“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I’ve had many jobs and even more bosses. My first gig was at Yogurt Express at Dayton’s Department Store in downtown Minneapolis. I was 16 and I loved my job. My boss, Daniel, was another story. All these years later, I still remember him as not only my first supervisor, but also my worst.
He became accusatory one day, confronting me about the till being short. He wanted to know why. I had no idea. All I knew was I didn’t steal, as he insinuated. I don’t remember what he said the day he pulled me into the tiny closet for the unexpected interrogation. But, true to Maya Angelou’s words, I’ve never forgotten how he made me feel: Small. Inadequate. Ashamed.
Fortunately, the good bosses I’ve had far outnumber the bad. While I don’t have the space to mention them all (I wish I could!), I’ll highlight a few.
Raelin Storey hired me at KCCO in Alexandria in 1994. She brought me on as a production assistant and later gave me my first on-air reporting position. Rae was young, but kind, smart and talented.
Our market covered a huge area, dozens of counties, and we were one-person bands—shooting, writing and editing our content. While she taught me much, one lesson really struck a chord.
I had driven two hours, each way, for a story. It was big, maybe the lead that night. As I headed back to Alexandria, I questioned whether or not I had white-balanced the camera before shooting. If you don’t white balance, your video is blue and your story looks like it was produced by a fifth grader. By the time I got back to the station, anxiety consumed me. With tears swelling in my eyes, I ran into the editing bay, stuck the tape in the machine and hit play. To my relief, it was clean.
Rae recognized my distress. “Karen, what’s wrong?” she asked. I explained my perceived predicament.
While I don’t recall the entire conversation, I remember the crux: “We’re not doctors. No one will die if we mess up.” And I remember how I felt: Human. Safe. Supported.
Rae taught me it’s okay to make mistakes. I’ve shared that message many times, always crediting my first on-air boss for the simple, yet powerful, gem.
After Rae, I had other great bosses, including Lynne Berry Vallely. We originally met when I was a reporter. I interviewed her for a riveting story on allergies.
Our paths would cross occasionally over the next 15 years, but she came into my life in earnest while I was at HudsonAlpha. She joined the Institute as a colleague and later became head of our advancement team.
Before she came on board, I had already gravitated toward planned giving. I loved taking philanthropy to this very meaningful level. Lynne mentored me during this time and, at one point, promoted me to Director of Annual and Planned Giving.
She taught me that I was capable of more than I realized and gave me the opportunity to prove it, to others, yes, but also to myself. I remember how I felt: Empowered. Capable. Supported.
Lynne left after a few years, and Danny Windham became our boss in 2019. The retired engineer had a long and successful career in Huntsville’s tech industry, and had served on the Institute’s board since its beginning. As HudsonAlpha’s COO, Danny would now oversee operations and lead several teams, including ours.
Danny made an effort to really get to know his employees. He engaged us in conversation and listened intently. He was as kind and thoughtful as he was strategic and analytical. He had an open door policy and promoted direct, honest dialogue.
In July 2020, I had the opportunity to take a position in a different field. It was at the height of COVID so I told him over Zoom. Before accepting my resignation, he asked me questions. Lots of them.
“I’m scared to death,” I finally admitted.
“Let’s talk about that,” he said. I shared my insecurities about leaving an established organization (after nearly 11 years) with fantastic people and unbelievable benefits. I was headed to a startup drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.
We made a deal. If, after another 24 hours of contemplation, I changed my mind, “then lucky us,” he said. If not, they’d respect my decision to leave and wish me well. I ultimately chose the other job, but I did so knowing I had given it my utmost consideration.
Again, I remember how I felt: Valued. Decisive. Supported.
The job didn’t work out as expected, and I landed in the nonprofit mental health and addiction space as WellStone’s Director of Development. I got lucky with my boss here, too.
So what do all these great bosses have in common? Sure, they’re smart and they have vision, but more importantly, they treat their employees with respect and dignity—as human beings—whether they’re giving them a pat on the back or addressing a costly blunder.
If you’ve had bosses like Rae, Lynne or Danny, chances are you fondly remember how they made you feel at one time or another. And you do your best, every day, to have the same impact on others, no matter what their position. Or yours.