A good boss or a memorable mentor can inspire, motivate and most importantly, help you realise your full potential. Certain words of wisdom, advice or just a time when they lent a friendly ear can really stick with you for the rest of your working life, to make all the difference between loving or hating your job and leave a lasting impression on both your professional and personal lives.
Who are the bosses and mentors that 5 successful women believe provide shining examples? From colleagues to family, previous managers to present ones, we asked them for their ultimate best boss shout-outs...
Susannah Taylor, Editor-in-Chief Get The Gloss
“I’ve had some pretty awesome bosses in my career, but I’ve also had some pretty horrendous ones too and I think I’ve learned as much from the bad ones (all the things NOT to do, all the ways NOT to behave) as I have from the brilliant ones.
“Starting quickly with the bad ones - my very first boss (I was still at art college) was someone who ruled by fear. This woman was a total ice queen and people were terrified of her. I had to count to ten before I dared to enter her office and she would do things like send me out on a mission to go and get ten cappuccinos which would involve me getting in lifts, going out onto the street, up escalators and then coming back again. She would then bark at me in front of a whole meeting that there was no froth on her coffee. When I requested time off when my grandfather died, she sort of stared at me rather coldly. There was also a very senior woman in this company who used to call me ‘Thingy’, and another who would put down everything I said or did. If I’m honest, I used to go home and cry at night. I must say I had enormous pleasure in saying a very pleasant ‘hello’ to them as I was strolling in with my second row ticket at London Fashion Week a few years later.
“These were my worst bosses and what I learned from them is that ruling by fear is not a good way to be. People don’t respond in the right way, people can’t be themselves, you never allow people to open up, relax into their job or let their brilliance shine through. I also learned that often people behave that way because they are insecure themselves - something I was too young to see at the time.
“On the contrary, the best bosses I’ve had have had a natural ability to lead without the need to leave people quaking in their shoes, which brings me to Gemma Bellman. Gemma is the MD of Get The Gloss and I think the best boss I’ve ever seen in action. Ten years younger than me, Gemma has a natural ability to lead a team with huge authority and have people like her at the same time. She’s a boss everyone here looks up to yet loves at the same time. Practical, thorough, completely clear on every detail and realistic, she manages to get the best out of everyone without pushing them to breaking point. She is empathetic without being too much of a buddy to everyone, always has time for any query and she’s incredibly honest and hardworking. Above everything, Gemma is herself (and very funny with it) and is proof that you don’t have to pretend to be some scary ice maiden in order to get results. We are extremely lucky to work with her.”
Mary Greenwell, makeup artist
"My best boss was Ilana Harkavi, the owner of Il Makiage in New York City. I worked in her shop in 1975 and she was the only person who gave me a makeup lesson.
"She’s wonderful, inspiring and so lovely - she had a lot of faith in me. She was my one and only boss. She taught me how to do makeup, introduced me to makeup and gave me my entire career. She has an incredible makeup line and I love her to pieces."
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Charlotte Knight, founder of Ciate
“I would say my biggest mentor has been my mother because she has always been the one to encourage me to stay true to myself and not fall into what other people want me to do. She has lived her life with a childlike wonderment which has been instilled in me from a young age and has positively affected the kind of parent I am to my eleven year old daughter, Gracie. Her words of wisdom have guided me through my life. She has always told me, ‘Inspiration is the key to success - if you can dream it, you can achieve it – stick with you dream and it can become a reality.’
“My mother has always given selflessly, believing that when you give, blessings will always come back to you in many different forms. Her holistic approach to life has helped our family attain total wellbeing for complete mental, emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Her greatest piece of advice to me was ‘leap and the net will appear’ - I find myself reciting this in my mind in many decision making situations.”
Gemma Bellman, Managing Director of Get The Gloss
“The relationship you have with your first boss, whether good, bad or downright ugly, is an important one. It's the first time you're being governed by someone who's paying you to be there. No longer a parent, teacher or college professor who's always looking out for your best interests, but someone who instead, holds the interests of the business firmly at the heart of their agenda, at the expense of all others...or at least that's what I learned from my first boss!
“My second boss however was altogether different and, contrary to popular belief about dragons in power suits, was a woman. During my time on the sales team at one of the world's largest beauty brands, I had the good fortune of landing under the wing of - let's call her Spicer - an impossibly smart, driven and immaculately put together Australian with all the stature and grace of a runway model and the brains and balls of a Wall Street broker. To cap it all off, she was (and still is of course) an entirely good egg.
“It wasn't just that she taught me the basics of commercial forecasting, sales and negotiation tactics but that she did it with the utmost patience and enthusiasm. She was never too busy to stop for a moment and help me when I got stuck, promote me in front of the big bosses or shoulder me from an irate client! In fact, there were very few places where she faltered, and if ever she did was quick to recognise and change direction. All the while, she managed to strike just the right balance between manager, peer and friend, which is never easy, and earned her the respect of everyone who worked with her - most of all me.
“That's not to say that a good boss has to be ‘perfect’ at every turn and in fact, I've learned a huge amount from all my good, bad and uglies - most importantly that they are all human and, sometimes, showing that side of yourself can make a decent boss out of any of us.”
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Chrissy Maitland, Senior Director, Strategy and Business Development for POPSUGAR and Shopstyle
“I first met Genevieve Kunst (POPSUGAR’s MD for Europe) when I joined Thomas Cook Online in August 2011. At the time, I was doing strategy for the CEO and she was leading the UK Supply and Merchandising team. When we were tasked with revamping the strategy for our cruise offering, it was the first project in what was to be a long-term professional partnership between us. With many hours spent on trains to Peterborough, creating presentations and new site design plans, and just bonding over being women in a male-dominated leadership team, we quickly became more than just colleagues – and conveniently realised that we could play off each other’s strengths to create an even better product when working together than on our own. When Genevieve got a new opportunity to head up the European business at POPSUGAR and ShopStyle, she brought me with her, and we’ve been working together ever since.
“Maybe it was the 15 year age gap or our early friendship that made Genevieve feel inclined to look out for me, but I quickly knew she was someone I could go to for honest advice and who would have my back. Over time, I have greatly benefited from Genevieve’s wealth of experience and more seasoned view of the working world, which has helped me put things in perspective, test my thought process and adapt my working style in order to achieve greater success – and happiness – in the workplace. I’m also grateful for the professional opportunities she has opened up for me, many of which would have been harder for me to achieve without someone by my side who knew me, was willing to push me beyond what I thought I could do and was willing to be my champion.
“Today I rate her as my best boss because we operate more in a true partnership than in an office hierarchy. I enjoy the freedom that comes from absolute trust and confidence in me and my abilities; the ease that comes from sharing the same values, ways of working and mental wavelength; the support that comes from having an open and honest relationship where you can call each other’s bluff, share doubts and ask the silly questions - as well as the harder ones too.”
Who are the bosses or mentors who inspired you? Give them a shout-out in our comments section below.
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