Top 5 ‘Thank-Yous’ To The Bad Bosses Out There
Bad bosses shouldn’t be. Of course, I’ve never met anyone who self-identifies as a bad boss, yet we all know they’re out there, and yes, indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, they do suck.
I’ve had more than my fair share of bad bosses over the course of my career, from the one who routinely would take off without a moment’s notice to go to baseball games two hours away and dump his workload on his team, to the one who didn’t tell us we were interviewing her relative until the final round and then said, “You guys are OK with that, right?”
Today, I want to thank all the bad bosses out there, and you should too. Whether you know it or not, they’ve taught you something important … in work and in life. I am the leader I am today because I’ve had bad bosses, and though I certainly would love to have learned what I’ve learned without their, um, input into my life, as I head toward the last 15 to 20 years of my career, I know I’m better because of them.
So what do I have to thank you for, bad bosses? I’m glad you asked.
1. Thank you for teaching me how to run more efficient meetings.
If I added up all the time I wasted in poorly run meetings, I feel as if I would have at least a year of my life back. Not sure what I would do with it, but it sure wouldn’t be spent in a meeting.
Meeting management is a huge skill owned by effective leaders. From my horrible bosses, I’ve learned the importance of having an agenda and sticking to it, of encouraging input from the quiet corners, while quieting the corners that routinely squawk the loudest.
I’ve learned the importance to team morale of basic courtesies like showing up on time, and by that I mean “early,” so everyone is ready to go when the meeting is supposed to start. Similarly, I’ve learned to end meetings on time and to do so with a quick summation of everything we just talked about while making sure those in attendance know what’s expected of them before we meet again.
Inefficient meetings suck as badly as bad bosses do, and it’s not surprising the two are so often found together.
2. Thank you for teaching me how unnecessary most meetings are.
I’ll put forward that the majority of meetings for non-executives don’t need to happen. I learned this lesson while working for a company in which attendance for the worker bees was deemed necessary at upwards of seven meetings a day, which left precious little time and brainpower for them to actually be worker bees.
As a leader of cross-functional teams in that company, I made it my goal to actively find ways to cancel meetings. Whether that was through quick emails or conversations or by, ya know, doing my work and then saying, “Here. Review this and then let’s chat,” my favorite phrase was, “So we really don’t need to have a meeting then, do we?” The smiles that would come across people’s faces when they realized I’d just given them back an hour of their lives simply by taking the time to talk was priceless.
3. Thank you for teaching me how to be mindful of my colleague’s mental health.
Ask just about any boss in any company if they care about their employees’ mental health and they’ll likely respond with the obligatory, “Of course.”
Sadly, bad bosses have left off some words from their response. What I saw and experienced from bad bosses was that they meant to say, “Of course, actions speak louder than words, and my actions don’t match my words.”
From my bad bosses I learned how important it is to have your rhetoric be followed with sensitivity and awareness that this is a tough world and that people go through a lot of stuff, in the office and at home. It’s really, really easy to judge someone’s bad day or bad week or bad month as him being a bad employee, when all he truly needs is understanding and help finding resources to lean on.
It’s one thing to put out information about work/life balance and mental health awareness and to say your company is a champion of both. If you as a leader don’t model those principles, well, you’re not a leader; you’re just a bad boss. Thankfully, I learned this lesson and can apply it wherever I go.
4. Thank you for teaching me the importance of having grace under pressure.
A truism in work and life is that things are going to go wrong. More than that, even with the best planning, there are going to be tight deadlines and unexpected circumstances. From my bad bosses, I’ve learned how important it is for those in charge to project outward calm and confidence when the working world is burning.
There are two types of bosses out there. The first takes a bad situation and ratchets up the tension and pressure by being angry, irritable, chaotic and unpredictable. The second takes the same bad situation, goes to his or her car to have the obligatory freak-out outside the public eye, and then returns to the office to project grace and positivity.
If you let your team know that while, yes, a situation might be trying or a deadline might be near, you are not going to let them fail and that they are going to succeed with you by their sides, the more likely you are to actually get things done.
5. Thank you for teaching me how to let talented people do their thing.
Bad bosses hire people who are just like them — in personality, temperament and skillset — without much awareness for what the team actually needs. Why wouldn’t you hire someone just like you? You like you, don’t you? It’s fun being around people who are like us, right? Sure, but that’s not the point.
Building a team is about finding complementary skillsets and weaving differing personalities and strengths together to offset gaps and create the ultimate “the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts” situation. That means purposefully hiring people not like you and letting those who are like you do their job while you do yours.
I once was on a team with a bunch of extroverted creative people who were very much into chit-chat and, from where I sat, unnecessary drama. We lacked someone on that team who excelled at video production and who had strong organizational skills. So when I had the chance to hire someone who would work on the team and often work with them, I hired an introverted, analytical, get-down-to-business newbie who didn’t show up at work to make friends but rather was solely focused on doing good work.
Did he have the best soft skills? No. Did he “fit in?” No. Was he exactly what the team needed, did he earn the respect of those colleagues and was he promoted within a year? Absolutely.
Good leaders aren’t threatened by talent. They recognize it, encourage it, foster its growth and let it do its thing to make the entire team look and perform better.
So to sum it up …
Because we can learn from them, are bad bosses good? Absolutely not. They shouldn’t exist and, if you’re with a good organization, they don’t last. Yet if we’re going to play the “silver lining” game, there are things to glean from your bad bosses.
My leadership style is what it is as a direct result of what I’ve seen from my bad bosses. The systems and processes I have as a marketing leader are what they are because I’ve seen how bad they can be when they’re not that way. For example, my start-to-finish, idea-to-output marketing process is six steps and one official meeting, which is a direct result of working under a bad boss whose system involved, no joke, more than 20 steps and, at minimum, four all-team meetings.
Could I have arrived at my system without a bad boss? I’d like to think so. But there’s something extremely rewarding about taking what a bad boss does, doing the opposite and seeing it work out swimmingly for you, your team and your customers.
John Agliata is a marketing professional with more than 30 years of communications experience. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 226-5852.
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