Summer Leadership Series - Challenge #2: Congratulations on working for a bad manager

June 29, 2018

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Welcome to challenge #2 of our summer series focusing on the topics of leadership and management.  (Review the first challenge from last month's blog, "The Guppy Syndrome")


I have been thinking about bad managers lately.  The topic has come up quite a few times as folks have been sharing how much they don't enjoy working for their current boss.  It has been for a variety of reasons....their manager doesn't know how to lead and/or is uninspiring....or their manager has no clue what their folks do/has never done their direct reports role (so can't help coach them).  Some feel their manager doesn't seem (and sometimes isn't) as smart as they are. Whatever the reason, work life just wouldn't be complete without a bad manager at some point, and to that I say congratulations!  Yes, congratulations on working for a bad manager....because, I believe you can learn from bad managers as well as the good ones!

My first bad manager experience happened three years into my career.  I will never forget the meeting, location and what was said.  Our district manager at the time was hosting an offsite leadership meeting for his direct reports.  While we were covering a controversial topic, one of the unit managers started to complain quite a bit.  At which point the leader turned to him and shouted,  "Vince, if you don't like it you can get the @#@$!% out!"

What?  Did he say what I just thought he said?  The room went silent and everyone immediately shut down.  Now, you may be thinking that isn't so bad/you have experienced far worse, but for me at the ripe old age of 24, it was a wake up call.  I made a decision right then that I would never do that when I became a leader.  It was both shocking and helpful all at the same time, and eventually the learning made it's way into my top ten leadership beliefs:  "Never tire of doing what is right, even when it's unpopular."    

Over the years, that leadership principle was helpful often, and certainly when dealing with my last bad manager.  He got so angry at one of my team leaders for disagreeing with him in a meeting, he almost passed out.  At which point I had to leave the meeting with him, and outside the meeting room he told me to go back in and fire that team leader on the spot.  I told him I wouldn't. While not a popular response to my boss, it was the right thing to do!    

Truth is, over my 30 year career working for others, I have had far more good and great managers than bad, for which I am truly grateful.  However getting a bad one early in my career was a good experience, because it not only taught me what I didn't want to do, it reminded me that I am responsible for my career, where I work and who I work for.  No one else.  And if it was not a good fit, then I needed to do something vs complain and/or be a victim.  

If you are currently working for a less-than-ideal manager, please consider:

  1. You may still be able to learn/apply something
  2. You may need to take the lead and be responsible for addressing the issue
  3. You likely will need to put boundaries in place
  4. You may need to find another option/leave

If you choose number two, we have an effective seven step conflict resolution process taught in our workshops on how to lead such a discussion.  

If you are interested in learning more, please contact us!

And stay tuned for next month's blog when we will dive deeper into this topic.   

Summer Leadership Series - Challenge #2:

  1. What have you learned from bad managers? 
  2. How have you incorporated those learnings into your leadership principles? 
Kate Johnson
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