Kristen Higton was the best boss I’ve ever had.
There. I’ve said it. And I don’t mean ‘one of the best’. I mean…The Best.
I’ve been blessed with a lot of good bosses over the years, and some truly great ones as well. Diane Brown, Jerry Morinaka, Scott Wolsey…that would be y’all. But I’ve had one boss in my mind that simply stands out from all of the others. I’ve tried to figure out for a long time just why that is, but I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it.
Maybe it’s because of her street cred. She had been a Corpsmember. She had been a crewleader. She had been on fire crews. Not only did she work a season on a CCC Backcountry trail crew, she had been a regular member of the Yosemite National Park trail crew family. When she was telling you how she wanted any particular job done, she wasn’t just guessing or making stuff up. She knew because she had been there and done that.
But that can’t be it by itself. Diane had already supervised and worked on three Backcountry trail crews by the time I was on her crew. She was the CCC Backcountry trails matriarch. Jerry most definitely was not a theoretical, rather-work-in-a-cubicle-than-the-field biologist. He had earned his Fish and Game spurs working as a grunt on a hatchery. Scott just all around had his ‘stuff’ together, nice and tight.
Maybe it’s because Kris led by example. She had spent her entire life giving her jobs everything she had, and that didn’t stop when she became a supervisor. On Crew 3, you learned how to grub out a trail with a Pulaski by trying to keep up with Kris. (Good luck with that! 😉 ) When I became a crewleader, I noticed that the crewleaders on other crews had a lot more paperwork to turn in than I did. I asked Kris about this. She told me that one of her weak spots was completing all of the paperwork involved, like weekly work totals, and that until she was consistently satisfied with her performance, she wasn’t going to ask somebody else to do it. That’s just the way Kris was.
But that can’t be it, either. Diane built just as much causeway, and as many waterbars, and smashed just as much fill on The Mound as any of us. And she didn’t let us forget that she did it as a thirty-year-old woman with bad knees! Jerry always took the hardest and dirtiest parts of any project I worked with him on. Whenever Scott came out to work with a crew on the grade, he always set a demanding pace that crew members had to push themselves to maintain.
I think I’ve narrowed this down to two things about Kris that make her the best boss I’ve ever had.
The first reason is subtle but significant. Crew mate Brian Royer put it best when he said “You just didn’t want to let Kris down.” That’s the heart of it. Nobody wanted to let Kris down. She inspired that type of loyalty. Other bosses of mine have had this to some degree or other, but sometimes you just did what they told you, the way they told you to do it, just to avoid pissing them off. Sometimes fear is a good motivator, right? 😉 It wasn’t that way with Kris…ever. I never once saw Kris lose her temper. After I had been around for a while, I could tell when she was getting angry, but she never lost control and chewed anybody out. It seemed like when she got angry, she would get calmer and more serious, speaking more directly to the situation at hand. If you got one of those talks, it wasn’t like you were getting chewed out. You weren’t achieving your best, and by not achieving your best, you were letting yourself down…and Kris. You just didn’t want to let her down.
The second reason is of a more personal nature. I joined the CCC and was assigned to Crew 3 at Del Norte Center not long after Kris became a C1. She promoted two crewleaders before I made it, Mark Carrasco and Terrance Johnson, but both of them had already been on the crew when she got there. They were projects already begun by their previous C1. I was the first person to join Kris’s crew as a newbie and then promote to crewleader. You could say that I was the first crewleader she raised from a pup! I had never seen any leadership potential in myself, and she helped develop that. I owe her a lot for that. In fact, I was promoted to crewleader in January, and the Backcountry applications came out shortly after that. I never even applied, even though a lot of people expected me to apply for another CCC season as well as for NPS and USFS trails jobs. I gave people a lot of reasons why I thought being a grade crewleader at Del Norte was a better career move than another trails season right away, but the bottom line was that Kris had put a lot of time and effort into me, and I wanted to pay her back as much as I could. I mentioned this to Kris once, and she let me know pretty clearly that if I wanted to work trails, especially for NPS or USFS, that I would be going with her blessing and not to let any sentimental nonsense about ‘owing her anything’ enter into the picture. (OK…that’s probably not a direct quote…but that is essentially what she said!) However, it was Kris’s training and example that enabled me to win a place on a trail crew in the first place. Kris sent me to crewleader training and promoted me almost as soon as I got back. There were a couple of people on the crew that were in the early stages of working towards crewleader, but none of them were close to ready yet. She would have been without a crewleader during fire season…not an easy situation at all. The least I could do was give her my services for the last summer I was going to have in the CCC.
Yup…so that’s why Kris is the best boss I’ve ever had.