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What Kind of Boss are You?

The moment we become a transportation director we become a boss. Effectively managing the work of others is one of the most demanding skills required of us. The success of our programs depends almost entirely on how well we are able to get our staff to perform their duties. A task made more challenging since most of our staff — drivers — perform the majority of their duties — driving — without any supervision.

We see our drivers and monitors for a moment or two in the morning and then they are off to all points in our district. We need to realize that we cannot do it all ourselves and that our most important job is to try to get the best out of all those folks involved in providing service to our schools.

What does it take to be a good boss? One way to understand this is to think back over your career to remember that supervisor who inspired you to want to do your best. For me it was Harold, who managed me in an earlier career as a cabinet maker. I was eager but wet behind the ears when I got that job. Harold recognized that my talents were in need of nurturing. He started me off slowly and then began giving me progressively more complex assignments as his way of expressing encouragement. Once, I made a goof on a big project and instead of anger Harold quietly went about fixing my mistake. He recognized that I was much more upset about the mistake than he could have ever made me through any type of disciplinary action.

I always felt that leaders could be divided into two major styles — the “pushers” and the “pullers.” The pushers are those who are always aware of what is going on, who is working on what, what needs to be done, and how are they going to make it happen. The pullers tend to be those who lead more by example. They get their team enthused about a project, goal or direction and expect that their staff will follow along. I tended to be a puller but both styles work effectively.

Other leadership styles you will see described in textbooks include such interesting types as the micromanager, the delegator, the mentor, the “my way or the highway” boss, or the “you’re on your own” boss. Just to make it a little harder, it is likely that you will need to use different styles with different employees because one size does not fit all. The correct approach for your clerk might be the wrong approach for your dispatcher.

Are you the kind of boss who only notices when something goes wrong? Fear is a poor motivator for any of us. Most folks sincerely want to do the right thing. Catch your staff doing something right and let them know. Correcting in private but praising in public is a proven technique.

In our stressful environments, having a well functioning team is critical. You know what it is like when a crisis hits — you are absolutely relying on your team to respond on all cylinders and help you resolve the problem ASAP. These “go-to” people do not materialize out of thin air. They are the product of nurturing and developing and putting the pieces in place for your staff to succeed and indeed shine when necessary.

Are you a good boss? One way to tell is to put yourself in your staff’s shoes for a moment. What are they saying behind your back? How do they describe you when they get home? Do you get a funny look from their spouse when you meet at a social occasion? Putting ourselves in our staff’s shoes should be a regularly scheduled reality check for all of us to ensure our continuing effective leadership.

I was a supervisor for most of my career. Being a good boss was always one of my greatest challenges. Looking back, while it sometimes seemed that the problems would never end, I more often than not experienced great rewards because of the functioning of our team. Being a good boss is an absolute cornerstone for running a great transportation program.

John P. Fahey is a former assistant superintendent who was responsible for the Buffalo, N.Y., CSD transportation program for 18 years. John now works on the Versatrans team for Tyler Technologies and sits on the NAPT KPI (Key Performance Indicator) Committee.

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