Bad bosses are a dime a dozen.
I’ve had a few. I’m sure you have, too.
On a flight to Costa Rica not so long ago, a friend and I got to talking about bad bosses and how they affected the choices we make as leaders today. He and I come from different fields, worked in different industries and yet the traits that make for a bad boss overlapped our stories. It was 2 hours and 15 minutes of horror stories with a paycheck at the end.
There were a few laughs in the form of the monikers attributed; mostly self-explanatory: “the micromanager”, “the egomaniac”, “the slacker”. But you also have “the wallpaper boss” (you only notice they are around when they start to fray at the edges),”the landmine” (goes off unexpectedly), “The Whopper” (always have to have it their way) and plenty more not fit for publication.
When within the purview of a bad boss, some people tend to personalize the treatment they receive. They think they are being “picked on”, or that only they are impacted by their actions. In reality, when an employee is mistreated, there is learning going on.
That’s why I tell people having a bad boss is like getting a ‘hard-knocks’ education on leadership.
If you are a smart learner, you learn how to toughen up and become selective about your battles. You identify behaviors in their management style that impact you negatively. You educate yourself on better ways to handle similar situations. So that when you have the opportunity to lead others, you learn how to manage by doing the exact opposite of what you experienced; with the bonus that now you understand how that impacts an employee.
If you are a not so smart learner, once you have the opportunity, you transfer your negative experiences to your subordinates or peers as soldiers experience in boot camp. The idea is to make you tough and thick-skinned. And, the cycle continues.
How does a bad boss impact employees? Well, studies show that bad bosses cause many stress-related health risks for workers, not to mention the impact on their families.
I recall watching one co-worker dodge calls from a furious husband at 8pm while we tried to rush a last-minute report our VP requested. It was the third night in a row for us, and the requests always came as we were leaving the building at 6pm. The reports, of course, were always due the next morning and usually sat there, untouched, for several days.
And what did I learn from that experience after a few times? I set an alarm on my computer to check if there were any pending requests by a certain time mid-afternoon, each and every day. She literally knew it was 3pm when she saw me at her door.
When I was feeling particularly pragmatic, I’d check several times. For some reason, the last minute requests stopped after that. My co-worker (her husband) and I were very grateful.
Another (and popular) method to deal with a bad boss is to simply stay out of their way. That will work for a while, but ultimately, that’s like putting a band-aid on cancer.
Solutions that do not come by way of transparent and open communication with your supervisor are temporary and usually, futile. Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating telling the emperor he has no clothes on every 5 minutes. I do advocate the use of respectful conversation in fulfilling your responsibilities as a citizen of the organization for which you work.
This is especially important if your supervisor’s behavior is hindering your productivity or the quality of your work. Whether you are a manager or an individual contributor, abuse of any kind is not part of your position description.
You may not do it the first time it happens, or even the tenth. But at some point, when there is a pattern of behavior in your supervisor that is not conducive to a professional work environment, honesty works best.
Will you catch hell for it? Maybe. But that shouldn’t be what keeps you from having a crucial conversation with your boss, especially when the alternative is you potentially not doing your job to the best of your ability.
In hindsight, working for a horrible boss is probably one of the best professional experiences you can have. At least it has been for me. I certainly don’t wish too many of them on you, but they do serve their purpose in your professional development. As long as you understand that while you can’t control your manager’s actions, you can control what you do with the behaviors you learn from that experience.