Friday, October 14, 2011

Got a Bad Boss? Do the Opposite

One of the best ways to learn leadership is from your bosses – both good and bad ones. It’s a pretty simple technique – emulate the good ones and do the opposite of the bad ones.

Given that most of us will be lucky to have had the opportunity to work for even one great leader, the majority of our leadership lessons will have to come from the bad bosses.

Here’s a 10 examples of “do the opposite” lessons I’ve learned from former bad bosses:

1. The boss who never comes out of his/her office: the importance of being visible, communicating, and connecting with your employees. 

2. The boss that plays obvious favorites: the importance knowing how to objectively assess performance, and basing rewards and recognition, assignments, and promotions on actual merit, not who sucks up the best.

3. The boss that never accepts responsibility for failure or mistakes: the importance of being accountable.

4. The boss who talked a good game but couldn’t execute: the importance of paying attention to the details, planning, and change management.

5. The boss with a temper: the importance of staying calm under fire.

6. The gossiping boss: the importance of discretion and confidentiality.

7. The “retired on the job” boss: the importance of always staying energetic, positive, competitive, and maintaining your physical fitness and appearance.

8. The know-it-all boss: the importance of genuine listening, and being open to learning.

9. The unethical boss: the importance of always doing the right thing, even when no one’s looking. Rule of thumb: would I be comfortable if my decision ended up published in the local/company newspaper?

10. The “buzz kill” boss: the importance of being aware of the effect you have on your employees, though your actions, words, and especially your reactions to their suggestions, accomplishments, or concerns.

How about you? What “do the opposite” lessons have you learned from a bad boss? Once you’ve identified those lessons, then just do what George Constanza did, and you’ll be the one getting those cards and thank-you's on Bosses Day!

Note: This Sunday, October 16, 2011 is National bosses Day (it’s actually observed on Monday). How about taking a moment to let your boss (and/or a former boss) know about something they do or did that you appreciate? Better yet, give your favorite boss a copy of Art Petty’s new book, Leadership Caffeine, Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development. Or just say thanks and buy the book for yourself – it’s a keeper, I’d highly recommend it. (-:


Craig Juengling said...

Dan, great post. I have 2 clients I am coaching now, both work for a large utility company. Culture of the company is such they do little to recognize and reward outstanding performance(a key driver of engagement). I keep telling them they "should be the island of excellence in the sea of mediocrity".

Your post says is all and then some.


Theresa Valade said...

I couldn't agree more Craig and Dan! Employee engagement is key. I'm coaching a management team right now who is struggling with a boss who doesn't plan ahead - you know the type - shoots from the hip and then gets angry when his team doesn't do what he was expecting (something he never communicated). Communication and trust are the foundation of what makes a good leader rather than a bad boss.

Chris Marshall said...

Awesome post! All of these are very important ideas. I feel that leaders need to be "better and different", and this fits right in. Great read!

Dan McCarthy said...

Craig -
Thanks, I love your quote.

Theresa -
Thanks, and another good example of how coaches can help.

Chris -

clayton said...

Great post. Some of the items in the list make me laugh because I know someone like that. Some of them are challenging because they hit close to home with my leadership struggles. Great series we made and continue to work on called LeaderSkilz. Check them out:LeaderSkilz: Micromanage

Dan McCarthy said...

Clayton -
BTW,I'll give you the free link and plus becuase you at least took the time to actually read the post and leave a relevant comment. (-:

clayton said...

Thanks, Dan!
Hope you find a moment to watch the short video.

p.s., well done on the incorporation of a great Seinfeld clip in your leadership insight post.

Ciphr said...

Great read! I remember my previous boss, he seldom talks but when he does, he always makes us awe and I admire him for that. Just sharing, anyway good post here! :)

Dan McCarthy said...

Ciphr -

Jerry Hingle said...

Hi Dan, this is an interesting post especially from the bosses point of view. I also enjoyed the reference to Seinfeld!

Michael Wade said...


I hesitate to post because this is one of the few times when I would voice a dissent on your excellent blog. The opposite of the bad boss's practices sometimes just produces another version of poor management. Sometimes it is wise to engage in a variation of a practice that we'd normally avoid; e.g. being autocratic or engaging in gossip. That's why being a boss is so difficult. You have to make the tough calls and the one constant has to be to foster trust via ethics and competence.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


Dan McCarthy said...

Jerry -
Thanks, I love those classic Seinfelds!

Michael -
Please, feel free to dissent anytime! Sure, effective leadership can never be so simple as "doing the opposite", but it helped me reflect on some of the lessons I've learned from previous managers. Actually, I don't think I had a really "bad" boss, all were just well meaning but perhaps flawed. Aren't we all.
Keep up the great work over at execupundit, one of my favorites.

Steven said...

What a fantastic list, Dan. There's often too much of an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality when it comes to bosses, but you're right - the leader who "does the opposite" (or "does a Constanza!") is likely to be the one who stands out from the crowd.

Dan McCarthy said...

Steven -
Thanks! Although your comment made me think - I wonder how many managers, if not exposed to anything different (though other role models, training, books) do go ahead and follow in their bosses footsteps?

Ken Schulz said...

One thing you may want to try is to figure out what makes your boss "tick." It is a simple idea but identifying your Boss's Social Style and adapting accordingly may help.