Friday, August 10, 2001 | return to: obituaries


‘Boss’s Survival Guide’ tells how to be a mensch in the workplace

by MAYA STRAUSBERG, Bulletin Intern

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Alan S. Levins is obviously proud of his new book, "The Boss's Survival Guide." His face lights up when he is asked about it, and he carries a small stack of copies around in his briefcase with him.

He has plenty of reasons to kvell. The book -- subtitled "Everything You Need to Know About Getting Through (and Getting the Most Out of) Every Day," which Levins co-wrote with Bob Rosner and Allan Halcrow -- was a business bestseller on even before it was published earlier this summer.

Last month, the book also made No. 10 on the Wall Street Journal's best-selling books under the business category.

Levins, a senior partner with the Littler Mendelson law firm in San Francisco, explains the link between being Jewish and being a good boss. "Really what this book is about is being a mensch in the workplace," he says. He believes that employees must be allowed to come to their bosses and share what works and what doesn't.

"Be inefficient," Levins says. "If the employee has a question, you don't just say to the employee, 'Here's the way to do it.' That would be the efficient way to do it. Make it inefficient; make it a learning experience. Workers now want that type of independence."

Levins says that even with the economy down since last year, the best way to treat employees is as humans. He points out that with baby boomers reaching retirement age, there will be 44 million fewer workers by next year in the United States.

With a weakened economy and fewer employees, the new job for any boss is what Levins and his co-authors call "retention evangelist." A good boss will be able not only to retain good talent during economic downswing, but also to attract it as well.

Levins' business background gives him solid ammunition. He says Littler Mendelson -- where he's worked for more than 25 years -- is the largest firm in the country to exclusively represent employers in labor and employment matters.

He also served on the board of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, where he was vice president, and currently is a board member for the Jewish Bulletin. In addition, he served on the board of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel, where the Levinses have been members for close to 10 years.

He and his wife, Sharon, have two daughters, Emily and Amy, with whom they have Shabbat dinner whenever possible. He also says that he refrains from working on Shabbat if he can help it.

When asked how open at work he is with his religion, Levins answers by describing the Israeli mementos he keeps around his office.

Part of being a good boss is finding balance between work and personal life. Levins says that a friend of his who is a fellow partner at his law firm makes a good boss because he does a "super job as a lawyer" and also follows the Orthodox regimen.

It is this type of combination that Levins says he respects and tries to encourage in his book. "The Boss's Survival Guide" ultimately wants to produce bosses that can lead and treat employees like the individuals they are. And as the book says in its last chapter, "There's glory in doing the best you can."

"The Boss's Survival Guide" by Bob Rosner, Allan Halcrow and Alan S. Levins (336 pages, McGraw-Hill, $16.95).


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