Non-Toxic Crayons & Toxic Bosses

“The outliers are the people who stay in our hearts and minds. The good ones always do.” 

-Laurie Wilson

That’s right, I quoted myself quoting myself.

Throughout my life, I have had many bosses. From Dairy Queen at age fifteen; to an upscale French restaurant at twenty one; to a counseling practice at age thirty. 

I have also had the unfortunate experiences of being led by unprofessional bosses, intimidating leaders, and unencouraging mentors.  

Some of the best bosses and supervisors still stick with me today.  Suman Das was the owner of Dairy Queen when she interviewed me as a nervous fifteen year old.  I can see it now.  Sitting upright in the little corner booth of the bright red Dairy Queen, palms sweating and heart racing.  Suman hired me. She took a chance on an inexperienced kid. Looking back, Suman laid the foundation for my expectations for bosses.  She was gentle but firm, insightful and open.  She was direct but caring.  She wanted to show you and she wanted you to learn.  She was willing to be by your side to teach you.  I remember that swirl on top of the cone, you had to get it just right. Suman was willing to teach you, to let you fail and try over and over again until you had it.  

George Nissan was the owner of the French restaurant.  I recall my interview with him.  I had already been in the military and he was intrigued by the discipline I must have learned. He agreed to hire me, not as a bartender, due to lack of experience.  He started me off as the hostess and said that I could learn everything from the ground up.  Once I learned how to seat people, I became a buser, once I commanded dish duty, I was able to serve and once that was mastered, I was finally able to bartend.  He gave me the job two years later that I had originally come in wanting.  He was loyal, as was I.  I had a willingness to learn and he had a willingness to teach.  

We served alcohol at the restaurant and he never drank at work; not on or off shift; not in his own place. I respected his dedication, consistency, safety, and professionalism. George and I were open minded. My willingness to work and be flexible and his willingness to take me under his wing and teach me.  

When I became an associate marriage and family therapist, I knew that I had 3,000 hours to complete under a supervisor.  That is a lot of hours and you know that this person is going to be your boss for a while. A professor of mine introduced me to Jeff Kullmann, LCSW.  He was the most encouraging supervisor I have ever had.  I came with my own reservations about that job I could do as a counselor.  I knew in my gut that I would be naturally good at the job, but my own imposter syndrome and self-doubt would get in the way.  Jeff supported my personal and professional growth, he built me up and helped me be curious about clinical work and passionate about the client experience.  I wasn’t afraid to talk to Jeff about things or to ask him questions.  He taught me about professional boundaries and maintaining those in supervision and in practice.  

What makes a great boss, supervisor or leader is someone who is willing to “get in the trenches with you.”   By that, I mean, they were not just bystanders barking orders, they were actively alongside you when you needed support. They don’t appear burnt out or annoyed at you when you come in the room, they don’t feel better than you because of their experience.  They don’t make you feel like you are not good enough after supervision with them.  You should feel safe and comfortable with your supervisor and that you can talk to them.

Even though our supervisors can not always be in the room with us, you should still feel a presence of mentorship as you walk through tough cases. 


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