The Truly Rich Lady's Guide To Dealing With the Work Boss
I've learned a lot from my former bosses, some Truly Rich, others not.
One, an old lady who always smelled like crushed rose petals in milk, stressed the exercise of elegance in everything, especially the littlest things: “No, no, Si-si. A ‘Hello’ will never do. Too pedestrian. Remember to begin all your communications with ‘Dear.’ One is more inclined to respond to a request if you add a bit of elegance.”
Another, a more gruff superior who dressed like he slept on the office floor (he did!) loved to tell me off: “You with the big hair! Why did you keep the client waiting? Respond within 12 hours—always! I don’t care if you're dead or dying.”
And yet another seldom spoke to me. Instead, the mysterious bearded boss in his perfect Neopolitan suits sent the most memorable bloody e-mails! To underline what we, the lowly creatures, did wrong, he used red font and all caps. In the morning, opening my e-mail would send me into a tizzy of nervousness. What would he be shouting about today?
A boss is a mentor who will help you in your journey. Sometimes she will actively school you in how to get things done. Most of the time, you will observe and pick up the nuances.
Most days were hellish and the handful of moments that felt triumphant were short-lived. There was always another fire to extinguish, another Cobb salad (extra avocado, no egg) to fetch, another shift in temperament to weather.
But I, a young Si-si Coo, during that nostalgic time called When I Was Working, never minded the barking. I understood that this was how work works. Someone calls the shots and the others follow. Obviously, in this relationship, you are the ones taking the orders. You are the wind and your boss the flier. You are not Diana Ross (even if you have the legs), but the nameless bunch in the shadows doing the background harmonies in The Supremes.
So, if the boss says the sky is red, it is red. And, if the boss says you are turning left, you do your best to steer the big ol’ ship, which is already turning right, in the opposite direction. Later on, he’ll ask, “Why the hell are we heading left?,” and you will be wise enough to just bite your tongue and steer the ship back where it started.
Never question the madness. Well, you can, but not within the boss’ earshot. At work, a little grousing is expected. It keeps things exciting and also helps people who’d rather not be friends, a.k.a. you and your co-workers become closer. I once bonded with a grumpy work frenemy over our shared dread of the color red. We blew off steam, realized we had the same terrible brand of perverse humor, and then got back to work.
It’s even better sometimes when the boss is lukewarm about you. Without the burden of palling around, you can concentrate on doing good work.
In the terrible fits and the weird habits (one boss’ lifestyle was so incongruent with my values that every time he approached me I died a little inside) is something precious. A boss is a mentor who will help you in your journey. Sometimes she will actively school you in how to get things done. Most of the time, you will observe and pick up the nuances. For all my charms, I only ever did master the finer points of small talk by watching an old boss chat up a VVIP about the different kinds of knots (they both had boats) for two hours.
Sometimes a boss will take you under his wing. This is good, of course, because you will become privy to bigger things like, say, the inside of the factory that makes the new high-tech rubber caps of the bottles of magic sauce you are producing. It sure is interesting.
The downside is that you might become friends, which, in my book, is a no-fly-zone. It is a complicated thing being friends with your boss. How do you decide which person, the friend or the boss, you are dealing with in each moment? If he makes an off remark about one of your co-workers over lunch, is he in friend or boss mode? Did he just make a (bad) joke or was he gearing up to fire someone you know?
It’s even better sometimes when the boss is lukewarm about you. Without the burden of palling around, you can concentrate on doing good work. Of course, you trust that the boss is fair and will reward you in the end. If he does not like you and is also a big dung hole filled with garbage hearts, you are in trouble.
The long and short of my missive, my dearest readers, is this: Play nice. Be good. I'm not saying you should become a bootlicking toady. Just keep things cool—actually, warm—and easy.
At the end of the day, the boss, whether perfect or questionable, capable or an idiot, is good to have on your side. The bills have just arrived at the doorstep, and it is the boss who will sign your check.