Who is the Best Leader You Ever Worked For?

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 26 voices, and was last updated by  Ben Tornton 2 months ago.

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  • #68634

    Don Jacobson

    We all work for good bosses and bad bosses at some point in our careers. Good bosses can be great role models and provide us with a positive example of what effective leadership looks like.

    Think about the best boss you ever had in the government… Who was it and what was it about their leadership that you admired and appreciated the most? I’d love to hear your stories about effective public sector leadership.

  • #68688

    Ed Albetski

    In the early ’90’s I worked in the Telcom branch of what we now call OCIO for Mike Lombard. He would hold 5 minute daily meetings of his senior staff each morning, coffee cups in hand, to find out what fires we were putting out that day. His rules were simple. If someone wasn’t there and something needed to be done, do it (he was big on cross-training) (him too). We all make mistakes, that’s ok, just let him know so he doesn’t have to hear about it from someone else first.
    Of all the bosses I’ve had in 28 years in Federal service, no one else ever fostered that feeling of belonging to a team as well as Mike did. He had that ability I’ve seen in only a few managers to make you want to do your best, not only for yourself but for the team. He taught me by example how to treat employees and how to manage the work of others. He was great on details like those pins you get for years served. He kept track of all his people. The official midpoint reviews and official ratings conferences, not so much. I remember once having my midpoint and final review in a one minute walk by conversation in a hallway. “Hey Ed, midpoint, you did good. Rating you got this score. That good? Ok, I’ll leave the papers in your drawer. Sign them and leave them in my drawer, I have to get them in tomorrow.” We all knew where we stood and he knew what we were doing everyday. His team never needed those scheduled “talks”.

    Mike left Commerce for DHS and did very well. He retired and works as a consultant for DHS now. He’s here on GovLoop. Hopefully he won’t see this. He’d be embarassed.

  • #68686

    Don Jacobson

    Ed – Thanks for sharing this great example. It sounds like Mike did an outstanding job of leading by example, building great teams and communicating. And if he’d be embarrassed to see your story, that probably means he’s humble too (another great leader trait).


  • #68684

    Patricia Armstrong

    That is easy – my current boss, Ms. Jessica DeMarais, is the best leader I have ever worked for. She sets a high standard and expects nothing less from her staff. She is always available to listen and answer questions. Her guidance on tough issues is very helpful in resolving issues quickly. When a staff member has family concerns, she is very accommodating in allowing time off. Another really great quality is her attention to balancing the workload among her staff. She does not hesitate to shift duties or ask other staff members to help a co-worker out during a high workload period. We all have a lot on our plates and she knows it and often says “thank you” when we get things done. Just a simple “thank you” every now and then goes a long way.


  • #68682

    John Sporing

    The previous chief of my division–John Kort. While he is a very successful and well know regional economist, you would never know it to meet him. He is a very humble and soft spoken person that puts the mission and his people in front of his needs. This made me want to do even more to make him look good.

    He was always there to support my ideas. When I presented stupid ideas (and I know I did), he was very diplomatic and asked questions until I too realized how bad they were. Then we would work on them to turn them into good ideas.

    He taught me the importance of building my brand, networking, and continuing my own developmental activities–and did all he could to support them.

    Everyone in the division was sad to see him move on to a great opportunity. It was certainly not the boss leaving, but the patriarch of our work family. I still meet him for lunch every couple of weeks and often stop and think “WWJD?” (What would John Do?).

  • #68680

    Nancy Heltman

    My career has been split between the private sector and government. Most of my private sector career I worked for a family business and my father was the leader. Not a very good one either. Don’t get me wrong I loved him but he made no secret of the fact that his philosophy was “motivation by agitation.” He was kind of a bully. Then I ran my own business for a while with no employees to supervise. Thirteen years ago I came to the public sector and have been fortunate to have the same boss for that tenure. Joe Elton, the Director of Virginia State Parks is a great leader. Our Parks have always been thinly resourced but when Joe took over as Director we were at a real crisis. Joe led “the most frugally state park system in the nation” to the National Gold Medal. This week was our site managers meeting and once again we are facing tough budget times as a result of the state budget crisis. Once again, Joe reminded us all of the wonderful work we do in spite of or perhaps because of these challenges. We all left invigorated and ready to continue being creative so we can excel.

    DCR State Parks Director Joe Elton, center, holds the coveted Sports Foundation Inc. gold medal award. He is flanked by National Park Service Director Fran Mainella and Richard Zavala, director of the Fort Worth Parks and Community Services Department, who chaired the judging panel. The award was given at the National Recreation and Park Association’s annual convention Oct. 3, 2001, in Denver, Colo.

  • #68678

    Ray Blunt

    In 1977, the first official appointment that the new President Carter had was with Max Cleland, soon to be the new VA Administrator (before it was a Cabinet agancy) and the first Vietnam veteran to head the agency. The VA was awash in complaints of lack of caring and poor quality service on the GI Bill and uncoordinated and badly dated rehab for wounded vets. As a triple amputee and someone who knew firsthand the horrors of not only war but a placid bureaucracy, Max hit the VA like a breath of fresh air where most of the senior leaders were of WW II vintage and perhaps a bit complacent. His passion, his caring, his willingness to drive change all were a tonic to a young, Vietnam era former Air Force officer who was already feeling the tug of bureaucratic inertia on his soul after a mere three years since discharge. He drove change by dint of his caring and taught everyone to care; that we were (in the words of Omar Bradley) dealing with the problems of those who gave up their youth, not our problems; that they were people not pieces of paper to process. And he had a laser focus on what he called “my priorities” and insisted they were reviewed monthly for progress, highlighted and fully funded in the budget, and acted upon by all 250,000 employees. He insisted that every phone call be answered by “This is Ray Blunt, VA, how may I help you?” He also sought to grow the next generation of leaders by launching what was called Leadership VA, a one year program for the next generation, with 60 attendees handpicked by a panel he appointed, not by the incumbents because he was trying to find those who would be change agents of caring who could work across the boundaries. One of his main goals was to raise up a generation of leaders who would know each other and share a common set of values and experiences in both the Headquarters and the field. That legacy of Leadership VA remains as the most coveted program on the leadership journey in VA. He also began to put young Vietnam era people into senior leadership positions and gradually began to transform the thinking and the results for those who served. To this day, I owe my start in public service leadership to his sponsorship and that of my immediate boss and mentor, Red Leffler, also a severely wounded Vietnam vet. Even more, I owe my understanding of the importance of caring for the people we serve in public service and what a marvelous calling it can be when we clear out the barnacles of encrusted ennui and cynicism. People are waiting for courageous and passionate leadership and we all can never underestimate what an impact we can have in a small circle or large. His book, still on my bookshelf, helped me understand what drove him and is a wonderful autobiography where the title aptly describes the man: Strong at the Broken Places.

  • #68676

    Anne Steppe

    So many people express cyncism when it comes to government and leadership, I can attest to having worked for and with some of the best people ever. (Lynn Huggins – you’re one of them in case you didn’t know) BAck in the mid 80’s, there was then-MAJ Stephen Kirin, 1/75th Field Artillery, Warner Barracks, Germany. He always wrote with a cobalt blue felt pen, and I adopted his blue pen philosphy. His communication skills were superb, and I learned so much about the power of the written word. His leadership was undeniable, it was an aura that surrounded him visible to all who came in contact with him. His use of diplomacy was a magnifent ballet of talent, understanding, consideration, compromise, tact. I moved on to USDA and later worked for a man who wanted his legacy to be that of the biggest SOB ever known to the Agency. Though he succeeded, in the process, he saw in me potential no one else was willing to see or acknowledge. He put me on a road I initially didn’t think was fair, placing me in jobs formerly held by GS employees many grades ahead of me. I took that opportunity and ran with it, all the way to my last supervisor, who, in turn, exhibited outstanding leadership in allowing me to grow as an employee, provided opportunities for me to step outside the box, and encouraged me to spread my wings and fly. For the first few years in civilian government I wanted to go back to DoD where things made sense; yet, thanks to some really great supervisors, I have the career I always wanted and opportunities abound even still. Every day I try to “pay it forward” to those employees I see with the same potentials, same need for encouragement, that I once had in the hopes I can do for them what others did for me. To each and every one of you, thank you.

  • #68674

    Don Jacobson

    Anne – Thanks for your great post. It sounds like you have done a great job of learning from different kinds of leaders–both the enlightened and the difficult. Stretch assignments like those thrust upon you by the self-proclaimed “biggest SOB ever known to the agency” can be wonderful sources of leadership learning.

    Thanks for your efforts to “pay it forward” in terms of cultivating the potential of more junior employees. That is one of the most important roles of senior managers but not enough of them carve out the time to do it.

    I hope you’ll consider joining the GovLeaders group here on GovLoop.

    All the best,

  • #68672

    Darlington Mgbeke

    The best leader I have ever worked for is Colin Powell (4 Star General rtd). Being a Desert Storm veteran, I Iiked the way the war was fought and won. But, the immiediate best leader I ever worked for is Commander Baron, my present boss.

  • #68670


    The best boss was my first boss. I guess I never appricated her till we parted ways. Many say she was a little off but she was a good boss. She provided you with enough guidance to do the job and then left you to do it. If by chance you didn’t get it right she ould continue to go back to do again providing you insight as to what you did wrong. She wanted you to succeed on your own and she eqquipped you with the right tools to do a the job. It was from her, I learned really how to learn the job. Now I am able to learn new things (in less amount of tries 🙂 that is)

  • #68668

    Bill Finnerty

    My current boss, he is not a govLoop member so this is not kissing up, Jerry Wilkes is the best leader that I have worked for. He is a retired Army Colonel and currently Director of Information and Technology. He is prepared for every meeting we enter and he always knows the questions to answer to get the next level deep. Most importantly, he understands how to let people grow and do their best.

  • #68666

    Midori Raymore

    My most captivating boss was Gerard Baker while he served as Superintendent at Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. He was a solid personable human being whose stories are awesome and I love him for his character and warmth. He didn’t micro managed which I really appreciated that he valued the strength of his people and didn’t stand in their way. I tend to grind my teeth more when working under micro management. Another great boss was my direct supervisor at Lewis and Clark NHT – he was one of the most supportive people I’ve ever had and was able to give me good advice about how to stay out of trouble and when it came, how to stay on top so I wasn’t the one to burn. Those are important skills to understand. My next best boss was Vickie Veeder at the Forest Service – yes she was 200 miles away but she still was a good boss. She’s been a great mentor for me about working in the federal government when you switch agencies and has become a great cheer leader. I can ask her for feedback and know I’ll have an honest answer. But I would also like to point out that sometimes a ‘worst’ boss can also be a great example. They teach us what we don’t like and give us perspectives about what doesn’t work well. I’ve had a few of those too. I don’t like micro managers who are mindless in their micro managing. When some one comes in, micros for a while and then steps back when trust is established, that’s a good micro manager. I don’t like non-communicators or those who say something to appease and then come out via email or in another fashion with a totally different stand. That smacks of dishonesty. It leads one to feel there are double standards or deliberate miscommunication. It can be a real morale issue. So, I take good and bad leaders both as a way to learn and to grow.

  • #68664

    Lauren Modeen

    I’m reading a great book right now called “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer. There is a great section in the book that talks all qualities of leaders. One of my favorite take-aways is that great leaders constantly ask themselves “why would anyone want to be led by me?”

  • #68662

    Marissa Levin

    The best leader I have ever worked for is Barak Obama. I am so proud to be an American. We finally have an Administration that truly reflects America! I am very inspired to get involved at the political levels and I have never been motivated to do that before. Before this Administration, I always felt that the political landscape was a different and unreachable world from mine, yet I know I have so much to offer as a successful business leader. I am so proud to own a company that serves our government. We are doing amazing work with incredible people that serve our country, and I truly feel that the work we are doing for all of the agencies we serve is improving the United States.

    From an Agency perspective, Information Experts is really working with some phenomenal people. We are doing incredible work for the FDIC. We have designed and developed the Money Smart Curriculum for Young Adults which educates this population on the financial and economic infrastructures. It ensures financial literacy, and is a proactive strategy to prevent in the future the problems that currently plague our country. We are now designing the Money Smart curriculum for the general population to help citizens get out of their difficult situations and rebuild their financial security. These are free government programs that really make a difference!

    We also work with some incredible people at EPA, DLA, USAID, IRS, Dept of Ed, and DoD. These are just some of our clients. Really too many people to mention.

    But one of my favorite government leaders is Jen Setian, Chief of the OPM TMA Office. The OPM TMA Office is a very successful business model, and it is largely because of Jen’s exceptional leadership.

    Also, Ana Harvey, President Obama’s appointed Administrator of the Women’s Business Ownership Office within the SBA. This office is so vitally important to women and to the small business community – and therefore to the entire business community – and Ana has the passion, commitment, experience, integrity, and intelligence to ensure the Office lives up to its potential and mission.

    And Mauricio Vera, who runs the Small Business Office at USAID (previously at NRC) – he is exceptional too. He is so incredibly committed to the small business community, and to the mission of USAID.

  • #68660

    Jen Kevil

    I had the wonderful pleasure of working for Kath Farr, Forest Planner for the Coconino National Forest, during her last years before retirement. She was one of the best leaders that I have yet to work for. Her spirit and nerve were unshakeable and she was never afraid to voice her opinion. She willingly gave her time and knowledge to those of us working for her and always reminded us not to drink the kool aid with out thoroughly thinking about it. But for me, the best part of her leadership style was her sense of humor coupled with a strong sense of professionalism. I think that keeping a sense of humor and being flexible is one of the most important traits that a leader can have. She had a stong vision for where she wanted to lead our team; which helped all of us feel like we had a stong captain at the helm. I feel very blessed to have worked for her and I hope that in the future I can retain all of the good skills that she taught me.

  • #68658

    Sue Webster

    The best boss I ever worked for was a woman and she was very passionate about her work. She cared for her people and was an effective communicator. She was truly a mentor and a role model working to ensure that we succeeded. She gave credit where credit was due but also took the heat when things went wrong. She helped us to grow and improve in all areas. She also believed it was very important to have fun amid all the chaos and craziness that was going on in our office. We always had fun!

  • #68656

    Caryn Wesner-Early

    This is a good discussion to resume today, tomorrow being National Boss’ Day!

  • #68654

    Vicki Ware

    Best boss I worked with was Monica Shephard, who at the time was the N6 Director at Commander, Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia and is now with JFCOM in Suffolk, Virginia. She always encouraged everyone to stretch and reach for their goals and always supported her staff 110%. She has been my role model every since.

  • #68652

    Cheryl Hernandez

    Mine was Cindy Kevern, an IT Manager, now an IT Director. She was a leader by example. She listened, valued ideas, was a collaborator and an excellent communicator. She knew the value of surrounding herself with good people. She was a mentor to many and didn’t need to take the credit for successes. She shared those with others. What I learned from her helped me move up in the organization. Thanks Cindy, for some of the best learning years in my career!

  • #68650

    Sue Webster

    By the way, my bosses’s name was Candy Gootee. She has since retired but she was among the best of the bosses! Happy bosses’ day bosses!

  • #68648

    Tom Melancon

    The best boss I had was when I was a project manager for the Department of Labor’s Regional Office of Job Corps in Seattle. Linda MacClellan was the Assistant Regional Director, and she managed the four project managers. She was very sharp, but also patient and interested in her employees. She convinced the agency to pay for my mediation training back in 2002, and that eventually led me to the career I am in today. Much of what Linda posessed was inate, not the sorts of things you pick up in graduate school or a training program on management. She was kind and honest. She was tough when she needed to be. Most of all, she kept her cool under pressure. I always knew where I stood with her, and I would have followed her into battle if she had asked me to.

  • #68646

    Gene Carstea

    Dear Don, Thank you you for your warm welcome to the group. I’ve been fortunate to have spent my early career in scientific research within US Government. While it was my pleasure to venture out into the private sector, I am thrilled to be back working in the federal government. I feel a great deal of personal satisfaction as a public servant.

    While in the private sector in 2001, I was an early hire at start-up biopharmaceutical company in Cambridge, MA. The hiring manager, my supervisor, was Paul Ponath; he was the Vice President of Research and Development. In building his division, Paul centered his efforts on piecing together the necessary talent. It was clear to all of us that his intentions were pure – to build the strongest team – while keeping in mind both scientific talent as well as personal chemistry/integrity. Paul had a deep understanding of both the science and the business of science. At a tremendous depth, he understood what was needed to achieve success.

    With the group that he assembled, he trusted all of us as leaders to uphold our responsibility as team members. He honored our achievements. Within our team, he instilled the principle that each one of us was the “most important person in the company”. This lesson has stuck with me as I grew my team within this organization. It remains with me now; in an efficient and effective organization, a leader needs to clearly understand the mission and treat every team member as vital to bringing about overall success.

    Though this example is centered in the private sector, it is certainly applicable to organizations within the public sector: pure intentions for success, clear commitment to achieving success, and respect & trust in your team members to carry out the group’s mission.

  • #68644

    Cindy Leblanc

    The best leader I ever worked for was Mr. Phil Garlick, CEO of OneSource Information Services. He displayed true leadership skills over-all in sales and in new business development with a ‘hands on’ approach towards leading companies to an ‘end-to-end’ solution for new business development. With a unique ability to understand complex models, he mentored me into becoming a strategic giant in new business development in the public and commercial sectors. Hats off to Phil!

  • #68642

    Heera Lal

    Mr. Deepak Kumar is the best leader among all with whom I worked so far.

  • #68640

    Christopher Hicks

    In 1999 I went to Officer Candidate school. Our class Drill Instructor was SSGT Burleson USMC, OCS Class Drill Instructor. I technically worked for him for 3 months although I am sure he would tell you he worked for us. Hands down, the most charismatic man I ever met with intestinal fortitude that did not end. He was the kind of man that made you anxiously await 0400 just to see him get to work.

    SSGT Burleson was a man of little words except to train and develop through directed short statements. He said much with little explanation. He was intelligent, patient, logical, methodical and drove to a common goal in every situation. SSGT Burleson set small but attainable goals and did not ever stop setting new goals. These have been the keys to my success after the military.

    Shortly after our class graduated, he was promoted to Gunny and that was the last I ever saw or heard from him. Even though Gunny was NCO, Gunny Burleson was the embodiment of what I felt a commissioned military officer should be and he took pride in developing young officers.

    I wrote once I would follow him behind enemy lines with a toothpick and a prayer. 11 years later, I know for certain I still would go into battle with him any day. Without his leadership and training, I would be a blue collar worker in western Pa suffering horribly from the recession right now. Instead I have a fun, stable and well paying career with a bright future..

  • #68638

    Kristina Nelson

    Without a doubt, my current boss Mary Davie of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. Mary is well known in Federal government circles for her passion and drive for Gov 2.0 and social media, as well as improving acquisition. I’m currently reading “Linchpin” by Seth Godin and Mary exemplifies a linchpin, driving change and influencing behaviors while always appreciating and valuing people for their contributions. Mary always wears a smile on her face and has a kind word for you. As we all do, I have had a couple of less than stellar bosses throughout my career, but that only allowed me to recognize and appreciate a phenomenal boss like Mary. We are all being asked to do more with less these days and that becomes much easier when you appreciate, respect and truly enjoy working for that boss and the team around you.

  • #68636

    Michael B Fraser

    Malcolm Baldridge was the most effective political leader I have ever worked for. One key aspect of his leadership was the respect he showed in his language and his behavior towards career Federal employees. He was also able to enroll us into his vision for the Department of Commerce and thus to leverage those skills and experiences we have in support of that mission.

    He set a high bar. (Michael Fraser, DOE, formerly DOC)

  • #358611

    Ben Tornton

    I will never forget my experience at Apple, it was a tremendous pity that I was fired.

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