South’s Greatest Bosses

In this issue, we feature five fantastic bosses with enthusiastic "best boss" nominations from their own employees, those fine working folks who make the dreams possible.

Actually, six great bosses, since our top five selections include the dynamic duo in charge of Pioneer Transport along with the owner-operator of Levy Jewelers and three distinguished law enforcement officers. One or two key takeaways seem to hold true for effective leadership in every possible field–like the power of listening. Other insights may surprise you. 

Lowell Kronowitz / Levy Jewelers

What’s one key skill that makes you a great boss that you wish you’d learned or even mastered five years sooner?

An old skill I wish I had mastered 25 years ago (5 years earlier than the 20 years ago I learned it): Don’t shoot the messenger. Be approachable. You want to be approachable from your team and you want to make sure that some quick response doesn’t prohibit people from wanting to approach you, because you can’t hear just the good news. People have to have access to give you the bad news sometimes.

What’s the one soft skill (interpersonal or leadership) in your great boss skill set that yields the most consistent positive results for your whole team?

Being fair and reasonable. Using those two balances in almost everything. Gathering as much information by listening to all sides of a conversation before coming to any conclusions; you know, being “part of the team” is LISTENING. Getting this skill isn’t always synonymous with age, but it does have to do with maturity.

Briefly, how has technology changed the way you do your job —for better and for worse?

It’s allowed my customers and my team to always be able to reach out to me and me to them—and that’s just it: Constant access can be both a blessing and a curse. Technology has shortened the span of information flow, and with that you have to be careful about it overtaking your personal life, but I like to be available to both my customers and my team.

What essentials of leadership in your field never change?

I think listening skills have to be an essential. Someone said to me one time a long time ago, When two people are in a room and one is talking and another is listening, the question is: WHO’S LEARNING? Listening skills are paramount in a leadership role.

HOW TO BE A GREAT BOSS, TIP # 01 – You listen. You know about people’s family lives. You don’t want to be intrusive, but you make sure that things are well of building up trust, because without trust, you can’t expect someone to share with you.

Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie / Effingham County

What’s one key skill that makes you a great boss that you wish you’d learned or even mastered five years sooner?

The one thing that I’ve always tried to do is I feel like you can’t ask somebody to do something that you’re not willing to do…I guess, being a little bit tougher if you will in some situations. But give your employee the benefit of the doubt.

What’s the one soft skill (interpersonal or leadership) in your great boss skill set that yields the most consistent positive results for your whole team?

Going out and helping in the situations. I show up on the scene when they need help in a situation—not to take over, but to help. I view it as a support role.

Briefly, how has technology changed the way you do your job —for better and for worse?

I guess the worst would be the Facebook stuff, probably, has been the hardest thing for us. You know we have situations we go to where criminal activity has taken place—somebody might have been injured or killed—and before we can make contact with the families and the people that need to be notified, it’s already blasted all over Facebook. That hurts us. On the positive side, social media has helped us as well because we can get more information out to the public in a quicker time than we could in the past.

What essentials of leadership in your field never change?

I guess just the biggest thing is just the willingness and the ability to stop and listen. Take a minute to listen to the people and listen to the employees and pay attention to what they’ve got going on. I’ve been told that I like to “lead from the front.” I don’t know if that’s always the case or not… but, well basically if I going to ask somebody to do something, I’m going to be going in with them. I’m not going to be sitting behind a desk somewhere when somebody else is having to do the hard stuff.

How about in relation to body cams and surveillance technology, how has that changed things?

We don’t use body cams, but we do have car cameras and, you know, it’s able to give us a lot of evidence we can take to court. It shows us, of course, if one of the officers is doing something inappropriate…As well, if a false accusation comes in against the officer, we’ve got a camera there to show that it isn’t what we were told it was. So, having a camera on the scene is only a positive in your book? Absolutely. I was one of the first ones here that ever had a recording device in their vehicle. I started out with a cassette recorder—a little old micro cassette recorder on my gun belt. I’ve been a large proponent of those types of technology ever since.

HOW TO BE A GREAT BOSS, TIP # 02 – Listen to what the old guys are telling you. Always be honest. Be willing to do the hard things if you have to.

Melinda Schuman and Robin Ketcham / Pioneer Transport

What’s one key skill that makes you a great boss that you wish you’d learned or even mastered five years sooner?

That’s just it, we don’t act like or think we are your typical “bosses.” We are a team. Yes, we—as owners—have more to gain or lose at the end of the day, but when you treat people like you want to be treated it’s usually a win-win situation.

What’s the one soft skill (interpersonal or leadership) in your great boss skill set that yields the most consistent positive results for your whole team?

Just to listen sometimes more than you talk. You can learn a lot from people if you just listen to them. Everyone has a story, people are more than employees when they come to work with us. If you treat them with respect and gratitude most will return that respect and gratitude to you.

Briefly, how has technology changed the way you do your job —for better and for worse?

In some aspects it’s much better: there are things that are more streamlined and processes that flow more efficiently with technology; but also with technology you lose the personal connection that is often needed to connect with others on a personal level.

What essentials of leadership in your field never change?

Hardwork, dedication, accountability.

What would your employees probably change about you if they could?

Melinda Schuman: I’m not sure the employees would want to change my “never say no” characteristic, but I sure would. I joke and often say I must not have had many friends when I was growing up. I often have a tough time saying “no” to things. I can get overwhelmed very easily by this. I have learned through the years that everyone is not going to agree on everything all the time, that it’s OK to say “no,” but of course in the right way. Robin Ketcham: This has to be the fact that I overthink EVERYTHING, I am always preplanning and even with the best-laid plans situations arise that I have no control over. With all of this overthinking comes a lot of stress and I think my employees like to see me happy, as I like to see them.

HOW TO BE A GREAT BOSS, TIP # 03 – Be humble. Be responsible. Put the hard work in. Be determined.

Sheriff William Freeman / Chatham County

What’s one key skill that makes you a great boss that you wish you’d learned or even mastered five years sooner?

Listening to people’s concerns and handling them and just being responsive. I know sometimes in police work you get so wrapped up in things you don’t really listen to what they’re saying and their problems. And you need to listen more, listen closely.

What’s the one soft skill (interpersonal or leadership) in your great boss skill set that yields the most consistent positive results for your whole team?

You listen to them (officers and public) and you take what they’re saying, and then you don’t let the problem lie there —you handle it. There are all sorts of problems. There may be families involved. You go ahead and try to immediately resolve it for them.

Briefly, how has technology changed the way you do your job —for better and for worse?

Well, I think it’s much better. Particularly when you’ve got computers and you’re working with those sort of things. The technology is great—but I can tell you one thing, too: it isn’t everything.

What essentials of leadership in your field never change?

Understanding people. Be positive. Treat them fairly. I’m one of those managers that you know where you stand with me all the time. I’m very blunt. But they know. And what you see is what you get.

What would your employees probably change about you if they could?

Probably not being so blunt. (*He laughs; staff in background laughs, too.*) I had one of the training directors tell me, “You’re not only blunt, you’re also brutal.” “Brutally honest” I think was his terminology.

HOW TO BE A GREAT BOSS, TIP # 04 – Have integrity, be true unto thyself, and always remember other people’s thoughts and feelings and be open to other people’s suggestions. I used to say: Even the new guy coming in—you can learn something from him that you don’t know. You don’t want to stop learning. And that’s one of the biggest things: Never stop learning.

Chief Paul D. Wynn / Springfield County

What’s one key skill that makes you a great boss that you wish you’d learned or even mastered five years sooner?

You should never stop learning everything that you can —especially about how to see things from another person’s perspective.

What’s the one soft skill (interpersonal or leadership) in your great boss skill set that yields the most consistent positive results for your whole team?

Probably just caring enough about every member of the team to never send them into a bad situation unaware or without strategy and back-up, and my total commitment to support them through anything that could happen.

Briefly, how has technology changed the way you do your job —for better and for worse?

Having body cameras or car cameras – any objective view on a situation—is a definite plus. When the adrenaline is pumping, you’ll get as many different stories as you have witnesses. My officers even have cameras right on their tasers. It’s a double-edged sword, though. If an officer accidentally covers a camera or points it toward the ground at the wrong moment, someone will try to claim that was intentional. But on the whole, the new technology has definitely made things better. It protects both the officers and the citizens from abuse or false accusations.

What essentials of leadership in your field never change?

Listening to people and caring about their problems. Knowing your environment and who the people are in the neighborhoods and how they’re living. We have a lot of elderly residents who don’t necessarily want to go into an assisted-living situation or a nursing home. So our officers know things like what prescription medicines they need in an emergency and where the extra house key is hidden.

What would your employees probably change about you if they could?

I had to ask. Some of my officers think I’m overprotective. Let’s say it’s an informant who’s landed in a bad situation and has flipped and now is helping us out. I don’t want to see that person get smoked. I see anyone who needs protection in a bad situation the way you might see your neighbor’s 5-year-old child wandering down the street alone.

HOW TO BE A GREAT BOSS, TIP # 05 – Be truthful, be humble, and always keep learning. The minute a guy with a badge thinks he’s Superman, he becomes useless.

Subscribe now for instant access to the digital edition, or pick up the 2018 Power Issue from one of our distribution partners.