‘Challenging in all the right ways’: What our readers say about their best bosses

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Managers can have a profound effect on a professional career, particularly in a specialized field like public media. Current asked readers to describe the boss who made the most difference in their career paths — in a good way.

Current and former public media employees who answered our survey described many different qualities. To distill the 24 responses, we grouped the characteristics into categories to see which were mentioned most frequently. Talent development and supportive relationships stood out as the qualities that employees valued most in a great boss.

(Visualization by Chris Campbell)

Here’s a selection of the responses we received.

My best boss was my former news director. He always made sure people remembered to be human first, journalists second — and I believe that made all our work better. He never rushed calls with you or edits, and he built relationships with everyone on our team founded on respect plus the idea that everyone should be given the space to learn our public media craft. He was always a coach guiding the direction of your work, but made you come up with the answers. He never believed in fixing. His character is endlessly patient. — Caitie Muñoz, interim managing editor, WLRN, Miami

My best boss(es) trusted my instincts, supported my creativity and were willing for me to take risks. They would back me up if I was questioned or if I made a misstep. They were generous with their expertise and allowed me the space and time to develop new skills, tools and relationships. — Laurel Wyckoff, education and outreach manager, New Mexico PBS/KNME, Albuquerque

My boss takes the time to listen and consider possibilities. He helps me feel appreciated for what I do well and helps me stretch where/when I need to do more. Most importantly, he is not a micromanager. He hired me because I have a track record of success in public radio sales in this market and allows me to do the job with minimal supervision. — Jay Ahuja, corporate sponsorship sales rep, WDAV, Davidson, N.C.

The best boss I ever had understood what it was like to do my job — because he had done it before — and had never forgotten how hard it was. He treated all of us like human beings first, not just pieces of a machine. And he allowed us to not always “have it together” during a time when none of us had it together. He showed real compassion. — Melissa Ingells, Morning Edition host, Wisconsin Public Radio, Madison

I was extremely fortunate to work for Bill Siemering at WHYY [in Philadelphia] early in my career. Bill continues to be a beacon of what a good leader should be. He is able to identify great talent and put in place structures so his team can thrive and grow. He is able to create a vision of what is possible and then step back to let his team realize it (and cheer when the vision shifts as the team makes it come alive). … He has inspired me for almost 40 years. — Julie Burstein, independent audio producer, Maplewood, N.J.

My best boss was an extremely creative, out-of-the-box thinker, which in time helped me to develop more creative solutions to solving problems. He was also incredibly appreciative of the work being put in by his team and … expressed his appreciation often and in very specific ways, not throwaway general statements. … He was also very supportive of our ideas and helped us … put them into action. His management style … made us want to work harder and do better because we felt genuinely respected and valued. — Amanda Morgan, director of membership, WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh

JJ Yore is the finest boss I’ve ever had. He is creative, forward-thinking, financially careful, makes decisions when necessary, and is a caring human being. JJ is thoughtful, compassionate, and has a wonderful sense of humor. I’m sad we lost him. — Diane Rehm, podcast producer and host, WAMU, Washington, D.C.

Understanding, fair, transparent, sense of humor, and they were genuinely concerned about what was best for me. … They had a solid character, strong work ethic and they were an expert in their field. … Had a way of talking to everyone that made them feel heard. — Christine Sadic, manager of corporate sponsorship and foundation giving, WOSU Public Media, Columbus, Ohio

For me, there’s a big difference between a having a good manager and a good leader. The manager knows how to get things done by being efficient. A good leader is someone who made me want to walk through fire for [her]. She was able to look into my soul and make me see my potential. … She made me feel secure enough to get out of my comfort zone, and when I did, boy, did my confidence grow. She continues to bring out my very best. — Traci Tong, freelance editor, Boston, previously with The World and KERA in Dallas

I had two very good bosses.  Both were very knowledgeable about public broadcasting and had coherent visions for what we did. Both respected my strengths and gave me the latitude to do what I thought was best. Both were very enjoyable people to work with and could overrule me effectively if necessary. — David Othmer, former WHYY station manager, now retired, Philadelphia

They listened, were clear in their directions and intent, and acknowledged the difficulty of situations. They pushed me to get outside my comfort zone while also respecting my boundaries. They were … conscientious about being equitable, and as transparent in their thinking and processes as they could be. — Devin Yamanaka, assistant PD and afternoon news host, CapRadio, Sacramento, Calif.

Trust, autonomy and respecting my work-life boundaries. It’s also been so helpful to find little ways to laugh and connect. — Melanie Pehrson-Noyce, education coordinator, PBS Kids Utah, Salt Lake City

Supportive of … your ideas and giving you the freedom to try new things and seeing what works. Truly believing in the mission of public media and … serving the public and community. Striving to be a better organization and asking how the organization can accomplish its goals. — Heidi Brown, development director, KANW, Albuquerque, N.M.

The best boss I ever had was at PBS and was challenging in all the right ways. …This boss helped navigate the trickier relationships and “personalities.” When taking on a challenge, would offer to back you up — or just join in when needed, which was immensely supportive. Annual reviews were not something to be dreaded … because any needed guidance or correction … [didn’t] wait for the yearly review. — Kevin Ruppenthal, former PBS director of technology communications, now with SpectraRep, Chantilly, Va.

Honorable dealing. Clear communication. Passionate commitment to the mission. Intelligence. He … wanted me to be the best I could be. … He taught me never to ask him what to do with a problem, but instead to come to him with a proposed solution. We trusted one another. David Ives, [president of WGBH in Boston, 1970–84], was the ideal boss for me. — Hope Green, former president, Vermont Public TV, now retired, Burlington, Vt.

My boss treats us like human beings. He puts our health first and the content second. He often asks how we want to grow as journalists and helps to make it happen. He trusts our expertise and only mentions what stories should be done after we’ve gone around the room at pitch meetings. He’s an active listener and considers our opinion, even if we don’t ultimately get what we want. Though he doesn’t always have time to give feedback, we debrief after finishing long-form pieces and I find that helpful. — Rebecca Thiele, energy/environment reporter, Indiana Public Broadcasting, Bloomington, Ind.

Vision, clarity, boldness, trust, humor, accountability, mentorship; giving the staffer space to experiment and space to fail, without harsh judgment, and helping the recovery. — Phil Wilke, GM, North State Public Radio, Chico, Calif.

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