with her? Or did she simply want to keep me in the current position forever and not help elevate a young up-and-comer?

You might be thinking I wasn’t lucky for having Liz in my life, but I don’t see it that way! I learned a lesson from her that year—what I don’t want to be and how I don’t want to treat people—which can be just as valuable.

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