Bad Boss, Great Teacher — Lessons In Real Leadership


Do you hate Mondays? I don’t, but there was a time when I did. Back then, the Monday blues would start on Sunday. And with each passing hour, the dread would settle in further, culminating at bedtime when I’d be in a full-blown depression. It wasn’t the job I hated. I had a good team and had established great relationships with most of my colleagues. I hated Mondays because I worked for someone who would come to be the worst boss I have ever had.

Even though I didn’t enjoy working for them at the time, I’ve come to realize there were valuable lessons learned during those long days about what real leadership is. Like many lessons in life, sometimes the moral of the story can be hard to fully grasp until you have firsthand experience for comparison. Here’s what I learned:

1. Real leaders don’t micromanage.

This is a biggie, and there is plenty of information showing how detrimental it can be to your organization and the health of your employees. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when you will have to performance-manage a direct report: the same mistakes are repeatedly made, work is sub-par, etc. But performance management should be about setting your employee up for success, and it should have a definite timeframe when improvement is expected. Otherwise, the employee is the wrong fit and you should make a more permanent decision about their future in that role or in the company.

Performance management is completely different than micromanagement. Watching and criticizing every little thing an employee does and removing all autonomy from their job is the textbook definition of micromanagement. And in my opinion, it says more about the boss than the employee they’re managing. It’s all about their insecurities, their inability to delegate and their inability to build people as professionals. And what about the person who’s being micromanaged? They feel demoralized, belittled and disengaged — the opposite of what most leaders want from their teams.

2. Real leaders set clear expectations.

Employees shouldn’t have to guess what success means in their role. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure success metrics are clear. In my situation, the goal post was constantly changing depending on the moods and whims of my boss. I would routinely hear things like, “Yes, you hit the ball out the park on this major thing, but this minor thing wasn’t done so I’m not pleased.” This left me wondering, “Wait, when was this other thing a thing?” This is the definition of dysfunction and it creates an environment no one wants to work in.

3. Real leaders have a life outside of work.

I’ve discussed this in a previous article. My worst boss ever had no life. I’m not going to get into too many personal details, but it was bad. The texts and emails would start at 5:00 a.m. — with the expectation that I respond immediately. This was constant throughout the entire day (refer back to point No. 1) and continued late into the night. Weekends were not off limits. Neither were Friday nights nor Sunday mornings. It was brutal.

If you don’t have a life that you love outside of work, you won’t appreciate that others have lives, too. You likely won’t respect vacations either. Without that downtime, how can you possibly expect your team to be on their A-game when it matters most? Real leaders are well-rounded individuals who respect — and encourage — time away from the office.

4. Real leaders don’t sabotage their team and direct reports.

Does the term “being thrown under the bus” ring any bells? If you’ve been there, you’ll never forget it. I have, and it was awful. If you’re not setting your team and direct reports up for success, you’re doing it all wrong. You shouldn’t have to dim someone else’s light so yours can shine brighter. Real leadership is giving your team everything they need to be great, removing obstacles to greatness and giving them all the credit they’re due.

As I look back over what was a very dark time working for this boss, I can now say thank you. Thanks for showing me clear and concrete examples of how not to lead and manage my team. Thank you for giving me the perspective needed to understand and appreciate when I’ve had the opportunity to work for amazing people. If you’re working for someone who is making you dread Mondays, don’t be a victim. Start brushing up your skills, dust off your resume and make a change. We spend more time at work than we do with our families. Don’t waste it working for a bad boss.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *