I have had my share of bad bosses over the years (and my share of really good ones too), but I have found that even though bad bosses can make your life miserable and take all the fun out of work, even they can teach you some useful skills and good lessons. So with that in mind, here are a few of the lessons I have learned.
Caring for Individuals - My most recent boss prior to my current company was the worst that I have ever had. She was disrespectful of her team and of others in the organization, dismissive of ideas and opinions (except her own), rude, incredibly political and worst of all had zero respect for other people's time. She would schedule meetings and simply fail to show without cancelling, or even worse, show up for the meeting and then constantly take calls and answer e-mails while others waited. However, even such a horrible boss had many good things to teach me. In a crisis she was always supportive of her team, and at the personal level she truly cared about her staff. If you had a personal problem, she would go to extraordinary lengths to help you find a solution. She was also extremely competent and insightful in dealing with customers, and I learned a great deal from her about running projects and about getting things done. Incidentally, a few weeks ago I learned that she was recently demoted in all but title and this is what gave me the idea for this post.
Tenacity, Will Power and Projecting the Right Image - The CEO at another start-up I worked for was a completely different kind of bad boss. He was very personable, extremely smart and a Harvard MBA to boot. He was a true visionary. His problem was that he was such a visionary - always seeing seven steps ahead - that he neglected to see what was immediately in front of his face. He made a series of bad hiring decisions, undercut the authority of his management team by tasking their staff directly, and constantly changed the company's strategy. He ran the company into the ground and was eventually ousted. That, however, was long after I resigned my position and moved on. Nevertheless, from this gentleman I learned the importance of business vision. I also learned that sheer will power and an unshakable refusal to fail can bring an organization very far indeed. This boss also taught me that you can do a lot with very limited resources and that how your company projects its image to the outside world makes a huge difference on your ability to land new business. So much so, that this small company was able to land a contract worth tens of millions of dollars with a huge multinational company.
Delegating and Taking Chances - Another of my bosses was an infuriating individual. He was disorganized, had a ridiculously inflated opinion of himself and worst of all had less than questionable ethics. Lying was not beneath him. However, this CEO was extremely good at hiring top notch people, and once he hired them he trusted them completely and gave them full authority to complete their projects in the best way they could. He listened to his executives. He also had an amazing ability to find his way into the right business niches. He had a sort of sixth sense for landing the right deal, even when others told him he was crazy to pursue such long odds.
My point is that there is something to learn from practically everyone, even from your worst bosses. The business skills and ideas that I have gained from my worst bosses are at least as important and useful as the ones that I learned from my best ones. That's not to say that working for these people was a pleasure. It most certainly wasn't. However, even if you find yourself working for a jerk, an incompetent manager or someone who is otherwise a hopelessly bad manager, don't give up on advancing your career. Look for what makes that manager bad and learn from his or her mistakes. These folks inevitably have some useful skills that they can teach you, after all somehow they were able to become your bosses...
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