The Dean and I | My Best Boss

by Elouise


Langdell Hall, Harvard Law School

What was it about this man who made such a deep impression on me? I tried making some lists. I didn’t throw them away, but I wasn’t happy with them. They’re too cerebral. So I’m going with my gut on this one.

Here’s what I would say to Mr. Griswold today. Granted, I’ve had decades to think about it. Yet only now, after writing about the Dean and I, have I begun to appreciate our relationship.

#1. You were my best Boss ever.
Of all the bosses I’ve had, you were the best. I never told you about my first Boss, and you never asked. I’ll just say that your ways of being Boss were very different. The rest of my talking points highlight several ways you stand out as the best.

#2. You didn’t have issues with women.
I never cringed or felt pressured to humor you by demeaning myself or laughing at other people.  You were more than a decent man. You were a decent human being, part of the human race. Not a superior being who needed to put other people down to feel powerful. There were no bad jokes about women, or other unwanted behavior. Do you know how rare this is? I do.

#3.  You demanded a lot from me, yet you didn’t sweat my mistakes.
I didn’t feel shamed or laughed at. Nor did I fear for my job. You knew more than how to run the Harvard Law School; you knew how to run the office! You were a practical, experienced realist who wasn’t afraid to make your own mistakes and learn from them. Given my up and down history with male bosses, this impresses me.

#4. You combined personal humility with fierce professional resolve.
You didn’t take personal credit for the good, and you didn’t back off from making difficult decisions. That’s because it was never all about you. It was about where we were going and how we would get there together. In the office, not just in the law school. You were uneasy with the limelight; I liked that. It let me know that’s OK in a leader.

#5. Did you know you were my mentor?
You were. I didn’t think about you that way, but I believe it’s true. You didn’t tell me how to run an office. You showed me how you did it. You took things as they came, with calm thoughtfulness. This sometimes went against the atmosphere in the office or in the law school. I’d like to think I learned a little about that from you.

#6. Best of all, you wrote me that letter!
You didn’t just say kind words in front of other people, or sign a greeting card. And you didn’t dictate the letter to a secretary who typed it up for you to sign. You took time to hand-write it. Just for me. Not for my file or for a future employer. Just for me! No letter I’ve ever received from an employer comes close to yours.

Several times during my professional life I needed that letter. Not to show others, but to remind myself of what you saw in me. Even though I didn’t always pull it out to read, I think it was there in my subconscious, not just in my treasure box. A good antidote to other letters I received uninvited and threw away.

Right now I’m remembering you at your stand-up desk every evening, making sure you’ve written all those personal thank-letters to donors, or added your signature and a little note on other letters. The personal touch. That’s what it was all about. Relationships of mutual trust and appreciation. Kind words, always truthful. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your life. You were a blessing I never expected.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 April 2015