Thank you to all the horrible bosses I’ve had through the years. You’ve made me into a great boss by setting an example of what not to do and fostering a determination to do better by my staff. Actually, I’ve had so many examples of poor management above me that it’s been a wealth of training.
As Christina Aguilera sand in “Fighter,” my negative experiences made “me that much smarter.” I, too, want to thank those I’ve learned from for making me stronger, more confident and supportive of anyone reporting to me. Here are lessons I’ve learned from my more egregious bosses:
Your staff might not do things the same as you would, but that doesn’t make it wrong. One boss always rewrote whatever I drafted and presented it back with catty comments like “I didn’t like the way you did it, but at least you saved me time doing the research.” She played with my self-esteem and had me convinced I couldn’t do anything right. I’ve had staff do projects completely different than I would have done them. But, if the project meets expectations and presents the information accurately, who is to say your way is better? If you do need to change things, make sure they understand why.
Be there if your team needs helps with issues, but don’t micro-manage when they don’t need your input. I talked to my boss about a project that was stalled and asked for help, a rare request from me. For more than two months, I followed up weekly and he kept doing nothing. When the deadline for implementation finally approached, the questions got answered with no time to resolve the problems for which we were blamed. In another situation, I asked a different bad boss to come to a meeting with me that promised to be contentious; he replied that he wouldn’t stick his neck out. My former staff all knew if they ask me to step in, I will. If you need me to attend a meeting as back up, just ask.
Always be polite and respectful. This should go without saying, but I’ve had bosses who were so puffed up with the grandiosity of their role they expected everyone to kowtow to their whims and cancel anything they were doing for them. One woman, who actually yelled at me in front of people, was known for bullying her staff as well as expecting any meeting or plans to be cancelled immediately if she needed something, whether critical or not. An emergency is one thing, but daily fire drills show a lack of respect for others’ time.
Be honest and forthright with your staff on changes coming. The rumor mill usually does a good job of telling your staff there are restructurings or layoffs imminent. I told once boss that my staff knew we were moving to another department, and asked when she was going to tell us. And, yes, as a former HR manager I know you can’t always say everything. But, share whatever information you can so they know what rumors may be true and that you can be trusted.
Get to know your staff as people. A good boss truly cares about their employees, and strives to support them. Use your listening and observation skills to get to know each team member’s strengths and interests, what motivates them, and anything going on in their lives that may be affecting them. You are dealing with people who have lives outside the office. One recent boss didn’t show any concern or follow up when I said going to several upcoming appointments with specialists for my daughter. You don’t have to discuss your personal life with your boss, but it would have been nice if he cared enough to ask if the problem with my daughter was serious.
Talk with your staff throughout the year, not just at review times. There should be nothing surprising in a performance review. I typically ask staff to tell me what they think I wrote before I show it to them. In nearly all cases, they paraphrase my assessment. So, it’s clear they knew the positives and negatives long before year-end reviews came around. I’ve had bosses who didn’t schedule 1-on-1 meetings with me for months on end. One bad boss actually left my review on my desk for me to read rather than take time to talk with me (and that was in Human Resources!).