Learning Leadership from a Bad Boss

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Most of us have experienced bad bosses at some time in our lives. Maybe you’ve had one in the past; maybe you have one now. Maybe you were one in the past; maybe you are one now. So, for most of us, the question isn’t if we’ll run into one of these disagreeable creatures, but when.

But there’s a better question regarding bad bosses, and it’s this:

What can you learn from them?

Got a bad boss? Then you’ve got a great #leadership teacher! Click To Tweet

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I once worked for a boss who was an inveterate micromanager. He once corrected the way I was sharpening a pencil! SHARPENING A PENCIL! Now that’s micromanaging! (Let’s leave aside for a moment the question of whether I should have been using a chainsaw in the first place; that’s not the issue.)

The message I got from this boss (let’s call him John, because that was his name) was twofold:

  1. He was convinced that his way was always the best way.
  2. He didn’t trust me—or the rest of his team—to do the job right.

The first of these messages was irritating. The second was demoralizing.

John taught me a very important lesson about leadership: Don’t be like John.

When I became a leader, I made a commitment that I wouldn’t be like John—I wouldn’t be a micromanager. Because I’d been on the receiving end of micromanagement, and knew what messages I’d received as a result, I wanted to send a different twofold message to my team members:

  1. There is a wealth of talent and experience here, and any one of you could have a brilliant idea that I never would have thought of.
  2. Although you may not do the job exactly the way I would have done it, I trust you to reach a successful outcome. (And, in fact, your way may be better than my way; see message #1, above.)

Now, I’m not going to say that I didn’t occasionally slip into micromanagement mode. I did. But, because of my experience with John, I was more aware of it when it did happen, so I could correct myself more quickly.

Your experience with a bad boss may not have had anything to do with micromanagement. Perhaps your bad boss:

  • takes credit when things go right and blames others when things go wrong;
  • plays favorites within the team;
  • talks a lot, but never listens;
  • procrastinates on important decisions;
  • has a short fuse and lashes out at others.

Whatever his or her shortcomings were/are, they can provide an invaluable learning tool for your own leadership skills.

Here’s a basic rule of thumb:

If something your boss did drove you crazy, don’t do that same thing with your team!

If something your boss did drove you crazy, don’t do that same thing with your team! #leadership Click To Tweet

It’s no fun working for a bad boss. But instead of whining about it, learn from it. Be better. Do the opposite. That way, when your team members read this article, they won’t think I’m writing about you!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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