Today is Bosses Day, as what day is not? But seriously today is Bosses Day, just like Mother's Day or the Fourth of July.
I imagine if we check the calendar carefully we shall also find a National Pest Day and a Guillotine Festival scheduled for the Mall.
In any case I have been asked to say a few words about bosses by one of mine, who reminds me I am rarely asked to do anything specific and it would be churlish to say no.
There have been many bosses in my life, even more numerous than the dozen or so I have now. When I worked in the fields, when I served in the Air Force, when I worked here and there before arriving at the particular paradise in which I now find myself (a paradise largely because of the singularly high quality of bosses here) I did begin to notice certain qualities in all bosses, however slightly they have varied in vanity.
They have all been marked with special endowments of low cunning and all are, of course, sadistic. Apart from that, they are much like normal folk, falling within the usual parameters of intelligence from cretin to 104 or thereabouts.
Old Sieve-head is a special favorite of mine. He has a steel-trap mind, full of assorted varmints struggling therein, chewing their legs off, but he is a good sort since he cannot remember anything more than three hours and 45 minutes.
He does not hold grudges. He cannot remember them. If you make frightful errors, he does not hold it against you and by afternoon has quite forgotten.
Of course it is sometimes inconvenient if he schedules nine projects at one hour, but this rarely happens more often than twice a week.
I have known steel magnolias in my day, too, all of whom seem to have been the Belle of Mobile at some earlier time in their life. They are enchanting to work with, since they never lose their temper, no matter what. Things are done precisely as they wish, needless to say, but at least they always smile and wave and carry on well at all times.
There are of course other general types, and as I say, I have found only a couple of traits shared by all of them alike.
The most general fault of bosses is their failure to make small distinctions. They tend not to recall whether it was bombers or fighter planes we made last month; whether it was lime or taffy that we sold yesterday; whether it was Fretley or Prunefoot that we agreed with at the conference today. The managerial mind can hardly be expected to cope with trifling details, after all.
No more than great admirals can clutter their minds with a tug's operation at the very moment the entire fleet sails forth.
I have noticed the typical boss speaks in the plural wherever possible. He does not have management skill, he has management skills. That sort of plural.
In the writing trade -- I speak now of book publishers and magazine editors -- the boss usually has a great fondness for writers in general. He usually has a good bit of trouble telling one writer from another, though.
I have been reading a book of Ronald Blythe, for example; a superb example of glorious stuff. His book, "Akenfield," is generally known to be the best book written in our language in our century, or at least readers know it. Writer bosses tend not to. They know he is very good, yes indeed, a very nice writer to be sure. But they admire equally the Memoirs of Life by some nice old lady who thinks Kennedy would still be alive if only he had heeded her warning about Dallas, a warning God transmitted to her via radio through her teeth.
If she has a book, well a book is a book, and the writer boss puts her in the same category (that is, the category of writer) as Ronald Blythe.
Blythe occurs to me simply because I have just been reading him again and because he is, of course, a touchstone. You either know him or you don't; you are either alive or you are not; you either spot a writer when you read him or you do not.
Bosses tend not to have heard of Ronald Blythe, if they are bosses in the book game, though most of them know Ermintrude Butterburr and the chroniclers of starlets.
So I do fear that bosses sometimes do not spot differences, once they have hit on the correct category. A welder is a welder, and never mind that some welders blow up the shop while others are careful. Sometimes they offer testimonial dinners or prizes to the welder that anybody in the shop knows perfectly well is a loon. So bosses really are not good at fine distinctions, whether a worker is any good or not.
The boss has one cardinal task, to define the direction in which the fleet sails, as it were, and while this is an extremely chancy business, I have never met a boss who did not believe he, she or it was singularly good at it.
I never knew or heard of a boss who disliked the word FORWARD. All bosses are forward-looking. The enemy may be lurking in a forest behind the lines but a general will always press onward to Berlin, so to speak.
"Some men a forward motion love, but I by backward steps would move," is from the verse of one of our good poets. Who was not, of course, a boss. Bosses always like Robert Browning who felt the best is yet to come. They never like Shakespeare who correctly noted that ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.
But then bosses are realists. Life only gives us one gear, and it's forward, so perhaps bosses are wiser than the rest of us. They know there is nothing for it but to move ever forward. Possibly that is why nobody can remember bosses as long as they can remember Shakespeare.
Realists don't last. They merely run the world while they live.
It goes without saying that the dust of the road is hardly competent to point out, as the flashing spokes whirl by, that a bit of retreading is in order.
One of the people Ronald Blythe deals with (to get back to him again) is an old major still living who served in the Great War. That was 1914-1918, since bosses have trouble remembering dates. This major says:
"I think we have got to start over again, and try not to go forward."
Now Blythe, the author, understands that, but hardly a boss in the world would comprehend. Would think it a misprint, probably.
The only reason I was asked to write about bosses is that it is an impossible topic, and bosses know that workers tend to be brief when faced by impossible tasks. Keep the column short today is their real message.
There is such a narrow space between the defamation of a boss, on the one hand, and the position of revolting fawning, on the other, that scarcely anything can be said; hence any treatment will be brief indeed.
I think it is the forward motion they love best. Forward is their watchword, and I know how lucky I am to have so many bosses, every one of them a winner, and I have never seen such congested gifted boss folk in one small building in my life. Would that all were so lucky as I.
In my better moments I know they are right. On good days I too say FORWARD. Let the balalaika begin. Or Balaklava, or whatever the word is.