In my career, I have worked for many bad bosses, which left me feeling that there was a gap between the organization’s stated values and the actions of my managers. Almost every colleague or friend I talk to has a story about working for someone seemingly unfit for leadership. Suffering under a bad boss can disengage you from your work and make your career feel stagnant. Yet, even this experience can provide an opportunity for growth. So, what can we learn from a bad boss?
Behavior is a response to environment.
Senior leadership is responsible for culture; management is responsible for climate. When issues in management arise, it’s typically because the organizational culture enables negative behaviors. As long as the culture supports behaviors like pursuing results at any cost, avoiding direct feedback, or micromanaging the team, managers cannot be expected to change. We behave as our environment urges us to. Bad bosses are often a product of their environment.
We think we’re more self-aware than we actually are.
In research conducted by organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich, 95% of her research subjects considered themselves self-aware, but only 10-15% actually were. She found that experience and expertise compounded a person’s lack of self-awareness while at the same time increasing a sense of self-confidence. Her research shows that although we may have high confidence in our own actions, others likely don’t have the same level of confidence in us. Bad bosses, especially after having been around for awhile, may be over-confident in their ability to lead.
We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.
We know what we intend, even if our actions fall short so we often give ourselves grace. But, we can’t see the intentions of others. We only see their actions and tend to pass harsher judgment as a result. What we can learn from bad bosses is that they might not be that bad. Perhaps we might be the ones guilty of judging when what we can do instead is to offer grace and understanding for a boss’s missteps or misguided actions.
What I’ve learned is to look back on my former bad bosses with compassion, and to practice patience and understanding instead. If you currently see your boss as “bad”, consider how you might change your point of view. What might be a motivating factor in the environment? What grace can you give to ease the situation for both of you? How can you help to make things better?
What can we learn from a bad boss? For one thing, they’re human . . . just like us.