I learned this from my worst bosses…

Even the worst bosses teach you things.  Here are a few from my experience.

Have you ever had a bad boss?  I don’t mean somebody you just didn’t click with, I mean a really bad boss.  They didn’t have to be a bad person (though they might be).  They just might not have been competent bosses.

That ringing a bell yet?

The cool thing about a bad boss is that short exposure to one can actually make you a better leader.  Seeing what “bad” is is almost as valuable as seeing what “great” is when it comes to leadership. I’ve learned a few lessons from bad bosses.  Here are some that are the lessons that come to mind.

Never throw things.  I once had a boss whose tantrums were epic.  You just waited for something to hit the floor or wall.  I had another boss who already had a bad reputation and who “playfully” threw something at a person who asked him a question, only to be thought of as attacking the person physically.  In both cases the intimidation factor wasn’t good for team morale.  If you must express your displeasure physically, consider clenching your teeth or at least throwing things in the privacy of your home.

Never use physical means to stifle a conversation. I once had a boss who would raise his hand into people’s faces when he thought they should stop talking.  He might as well have just turned his back on them. Needless to say he was an ineffective leader.  If you must cause someone to stop talking, consider thoughtfully asking a question directed to another person in the room instead.

Never start a feedback conversation with a speech about why you are right. Feedback is about giving and taking.  I once had a boss who thought it smart to start any feedback conversation with a preface that sounded like “I have a lot of experience on these issues and you do not, so let me give you some feedback.”  Talk about killing the give and take…Consider offering the feedback and the rationale for it, instead of your resume.

Never go passive on topics of compensation or promotion. I once had a boss who was very busy.  They were too busy to discuss HR matters.  That led to very long times between discussions of critical compensation issues. If you want to lose your team, ignore them when they bring up comp issues.  It’s ok to say “no” to the discussion, but not to ignore it.

Never play games with your subordinates. I once had a boss whose go to question when a subordinate brought a problem to them was “what have you tried to do so far?”  That is a fine question; but it was used as a sort of lever to get to a “more work” answer vs. a “I’ll help you solve the problem” answer.  The subordinate could say “I’ve tried A, B, C, and D” and the boss would answer with “well, let’s not talk until you’ve tried X, Y, and Z as well.”  While this may sound helpful, it actually was utterly demoralizing because the staff new raising any issue only resulted in more work vs. possible solutions.  Consider offering feedback and support on what has been tried vs. just assigning more work.

Now, to be clear, these lessons are a bit nuanced.  I’m also in no way innocent of them. I’ve thrown things a time or two (no, I’m not proud of it). These are also items that are somewhere between great manager who does everything right and psychopath boss. If I’ve had a boss who slept with a subordinate and cheated financially, do I really need to list that as “what not to do?”

How about you?  Do you have any “bad boss” stories that come with lessons?  Consider sharing them. 

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