Lessons From Bad Bosses

There are some great movies about working for bad bosses. Check out Horrible Bosses, Working Girl, or the great 9 to 5.

Staff on Chess Board

Staff on Chess Board

I’ve been a boss and I’ve been bossed. I liked being the boss better.

It wasn’t an ego thing. My father was President of one of the banks in the small town where I grew up. He naturally commanded respect and, of course, I wanted to be like my Dad. Through him, I saw both the rewards and the disadvantages of being in charge. And there are plenty of both.

I confess to being a better boss than an employee and got to be very “black & white” about people to whom I was subordinate. I could forgive and work hard for bosses who had plenty of drawbacks but who were people who deserve respect. But I had no time for managers who were out of their league being in charge.
Ultimately it came down to whether or not I sensed that they respected us as subordinates and that their enthusiasm was for the organization, of which staff plays a key role. I hated toadies and suck-ups and bosses who liked toadies and suck-ups.

But you learn valuable lessons from every boss. From the good ones, you learn what to do and from the bad ones you remember what do to avoid.

Here are 4 “worst practices” I learned to avoid from observing and working for bad bosses:

  • I’m in charge; I’ve arrived: Once I was competing with someone else for a managerial position. I asked him why he wanted the job and he told me: “I don’t know. The money and the position, I guess.” He lasted in that job for less than 4 years. I replaced him and stayed for 10.
  • Now they have to do what I say: Sure, you may have a title that gives you authority but there is such a thing as malicious obedience. Sure, sometimes you need to be firm but, if you’re a good manager, those times are rare. As Michael Hyatt said in a recent blog post: “If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.”
  • Why would I need advice from staff? I’ve got more experience than they do: Some managers feel that asking staff for ideas would weaken their own position, especially if you actually mean it and adopt the ideas. Wrong! Staff can have great ideas and will be even more motivated if you make the great ones happen.
  • You can’t trust employees: One of the worst bosses for whom I worked had this attitude. As a person he was shallow, narcissistic, and manipulative. In other words, poor managerial material. Sometimes employees will let you down or act dishonestly but I’ve always found those to be the exceptions.

Mutual respect and trust are essential to great manager/staff effectiveness and efficiency.

What have you learned from your bosses?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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