Everyone has had a bad boss. Everyone has probably had multiple bad bosses. I had one boss tell me I was inauthentic and that he hated me, I had one tell me he couldn’t give me more money after he promoted me, I had two, a married couple, get a divorce in the middle of the cafe and put all the employees right in the center. And I too, have been that bad boss. I’ve been too overbearing, too nitpicky, too weird and mean.
I learned to be a better boss—not perfect, not great, probably not even good—but better, through reading countless articles, scouring the internet for anything I could find about how to manage better. Surprisingly, there’s not a lot on the internet about how to be a better leader. There’s tons of articles complaining about s****y employees, but there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the role of leaders and how they can improve and set examples for their staff. In a way, we don’t really expect leaders to be held accountable, and instead write off bad work environments as a result of terrible employees.
I know this is bullshit—but I have to say the only way I learned this lesson is because of my time as a middle school teacher. This is a story I tell all the time, but I’ll tell it again because it’s so vitally important to me and who I’ve become—I was trying to get my students to behave by lining them up outside my classroom, and it wasn’t working. So my principal calls me, and I’m immediately blaming the kids, blaming the fact that my class is right after lunch...and tells me probably the single-most important set of words I’ve ever heard. He told me their rowdiness—that’s my fault. I’m in control. But then he pauses, and says, “That’s meant to empower you. You’re always in control.”
So I noticed when I started seeing these amazing post on Instagram about leadership from a coffeeshop called The Peccary in New Jersey. These posts extolled the work of baristas, and talked about how it’s the job of leaders to make the work of being a barista easier. David Hu, the owner of The Peccary, does this in a number of ways. He pays his baristas more, they know their schedules ahead of time for a year, they were paid for months during training and onboarding before the shop opened, and I wanted to learn more about how David developed such an attuned sense of purpose and vision that focused on being a strong leader that put his staff first. It’s not without his ups and downs—The Peccary recently closed its doors, which we talk about, but it does force you consider what your values are, and what you do to live those values.