The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #49.

This tip is really an extension of Tip #47 and Tip #48, and it discusses what can happen when those two tips are not followed.

I have had a number of bosses during my career. Most were superb, providing professional and technical guidance and support when I needed it and giving me the reins and responsibility when they thought I was ready. However, two of those bosses were truly awful.

In both cases they became my boss through company personnel moves over which I had no control. Both individuals were manipulative and technically inept, but incapable of being wrong even though they were often wrong on a daily basis. In each case I stayed in the job about a year, thinking that I should give the situation and the boss at least twelve months before I considered any moves. Unfortunately, after a year each boss had proven to be even worse than I had anticipated and I left those companies, never to return.

Back in Tip #33, I mentioned that high pay is not reason enough to stay in a bad job. Well, nothing can make you dislike a job more quickly than working for a boss you despise.

Concept: When interviewing for a position, interview your perspective boss as hard as he (or she) is interviewing you. The pay may be great and the position fantastic, but a bad boss can negate all of that.

Details: As should be clear by now, the boss sets the tone for the whole team dynamic. His level of effort, his desire to train and develop his direct reports, and his management style will in large part determine the working atmosphere along with the ultimate success of the team. Great co-workers are important and wonderful to have, but the boss’s personality will more likely determine whether you actually like your job.

Because the boss’s management style is so critical, it is imperative that you vet him/her thoroughly before accepting a job. Go out to lunch with the boss and other team members and see how they interact. Invite the boss to dinner with his/her spouse and watch how they treat their spouse and the wait staff. Is the team comfortable with the boss and does the conversation flow easily, or are they quiet? Does the boss mistreat his/her spouse or talk down to the restaurant staff? Is the boss decisive? Can he/she admit fault? Ask team members if there are any individuals who left the group. Is so, track them down and find out why they left. Take the time and make the effort to find out all you can about the boss because your level of job satisfaction will in no small measure be determined by this one person.

Watch-Outs: If you are touring the plant or office and the boss lies to other workers or team members, talks down to his direct reports or treats lower level company staff with disdain, moving on to other possibilities is probably the best course of action. The boss may be brilliantly successful and knowledgeable but working for a tyrant can be unbearable.

Exceptions: Some companies transfer “Hi-Po”s (High Potential Management Employees) from job to job every 12 months. If you get one assigned to your group and they are awful, it may just be easier to bite your tongue and wait them out.

Insight: A good boss can even make staying in a bad job worthwhile. The company may be struggling or the corporate politics ugly, but a good boss will somehow find a way to keep the team together and shield them from the fray. However if things get too bad, a good boss is one who encourages his direct reports to develop and grow their careers, even if that means leaving the group or the company.

Rule of Thumb: A bad boss should be a deal breaker of any job consideration. Interview the boss thoroughly and carefully before you accept any job.

About the Author
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the virtual plant for exploring new opportunities. He spends most of his time writing, teaching and leading the ISA Mentor Program he founded in 2011.

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About the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., has worked as an instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he entered the systems integration industry and is currently working for Wunderlich-Malec as an engineering project manager in Kernersville, N.C. Hunter has executed thousands of instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms. Hunter earned a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University.

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