This post is inspired by Boss’s Day. I hope you’re fortunate to work with a really good boss. If not, take heart – there are valuable lessons you can learn from your experience.
I asked several colleagues to share their best lessons from bad bosses. Here are their horror stories and lessons learned.
It’s Just as Easy to Demoralize a Team as It is to Build Them Up
I had a boss who decided to change his Windows start-up theme to be Full Metal Jacket. On startup and shutdown, his computer would remind us that we were all equally worthless. After he quit, employees from around the company remarked how happy they were he was gone. The new manager removed all themes from his machine, and found more positive themes for his team to use on their computers. He also made a point of managing by walking around, and thanked his employees often for the effort they put in to make customers happy.Both took the same amount of time and effort. One built the team up and found them recognized for customer service every year for the next 10 years. One tore the team down and made the rest of the department look down on the team, as if the manager thought they were useless, they knew they could treat them badly too. — Phil Gerbyshak, Social Selling Training and Social Media Strategist
One particularly bad boss I once had many years ago suddenly turned on me. It came “out of the blue.” I had been a “star” one moment, and the next I could do nothing right in her eyes. It did not end well for me. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:
- Stay alert to the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” There may have been signals I was missing. Like a drop off in communication from the boss.
- Keep your boss in the loop at all times on everything you are doing. Run the risk of over-communicating, especially if you suspect something is “up.”
- Determine what your boss’ priorities are and get into alignment with them. Do whatever you can to support your boss. And make her “look good.”
- Be professional, personable, and positive at all times. Be accountable. Deliver with excellence to your clients. That way, if the tables turn on you, you can walk out the door with your head held high, knowing that “it was not about you.”
- Sometimes the power plays that happen in a corporate environment result in some folks winning, and other folks coming out with the short end of the stick. — Terrence Seamon, author of “To Your Success!” guide for transitioners; “Lead the Way” leader’s guide to engagement; and “Change for the Better” change agent’s guide to improvement.
How NOT to Treat an Employee
I think my lesson is (was) that the fastest way to kill enthusiasm and commitment in young talent (or even older talent for that matter) is for the boss to publicly humiliate someone in front of others, when the someone had only good intent and was trying to do their job. We all have to learn, we all make mistakes, we all need coaching and guidance. But there is a right way to handle ‘teaching moments’ and a wrong way.
When I was a young, aspiring channel marketing manager at a small software company, I worked for a Sales and Marketing VP who was promoted too fast and not mature enough for his role. He had no patience or interest in the details of actually making a business run. When on several occasions I asked questions in group sales meetings that he thought were stupid, uninformed or otherwise too tedious, he delivered stinging, humiliating responses to me – a young female – in front of a room full of mostly men sales reps. I grew to hate him, and the bitterness and resentment I felt is still called up writing this, almost 20 years after the fact. The channels business for that company also failed, because the leader in charge of it would not do what it would take to make it a success, and my own sense of urgency about taking care of channel partners certainly took a hit after my experiences with this guy. It took a long time to overcome that feeling and fear of opening my mouth in meetings. — Owner of a Strategic Communications Consulting business
Special thanks to Phil Gerbyshak, Terry Seamon, and a colleague (who’s still so traumatized by her bad boss experience that she wished to remain anonymous) for contributing to this post.
I’ll have more great lessons to share in my next post, so stay tuned …