John Constance and Herb Angel, Deputy Archivist of the United States, August, 1971
I recently received a note from a young lady who worked for me some years ago. She thanked me for my kindness towards her when she was going through some challenges in her life and said that I was the “best boss” that she had ever had. That note warmed my heart. It also prompted some reflections on the bosses that I had in my life. Staying on the "ride to the sunshine" tenor of this blog, I asked myself, “what were the positive lessons that I learned from each one. The results of those ruminations follow.
Herb Angel, Deputy Archivist of the United States
Herbert E. Angel was born in Roanoke, VA in 1907 and grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from George Washington University and after a stint with the Department of State, joined the National Archives in 1936, just two years after its founding. He served with the Navy Department during WWII where he and a colleague coined the term “records management” and began the work of organizing the mountains of paperwork generated by the war. He returned to the Archives in 1950 (the year I was born) to structure and staff the Office of Records Management and was named Deputy Archivist of the United States in 1968.
Herb hired me as part of the GSA Summer Intern Program in 1971. I had interviewed with all the divisions of the Agency, but for me the perfect match was the Archives. Fortunately, Herb liked me as well.
The first lesson I learned from Herb was, give that young recruit work that matters.
For some time, he had wanted a set of binders on his desk that contained a simple set of monthly reports that illustrated the important statistics for each office of the National Archives. At a glance, he wanted to be able to tell “how we are doing” in key areas. Today we would call it metrics.
Secondly, let the organization know that you support the work of your staff and that you have their back.
Herb set up a meeting in his office with the top tier management of the agency with one item on the agenda, to introduce me and “our” project. As a result, they knew my name, associated me with the Deputy Archivist, were asked to fully cooperate, and to give me their personal time to identify the correct measurements and set the process in place to deliver.
As I think back on my entire career, that first meeting around that large conference table might have been the most important. I was given worth. What I was doing was important to someone in authority and they clearly thought that I could achieve the task.
Two weeks after that meeting, I turned 20 years old.
Glenn McMurry, Director of Information, National Audiovisual Center
Born in 1917 on the family farm near Hutchinson, Kansas, Glenn graduated from Bethel College with a bachelor's degree in Music Education, a Master's in Education from Kansas and after service in the South Pacific Theater in WWII, a degree in film production from the University of Southern California. A true renaissance man, Glenn McMurry was an early adopter of every technology that he could get his hands on and with an infectious enthusiasm carried his staff along for the ride.
Glenn gave me my first real job out of college. While I had done some management analysis and information management work in my second summer of Archives internship, I had no background in information processing. When Glenn heard that I needed a permanent job and that the Archives had no available positions, he told his deputy Les Greenberg to “figure out a way to hire this guy.” They were in the process of firing the guy who had managed their key punch shop, so with no background and no experience, they hired me and threw me into his vacant slot.
Everything I learned about management, supervision, and human resources I learned on my own through trial and many errors. Everything I learned about information processing, I learned from Glenn. He took me into the computer room and introduced me to the IBM/370 mainframe, helped me to run my first reports, load my first tapes and watch like an expectant parent for the results to be spit out onto reams of printouts. He and I drove to the University of Maryland to see the flickering CRT screen of an early prototype word processor. Using backspace to erase a letter was jaw dropping stuff and Glenn was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning.
Glenn’s lesson to me was to be enthused about what you do or find something else to do.
John H. “Jack” McLean, Director, National Audiovisual Center
John Hamilton “Jack” McLean was born in 1932 and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1951 at age 19. His specialty was always photography and cinematography, flight-related out of Pensacola, intel-related in Hawaii, and Public Information and training related at the Naval Photo Center in Washington, DC. He was stationed aboard the USS Shangri-La and the USS Antietam during the Korean War.
Jack would crest in his Navy career to become the Director of the Naval Photo Center in Anacostia. If it had to do with photos, motion pictures, or recorded sound, it was handled by NPC. Jack was there during the Kennedy Administration and one of the projects was to have a Navy photographer assigned to the White House to document the life and work of the President.
When he retired from the Navy, he took over as the Director of the National Audiovisual Center in 1970 and began the process of transitioning the Center from a dream of first director Jim Gibson into a functioning audiovisual sales and rental operation.
While I worked for Glenn McMurry when I first arrived, Jack was a mentor from day 1. He took an interest in me and my career and always had a moment for a chat or an occasional lunch.
From his Navy career, Jack understood the necessity of training and when he thought you had potential was willing to invest in you to see that potential fulfilled. He sent me to the Navy Photo Center to learn the mechanics of filmmaking and to Warner Brothers to experience the magic. He never stood in the way of developmental assignments to further my career. Those assignments led me to the White House and the newly formed Department of Education where I worked for the iconic Liz Carpenter.
In addition to the magic of filmmaking and the steps to making good policy, I learned a great deal just observing how Jack McLean managed himself and our organization. Visible, available, and liked by everyone from the mailroom to the boardroom, he was a people person who had been taught the art and science of leadership by the United States Navy. When you screwed up, the talk was private and behind closed doors in his office. When you excelled, a personal letter was sent to your home address to be opened in the company of your family. I always remember the pride in not just his recognition but being able to immediately share it with the ones I loved.
Keep criticism one on one and send that letter of commendation to the home address.
This series to be continued