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Seven Useful Lessons You Can Learn from a Bad Boss

Seven Useful Lessons You Can Learn from a Bad Boss
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Why you can trust poor leaders to be sound teachers

    Macho, insensitive bosses share certain characteristics. Their behavior is arrogant, quick-tempered and controlling. Their motives are typically selfish and manipulative. They show little concern for others and few signs of understanding why others don’t trust them. Most of all, they are quite unaware of their failings and the impact they have on their subordinates. No only do they see no need to change, they often make their high-handed behavior a source of pride.

    That’s why you can trust them to be some of your best teachers about productivity and success.

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    Before you decide that I’ve lost my mind, I’ll explain.

    Most human beings are amazingly consistent in the way they behave. That’s why we can say of some action, “That isn’t like you,” or “It’s so out of character.” Without that consistency, such a remark would be pointless. And amongst the most consistent groups of all are those who spend least time in any kind of introspection: the extreme extroverts, the loud, slap-you-on-the-back hearty types, the arrogant, the pompous, the selfish and the self-centered — the people who, if they become bosses, are most likely to prove to be bad ones.

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    Powerful lessons from powerful (and hopelessly unaware) people

    Bad bosses can become useful teachers precisely because their behavior tends to be so consistently bad. You can be fairly sure of their motives and intentions, which allows you to compare cause (what they did and probably why they did it) with effect (how it turned out).

    The pompous boss, convinced of her superiority and the rightness of whatever she does; the lazy boss, sure that status confers the right to live off other people’s efforts; the rigid, controlling boss, firm in his belief that all subordinates are incompetent without his oversight; all of these (and many more) hold to their actions so tenaciously — and are so blind to what they are doing — that they will provide some of the best lessons in what not to do that you will ever be offered.

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    Here are seven of the lessons you might come across, beginning with productivity:

    • See how much effort bad bosses have to use to make things happen their way; effort that would be unnecessary if they behaved better — all that time spent micro-managing and checking; all the ranting and raving to reduce others to obedience; all the lies and stratagems needed to manipulate others instead of asking them openly.
    • See how others react to them; how people become adept at sabotaging their efforts and undermining their success. Even when they dare not oppose the boss openly, subordinates will show great ingenuity in finding other ways to frustrate them.
    • Look at the effect bad bosses have on trust — how this type of behavior ruins relationships with customers as well as employees. Once discovered, as it always is in the end, cynical manipulation renders future trust impossible too.
    • What about the impact on motivation? Consider how you feel if you find yourself going along with the boss’s bad behavior. Do you feel motivated or depressed? Does it make you want to exert yourself or limit your output to no more than is needed to preserve your safety and career prospects?
    • Rigidity next. Most macho bosses see changing a poor decision as an unacceptable sign of weakness. How many times have you seen a bad leader produce disaster from what could have been a triumph, simply because he or she refused to admit to — and change — a bad decision?
    • Take some time to consider what survival in the lifestyle of a bad boss demands. Is that how you would be willing to live? Are the rewards they get worth what they have to do to get them?
    • Most important, observe the way bad bosses are regarded by those above them. Are they genuinely fooling the top dogs about their weaknesses? Or are those executives simply playing the same game — but far better — manipulating middle and junior managers to enhance their own positions, then throwing them to the wolves when they become too much of an embarrassment?

    I’m sure you can think of many more situations where a bad boss has taught you a valuable lesson. Observing and learning from others’ mistakes is as important as learning from your own — and a good deal less painful.

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    Besides, the macho tough guys can never admit to being wrong. They can’t learn from their own mistakes. Since you can, it’s an advantage you can use for all it’s worth.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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