Break a Leg: How a Boss’s Compassion Made Me a More Loyal Employee

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The compassion and understanding my boss showed me when I broke my leg instilled a newfound sense of loyalty toward him. Caring for your employees in their time of need builds a dedicated team.

President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with coining the old adage that says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

When bosses show they care about you personally, it sticks to you and your perception of them. Much of your effort as an employee relates to how you feel about working for “the man” – your boss. In fact, a Gallup study found that up to 70 percent of an employee’s engagement with their work duties has to do with how they feel about their boss. I have found this to be true.

To me, my best boss ever was my first one. C. Irving Pinder was director of the county Department of Aging. He hired me right out of college, entrusting me as the head of a new division of transportation. He allowed me freedom to try new things, develop the program and hire who I wanted. He held me accountable for results, not for how I got them. He also cared for me and my growing family personally, and allowed me schedule flexibility to work and go to law school at night. I worked there longer than any other job I ever had (seven years), even in the face of a low salary that barely supported my family.

While I was there, Irving’s boss was a man named Bob Sallitt, who was the County Administrator (or CEO of the local county government). Bob was a physically big man and had an imposing presence. I remember early on as an employee walking through the county fair with my young firstborn son, Joseph. Bob stopped us and kneeled down to talk to Joseph, handing him a quarter and saying nice things to and about him. His care for my son really meant a lot to me, and I can remember it clearly to this day nearly 30 years later. It affirmed me and let me know Bob cared about me.  It motivated me to stay there and work hard. It built dedication in me to put in longer hours and use my creativity to improve my work.

Later in life I had another job I didn’t much care for. But my boss, Leland, was good to me personally. He made sure my pay was top dollar and one time, he went far out of his way to be sure I was taken care of when I had an injury. 

In 2012, I broke my leg one wet Sunday morning. I slipped, fell down and twisted my leg such that my fibula split. It was bad – the worst injury of my life. I needed surgery to repair the break with pins in the bone. 

At the time, my work was very hands-on, and Leland was generally a taskmaster at work. He needed to get top results from a big operation with over 1,000 employees and contractors in a difficult work environment. Yet when I broke my leg, he allowed me five weeks to recover and work from home. This was a real accommodation – others had to pitch in and cover my responsibilities while I was out.    

His care for me personally created a sense of loyalty in me toward him that hadn’t existed before. We had been friendly at work and often socialized at company events. But the fact that he protected me and let me work from home instead of burning up all my paid leave during this particularly vulnerable time in my life made me want to work for him more and make him even more successful. It was as if him showing personal care for me, even though it was putting him out, put an emotional reserve in an account in my soul that he could then draw from later.

To this day, years later, I personally care for him and wish him much success. I talk to him on a fairly regular basis and we help each other. We are “foxhole buddies,” having fought on the front lines of a tough job together, and I benefitted from his care for me while I was injured. I will always remember his kindness and it bonds me to him in a special way. 

Have you ever had a supervisor who treated you kindly, cared for you when you were down and protected you when you were vulnerable? How did it make you feel and affect your relationship with them? Did it motivate you to work better, harder, more efficiently and root for them? Did you feel more loyal to that leader now, and defend them when others spoke ill of them behind their back?

How would you like to have employees feel that way about you? You can: Simply show them that you care about them. Get to know them and protect them when they need it. You can build a reservoir of loyalty and dedication to work for you from them when you do. 

Paul Comfort

I am one of the public transit industry’s leading evangelists (a former CEO of the MTA, Baltimore City Transit System and the 2016 Winner of the President’s Award for Public Transportation from AASHTO (American Association of State Highway, Transportation Officials) and as VP of North America’s largest transit technology/software company am writing and speaking on business leadership topics and how technology is affecting transit/mobility in our cities. I am also a keynote speaker at conferences around the nation and world and love to write and speak about leaderhip/management in business and how to be more effective at both.

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