11/11/2013 03:35 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

You Had Me At...


It often is not as simple as "hello" but very often the right thing, at the right time, can cement loyalty between a boss and his or her subordinate.

Far too many people have stories about things bosses said that instantly destroyed their relationship (even if the employee was unable to act right away). While it may be more fun to share those negative examples, it is important to realize and recognize that just as a sentence (or two) can permanently damage the relationship a subordinate has with their supervisor, the same can be said for the right words at the right time.

From my first real post-college job where my boss' boss told me, "I'll never take credit for something you did, but will take credit for letting you do it," to a more recent supervisor who admitted, "I don't really understand this strategy, but I trust you so go ahead," I have had my share of positive experiences.

And so have many others.

Like the global senior computer executive who recalls back to working for a local businessman who had a production facility on his property in high school, who mistakenly tried to clear a jammed machine with a metal screwdriver and shorted out the entire facility as well as the owner's home. The owner arrived with wet hair, in his bathrobe, looked around and assessed the situation and said, "that was a learning experience," reset the breaker and returned to his house. "It taught me the way to handle a screw up without making an employee feel demeaned," vividly recalls this professional more than 30 years later.

Another recalls starting out in a new job when another department head tried blame him for something that was not his fault. He fearfully approached his supervisor, whom he was just getting to know and told him the whole story firsthand, accepted "blame" and was ready to take his lumps. That supervisor instantly earned his new subordinate's loyalty, respect and goodwill by picking up the phone, calling the other department head and saying "if you have an issue with someone on my team you call me. Don't lash out at them. It's my fault." Many years later the lesson -- and the loyalty remain strong "he taught me the importance of a boss taking a bullet for his people."

Other quotes that made a difference to workers fall into several categories:

Encouraging employees to believe in themselves:
  • "Never ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself."
  • "Knowing and honestly identifying your worst case scenario, are you willing to live with that?"
  • "If you allow fear and panic to dictate your actions, you're going to mess up."
  • "What did you learn today? Tell me why you think that."
  • "What can I do to help you today?"
  • "You are probably the smartest person in the room, but there will come a time where that will annoy you."

Being honest:
After a particularly difficult weekend where the employee was called in to work the boss took him aside and said, "I know we couldn't have done it without you, I cannot do anything for you now, but come January we'll take care of you." (The employee felt the supervisor was being honest about the situation, and the boss came through)

Being inclusive:

While most (departments) held either no retreat or a half day retreat, he held an annual four-day required retreat for all of his staff to get away and truly become a team. While I was technically a nine-to-five staff person, I was invited to (the retreat) as well as any and all evening outings or planning programs. I really enjoyed spending the extra time there with the team outside of my paid hours. I could never say this about every job!

So how about it? Any other pithy, smart and meaningful things that bosses have said to you that demonstrated that they valued you not only as a person but as members of their team?