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8 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Your Terrible Bosses

8 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Your Terrible Bosses

Terrible experiences can make for great lessons. Working for a terrible boss is stressful and unpleasant. Yet, you can grow a great deal from the experience if you reflect on your work. With the proper mindset, we can learn leadership lessons from saints and sinners. Here are some lessons you can learn from your terrible bosses.

1. Always lead by example

Terrible bosses lead by the example, whether they want to or not. If a manager yells at people in order to solve problems, that approach will become popular with the staff. In contrast, an effective leader will lead by example by staying up to date in their industry and showing courtesy to everyone.

2. Don’t keep people waiting for decisions

The speed and quality of decision-making is one of the traits that separates good bosses from terrible bosses. An ineffective boss makes decisions very slowly and appears to act in a random way. The best approach is to explain your decision-making process to your team — things like clearly stating that certain requests must be submitted in writing — and then make decisions using a consistent framework.

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Resource: Improve your decision-making by reading Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work By Chip and Dan Heath.

3. Don’t tolerate bad meetings

Meetings are an essential tool in the professional world. Without meetings, it would be incredibly difficult to assemble the facts, persuade people, and move an organization forward. Poorly trained bosses run meetings in a disorganized way that frustrates everyone involved. In contrast, an effective manager begins and ends the meeting on time and uses a written agenda.

Tip: Use 7 Habits of Highly Effective Meetings to improve your performance in meetings.

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4. Understand the importance of communication

Communication and persuasion are vital skills for managers and professionals to use in their work. A terrible boss speaks in corporate slang and makes no effort to connect with their team. Even worse, there are some managers who do all of their communication by email. A better approach to communication starts with recognizing the importance of communication skills. The next step is to develop active listening skills. True masters of communication take the time to studying public speaking methods and learn how to persuade.

Resource: 10 Powerful Public Speaking Tips from Some of the Best Speakers in the World.

5. Don’t micromanage

Micromanaging a person frustrates the individual and wastes the manager’s time. The bad manager will list each and every step and then dogmatically enforce the steps. In contrast, effective managers learn effective delegation skills: a clear scope and a deadline. A good manager would ask for specifics — “Please send me a one-page proposal explaining which business conferences you want to attend and why. The deadline for this proposal to me is this Thursday at noon.”

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Resource: Discover advice from 14 management experts on how to develop delegation skills.

6. Don’t insult your staff

There are many stressful situations at work – customer complaints, late deliveries, budget cuts, and more. Terrible bosses are ineffective at working through these challenges – they take their frustration out on their staff. Insulting and abusing your staff will damage the relationship and cause the best people in the department to start looking for new jobs. Rather than yelling at your staff, learn stress management techniques to address your feelings.

7. Don’t neglect vision and inspiration

Without an inspiring vision, people gradually lose interest in their work. Bad bosses ignore this problem and focus on day-to-day problems. The better approach is to develop a vision for the department and deliver it with enthusiasm. Learning how to inspire your people to achieve greater results takes practice, but there are great resources out there to help you.

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Resource: To develop your vision skills, watch this classic TED Talk: How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek. You will learn that “making money” will not cut it as a vision – the public and customers expect something more.

8. Don’t forget promises

Keeping promises is an excellent way to maintain your credibility. Terrible bosses rarely think through their commitments and make promises too quickly. A bad boss may promise a $10,000 raise immediately when you demand it, rather than taking a day or two to review the budget first. To avoid problems with communication, take a few extra moments to clarify commitments. For example, if you receive a request from an executive, clarify what you will provide — “I will provide a marketing plan regarding the expansion to China by August 31.”

Vague commitments and promises tend to lead to disappointment for everybody.

Featured photo credit: Angry Man/ashishacoway via pixabay.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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