The Boss

The Boss

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

The Boss

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.

Ray Kroc

The president of the firm I worked at in 1989 wasn’t the type of boss who mingled with his employees. He distanced himself, maintaining a somewhat chilly relationship with all but his executive staff. He transmitted any necessary information to the general workforce through this chain of command, never in person. Because of this, he loomed as an unknown entity the everyday staff avoided. Everyone had a vague fear that he was interested in you only if you messed up—and then it was bad news.

My position was one of the marketing assistants, and I hadn’t worked at the company for even a full year when my worst nightmare hit. In this world full of random violence, the most horrible suddenly targeted my family. My beautiful daughter was shot and killed. The randomness of the act still reverberates in my heart decades later.

As a single mom of three teenage daughters, I went through all the necessary motions of life by rote, like a zombie, trying to be strong for those around me who were completely falling apart. My only thoughts were on how to get though this terrible time without completely losing my sanity.

Friends suggested I take a leave of absence from work, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I needed the money to keep the house going, and I couldn’t stand being alone with my thoughts. Instead, I stoically plodded from task to task, handling everything with quiet efficiency, while inside my whole being was screaming. I attended to the legal details. I went to the morgue and to the police station and handled mountains of paperwork. I learned that there was no suspect, and that this case would probably remain as one of the thousands of unsolved shootings that riddle Los Angeles every year.

I went to work each day and never noticed that my workload was growing daily. It took all of my strength to keep up with it. When the day ended, I was so tired I literally came home and fell asleep—sometimes on the couch, still wearing my work clothes. Every day, my desk seemed to be piled with more and more work that had short deadlines. I threw myself into it, and it actually helped move the minutes and hours along.

When the day of the funeral arrived, I made it through the service with my two remaining daughters sobbing at my side. I dreaded going home, knowing that I was finally going to have to face the stark reality of the situation.

Within minutes of arriving at home, a knock sounded on the front door. There, holding a beautiful potted plant, stood the personal assistant to the president of the company.

The card read, “A living piece of hope for your well-being.”

The boss and his wife had arranged to care for me during my worst evening on earth. One by one, it seemed as if every single employee from the company arrived. Some brought food, some brought cards, some just brought them-selves. I finally broke down and cried in the arms of a woman I barely knew.

Soon, the house was full of people offering support and companionship. Although he and his wife weren’t there, I learned that the boss had assigned extra work to me, feeling that “busy” work would keep me from falling apart during this terrible period in my life. He was right. He knew me so well without even really knowing me at all.

Later, I got to know the boss better. One day I asked him why he and his wife hadn’t come to the house after he had gone to all the trouble to arrange everything for me and my child—a girl that he had never even known. When asked why his only presence was the plant he sent, he cleared his throat in an authoritative manner and reiterated his standing policy of not “socializing with his employees.” Then, he looked away quickly, and I’m sure that I saw him wipe away a tear. I knew he hadn’t come because he couldn’t trust his emotions, and he had to remain “the boss” at all times.

Many years have passed since I left the corporate world to run my own business, but my old boss and I still keep in touch. I let him know when some of my writing will be published, he sends congratulations, and we send jokes back and forth by e-mail.

We never mention that time in my life, and we never talked about that evening again. The plant he sent is still alive and thriving in my living room window after all these years. Of all the people I worked for in my life, he will always be the one boss who stands apart from the rest. Although he would gruffly brush it off as “no big deal,” the compassion, wisdom, and silent strength he offered to me in my darkest hour helped get me back on my feet again and it is something I will never forget.

Joyce Laird

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