The Good Boss – Part III

My experience, through many years of coaching hundreds of people in numerous industries, is this – the higher we climb on the corporate ladder, the further we get from where real people do real work. The emotional intelligence that launched executive success years earlier seems to be thinner at the top of the corporate ladder. When we reach real heights, it appears there is less gratitude, less generosity, less openness, and less patience. It almost seems like those deep breaths of emotional intelligence are reserved for junior leaders. Except for Mike.

The Good Boss Part III involves a senior leader who approaches his team from a very different angle. A mid-level director I know, Jim, was in Mike’s charge and was going through a very difficult time. Jim’s work performance was slipping, his temperament was more edgy, and he was less cooperative. His friendly nature had changed. He was going through a personal crisis as he had just lost his wife to leukemia and he was now raising 3 small kids alone. Mike had been promoted to President and was therefore somewhat removed from Jim. Mike liked Jim, and was sensitive to his difficulties, so he left him to sort out his personal issues with his new boss. Mike received an email from Jim, asking for a meeting, only 2 weeks after his wife’s funeral.

The rumor mill had talked about Jim moving back to Ohio, where he was from, since his wife’s dying wish was to be buried in her home state near her parents and siblings. Ohio was their home but she died in California, having relocated there to support Jim’s work. Mike took the meeting but wasn’t sure what to expect – Was Jim going to resign? Would he announce his plans to go to Ohio? Was he volatile enough to mandate a job change?

Mike later said Jim was calm and  determined when he spoke, “Mike, I know everyone thinks I want to go back to Ohio, and I wanted to tell you directly that I am excited to get back to work and stay here in California. My kids have their friends and their lives out here, and I want you to know, that I know I have missed a lot of time the past few months, but I am anxious to get back to work. You can count on me – I am your man and will make every effort to achieve the goals we have for both my team and the organization.”  

Mike was also calm when he responded, “Jim, this company was here long before your wife got ill and will be here longer still as you get back on your feet. Right now you have one job –  take care of those kids. So go home now and begin your job. We have lots of work for you to do – and we will need you back at work, but not right now. Right now we need you at home. When you are ready, really ready, we are anxious to have your efforts contribute to our success. We’ll still be here.”

With tears in my eyes, unsure of what to say, I was being sent home. I left his office and went home. Sometimes curling up in a ball seems like the best option.

Mike didn’t count absent days, missed deadlines, or employee complaints. He waited and moved forward knowing I would catch-up. I will never forget Mike’s simple comments, showing humanity to me at a time when I thought I might lose my job, based on numerous absences over the year leading up to Teri’s death.

I slowly got back on my feet. I stayed with Mike and that one employer for 36 years. As I strengthened and softened in many ways, I felt obligated – no, not obligated – cared for,  in such a deep way that I wanted to pay it forward to the people I would touch, the way Mike had touched my life. He created lasting engagement for me and, in turn, I helped shape a future culture for many people over many years, all from one 5 minute meeting in 1999. Mike gave me chance when I hadn’t really earned it.

Vision – it’s less about the business and more about the people.

Thanks Mike Ball – I am forever deeply touched and personally grateful.


  1. Jim. Great story and i know it is real. You and Mike were 2 of the best guys I worked for because you were real and believed in family first You will never know the impact you had on me that allowed me to serve others so thanks so much. BTW Sarah loves in Irvine and is on the Restasis brand lol

  2. Trust me, you paid it forward many times over. Thanks for the countless 5 minutes you’ve shared with me over the years.


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