Horrible Bosses

The worst boss I ever had…was also the best.

This subject came to mind when the hometown Philadelphia Flyers named John Tortorella as their new Head Coach earlier today.

Tortorella has significant National Hockey League experience in such a role, having carved out 673 wins at four different stops. He has won NHL coach-of-the-year twice, and led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 campaign.

He is equally known for his in-your-face, confrontational, critical relationships with management, players, and the media. His “blow-up” history is easily reviewed courtesy of the Internet.

And today, he also made me reflect about a former boss of mine…who for purposes of this post we’ll call “John 2.0.”

John 2.0 was only my boss for about a year. The company I was working for at the time had some operational challenges which made it imperative they consolidate locations, and our location was closed just about a year after I started there. This event was impossible to predict, quite unforeseen, and losing this position frustrated me because I truly enjoyed my time there.

John 2.0 contributed to my liking the work environment at that organization…to some extent…although my full enjoyment probably didn’t come until I was several years removed from that role.

I say to some extent because John 2.0 absolutely demanded his workers work hard, and work smart. If you made an error he’d call you out on it…sometimes not in the most flattering way. But…he always verbalized his unhappiness behind a closed door. He always made sure anyone he had to have a word with (which was always more than one word…) was done off the floor…and behind a door.

I appreciated that because I had prior supervisors who didn’t have that filter, who would criticize and call you out for a mistake in front of others. John 2.0 was a demanding leader who expected his reports to do their job well, and he’d let you know when you did not. Oh, you knew it.

Yet, the reason why John 2.0 was also the best boss I’ve ever had is because when other departments in the organization tried to paint any of our group in a bad light, or tried to dump projects and work upon us instead of taking ownership themselves, or if another supervisor made unflattering comments to us directly and he learned of it…he couldn’t have been a more vociferous supporter of his section…and its workers.

He would push back, and push hard when he felt our group was being undermined, overtasked…you name it. If we did something in error, he’d work it out with us directly, but if another department head spoke to us about any issue and he found out, he’d go to that person and make sure they knew the next time they had a problem with someone in our unit to come to him to discuss in private. He supported us no matter what.

I had prior experience with bosses who were the exact opposite, and it was refreshing to know this one had all of our backs when it came to interaction with others in the organization. Looking back on it now, John 2.0 did get the very best out of us via his aggressive management style.

It was funny…others in the organization would come up and ask how I could possibly like working for him. In those moments, I would acknowledge it was not for everyone but there was good with the not-so-good. After all, other supervisors and their reports didn’t see this individual as we did. They only saw one component, one side of John 2.0.

John Tortorella is certainly not John 2.0. The two appear to be quite similar in demanding excellence, but the Flyers head man is also known for calling out his players in public, ripping into the media for trying to do their jobs, etc.

Yet, for a franchise that has not won the Cup since the 1974-75 season, the selection of this individual to run the team at this particular moment in time may just be a winning move. If he can motivate (and bring in) enough players to buy into his playing style – and handle his management style – maybe this is exactly what this organization needs right now.

I admittedly would like our new hockey hire to be a bit more like John 2.0. I know at times I am not going to be thrilled with Tortorella’s public personality. However, in my experience John 2.0 was a rare breed, a one-of-a-kind. If Tortorella wills the Flyers to achieve excellence as much as John 2.0 did, this franchise might finally end this l-o-n-g dry spell and win another Stanley Cup.