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The Secret Sauce of Great Work

The Secret Sauce of Great Work | How a Boss Can Make a Job Great

A few years ago, I was helping a close friend who was having a terrible time at work. I was really struggling to figure out how to help him other than the obvious of sitting and listening. It didn’t make sense really. He had an amazing job, one he had dreamed about and was really well suited to. Most of the regular things you might think make jobs worthwhile were all there, like passion, professional development, benefits, etc.

But after listening to so many stories of intense struggles he experienced day in and day out, I was shocked to discover that the root of the problem had nothing to do with all the symptomatic elements I was taught to look for in Management school. No, the true problem, as best as I could tell was love. He did not love his boss and his boss did not love him.

This epiphany struck me like a bolt of lightning. It reminded me of a great recipe that you just couldn’t replicate, no matter how closely you follow the instructions. There are often secrets to the recipes, sometimes ones the cooks don’t even realize exist. Maybe it’s the mix of spices on the shelf they often throw in for good measure, the humidity where they live, or even the pan that they use has been so well soaked through with previous creations that it seeps rich flavors into the dish.

Love is like the secret sauce that makes the meal zing. Sure, you can enjoy it without the secret bit, but it’s just not that great.

I’ve had a lot of bosses over the years.

There were terrible bosses, like my first-ever boss from Baskin Robbins who caused me to have nightmares all night following my first shift. There was the manager at Macy’s who blatantly admitted that she scheduled our department in such a way as to limit the possibility of most of us earning any kind of commission. And there was my boss at a smoothie shop who smacked my head once when she was mad at me.

And then there were wonderful bosses. A year after I graduated from college, I landed my first “big girl” job — as I like to call it — helping synagogues become more inclusive of interfaith families, Jews of color, LGBT Jews, and others who had traditionally been marginalized.

My boss became my partner. We depended on each other. Anything she wasn’t sure how to get done or how to make right, I was right there to make it happen for her. And she taught me so much. She took care of me in my professional and personal life – from helping me navigate my new marriage and newly expanded family, to finding the courage to speak to an audience of people 30+ years older than me.

Bosses with love

I have been very blessed since then to work for incredible visionary mentors. Each one, in their own way, took me under their wing and guided me along a remarkable career path. Sure, passion and learning and workspace and work-life balance and flow were all important to professional satisfaction, of course.

But, there was also a secret sauce, a critical ingredient that made it work (or not). It was about love. My wonderful bosses loved me. And I loved them. We went on the line for each other. We made sure the other was cared for. We thought about so much more than work for one another. We laughed and cried together. We thought about what the other needed and then did that.

I’m thinking about the kind of love that happens between great friends, partners, or relatives. I’m talking about the kind of love that makes two people care about, respect, and protect one another. Love isn’t something you have or don’t. Love is something you do. You choose it every day.

Choosing love looks like this:

The day after I told my boss that I was pregnant, I found my desk completely covered in tiny pink and blue baby decorations.

When my grandmother passed away last year, my entire office contributed to a donation in her honor that they had selected based on how I described her and her values.

Years after leaving my research assistant job, my boss would run into me at conferences and hug me and tell me how very proud he was of me and ask after my work and my family.

When I proposed a brand new program at my first “big girl” job that had never been done, my boss supported me from the initial idea until fruition, even though it took months before she really understood the vision.

Remember the mediocre and do better

So, why do I remember the mediocre bosses of my adolescence? Exactly because I want to do so much better than them. I don’t just want the business to survive. I want the whole thing to thrive. I want to motivate and empower and inspire my team. I don’t want to control them (I’m wondering if they’ll be surprised to read that!). I want to unleash them.

I don’t know if I’ve gotten good at it yet, but I’m trying every day. I encourage you to give a try, too. Love your colleagues – your staff, your co-workers and, yes, your boss. Think about how you make sure your mother or friend or partner knows you love them. And then give it a try for your colleagues. Show them how much you care. See what a difference it makes.


Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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