On the face of it Sandra was not the perfect boss. Quite the opposite, in fact, and when I first starting working for her, I was a little bit terrified. She'd insult you if your perfume contained the vaguest note of rose or if she didn't approve of your haircut. She'd gag if you drank coffee around her and tell you it smelled revolting. She'd hurl a torrent of abuse if someone said they liked cats, shop-bought bread, or the Conservative party.
Feeling tired, hungover or ill? She'd be the first to tell you that you looked rough. And pity the foolish intern that left the teabag in hot water for more than the prescribed 0.75 seconds. And all the time wearing a ridiculous hot-off-the-catwalk ensemble. A typical lunchtime would see her head to the local dive pub in Camden for a pie wearing a gold snakeskin Gucci jacket, Prada gown and Alaïa heels.
I don't think Sandra has ever been on a management course, but if she had, she'd have walked out (or been asked to leave). But it was her completely unorthodox approach that made her a great boss. She never sugar-coated her opinions, and a sewer would have balk at her language – but then, she didn't mind if you dished it back.
What I learned from her is that being a boss is not about acting in the conventional "managerial" manner, but by simply making sure you're getting the best out of the people that work for you. That was her talent – despite her unnerving social skills – she'd always encourage, cajole and fight for people to get the opportunities and pay offs that they deserved.
True, she didn't suffer fools, but conversely, she made sure the people that worked hard got ample reward. Even if, when times were tough, this meant supplementing them from her own vintage wardrobe.
Successful women in the workplace are often thought of as possessing certain negative "feminine" traits: they are good manipulators, and can be deceptive, political, even back-stabbing when the time is right. But what I loved about working with Sandra is that behaving like a manager didn't factor into it. She was passionate about her job, and encouraged those that shared her enthusiasm. Brutal yes, but also honest and open. And that's not a bad quality in a boss. Just so long as you don't have a cup of coffee about your person.
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