Friday Reflection – Bad Managers

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One of my favourite work sayings is “Bad managers trump your culture every time” – if you work for a terrible boss in a wonderful company then your experience is likely to be bad – equally you can work for an inspirational boss in an average Company and have a great experience. When talking to someone recently I was therefore surprised when she said she had had the ‘privilege of working for a bad boss’ – the privilege of working for a bad boss.

I thought it was an unusual positive spin on the situation that can be really hard and miserable when you are experiencing it. I have dealt with horrible situations of harassment and bullying and seen the damage this can do to an individual’s self-esteem, mental wellbeing and performance. However, it was her view that during this period of her career working with a terrible leader, whilst it was horrible at the time she learnt a huge about herself from it – not just how she built resilience and managed through adversary but also about the Leader she wanted to become.

When I considered this I also recognised that I have learnt maybe just as much from the poor leaders I have had as I did from the outstanding ones. There is learning in how to manage someone who may approach conflict differently than you etc. I have always tried to adapt to the needs of my leader – I don’t think I have ever had a truly terrible one but many have definitely had faults. As the HR Director, I saw it as my role to help fill the gap left by those faults. In doing this I changed my style and met them where I hoped they needed me to be. This enabled the business to get the best from the skills they brought- playing to their strengths and minimising the impact of their weaknesses.

Here are some of the lessons I learnt from observing some of the less able managers I experienced and seeing their impact on those around them or the shadows they created.

1. I definitely realised that showing vulnerability is a strength (not as my manager thought a weakness),

2. that being present and empathetic to the person and the situation meant you could still be courageous and give clear direction.

3. Recognising that conflict is necessary but the manner in which it takes place is the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one.

I certainly made many mistakes as a manager – at first I was too much of a control freak and micro-manager, whereas now I need to make sure I am giving enough direction and support. But I hope overall I have tried to replicate the great things some of my past leaders did and not ignore the clear lessons from the others. We love helping leaders recognise the impact they have and enabling them to take themselves on further and continue to grow.