A Dirty Dozen Pieces of Career Advice From the Best Bosses

Child wearing glasses and a tie and frowning and pointing his finger

Think about this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workers will have 10 jobs before the age of 40!

With any luck, each job will have great bosses, as unlikely as that seems. But even if your bosses aren’t necessarily great, you can probably learn something from each of them. Here are a dozen lessons you can learn from the best bosses.

  1. Time management. Natalia Lusinski, writing for Business Insider, topped off her list with time management. She noted at one of her first jobs as a writers’ assistant and script coordinator on TV shows, her supervisor fielded more than 100 phone calls and countless emails each day. In fact, one of the things anybody will learn from any successful person—they get a lot done.
  2. Ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. Sometimes you have to ask for help because you don’t completely understand a task or how to best complete it. Sometimes it becomes obvious that a deadline is near-impossible and you’ll need help to hit it. So ask for help when you need it.
  3. Have character. In an OfficeTeam survey of workers asking what the most valuable lesson was they learned from bosses, one of the broad categories was “character.” Under that category, there were related suggestions about having character, including, “Always do what’s right,” and “be dependable,” “be honest” and “admit your mistakes.”
  4. Communicate. Not surprisingly, learning to be a good communicator ranked high on the list. There are many facets of good communication (including #2, above), but “ask a lot of questions,” “listen to other people’s opinions” and “learn to speak clearly and precisely in front of a group” were listed. Another important aspect of communication in the workplace and in life in general is “active listening.” That is to say, provides cues to the speaker that you’re engaged—ask questions, nod, respond.
  5. Learn to say no. Lusinski writes, “Sometimes bosses will give you a seemingly endless number of to-dos because in the past you’ve proved that you can do it all—why wouldn’t they pile on more responsibilities? However, if you focus on quantity more than quality, the latter may suffer.” Sometimes you have to say no to new projects to do the best job on current projects. Framing it appropriately (See #4, communicate) so your supervisor understands you’re concerned about your ability to do the job well, rather than just because you don’t want to, is important.
  6. Follow your passions. Life is short. You may have heard that. But you’ll do better work if you’re enthused about it. And your life will be much more satisfying. Reality is that even if you love your job, sometimes you’ll be tired of it or lack enthusiasm some of the time. But for most people who are passionate about their work, that’s just a pothole in the road. Another way of thinking of this is a variant on the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of your business (or revenue) comes from only 20 percent of your clients. In your job, you should work to find that 80 percent of your work is something you most want to do, with 20 percent being, well, the necessary “other” stuff.
  7. Make your own opportunities. Lusinski lumped this in with following your passions, but it should be its own standalone piece of advice. Waiting for opportunities can take forever. Creating opportunities, however, is taking control and being proactive. If there are things you want to do in your career or life, you need to take steps to make those happen.
  8. Bond with coworkers outside of work. This can be a weekly lunch or dinner out, or drinks after work on Friday, or the occasional weekend get-together. It’s good for your life—you spend a lot of time with these people after all, but you can experience different facets of their personalities outside the confines of the office or laboratory. This tends to be dubbed “networking,” but it’s okay if it’s just “making friends.”
  9. Develop people skills and teamwork. Like “communication,” people skills and teamwork are often called “soft skills” as opposed to “hard skills” like the specific technical duties your position may entail. Robert Half, head of Robert Half International, a U.S.-based human resource consulting firm, wrote, “Learning how to relate to people can be one of the most important lessons a boss teaches.”
  10. Work-life balance. This is something everyone strives for, but few probably pull off. Still, if you want a long-term career as well as a good life, finding the balance is important. Lusinski writes, “The more we practiced his (former boss’) work-life balance method, the more efficiently we worked, since we had to complete a certain amount of writing every day. We were more productive not only in the office, but in our personal lives as well.”
  11. Leadership. A thought-provoking meme has two images. One is of three people pulling a load, with a person on the load urging them on. Under that image, it says: Boss. The second image is of four people pulling the load. Above the image, with an arrow pointing to the first person pulling the load, it says Leader. Leadership is many things, and by paying attention to how your various bosses’ (er, leaders) lead (or don’t), how the staff responds and how you respond, can teach you a great deal about leadership.
  12. Gratitude. Lusinski actually writes thank-you notes, something she learned from a TV executive she worked for. That may or may not be your style, but one thing that can be worth developing in the workplace (and in life) is gratitude—for bosses, coworkers, staff, and customers/clients/patients. An attitude of gratitude can be one of the best lessons you can learn in work and life.

Someday you may be the boss. What will your staff learn from you?

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