24 April 2014

What's your boss like? Are you lucky enough to have a good boss, who communicates clearly and appreciates your work? Or, like too many of us, does your boss suck?

I've had lots of bosses, and most of them have been pretty bad.

But here's the thing. Even bad bosses can have their good points. And even a bad boss can teach you something.

Here are 5 things I've learnt from my bad bosses:

  1. How to say 'I don't understand'. I used to share an office with a boss who used to say this frequently. She'd say it to people like the IT guy, a salesperson - and me. This simple sentence saves time and misunderstandings, because it immediately tells the person that they're using words you don't know (like the IT guy), being too vague about their product (like the salesperson), or is talking through a mouthful of cheese and pickle sarnie (me).
  2. Don't patronise people. I've lost count of the places and people I've worked for who think that treating people like kids is the best way to get decent work out of them. Even a well-intentioned act can backfire - like the time we were given rewards for good work, and it just felt like getting given a lollipop for not crying at the doctors. Thing is, if you treat people like kids they start to act like them. And you don't want people weeing their pants in the middle of a client meeting.
  3. Share the crappy jobs. I've had several bosses who were rubbish in many ways, but still pitched in with the rest of the team when necessary. They've usually been middle managers - their bosses would swan off to the golf course and let the minions do the work. But the managers who stayed and got the job done earned way more respect - and the rank and file staff worked harder for them than for the top brass.
  4. Appreciating people is crucial. One boss I had was useless at every aspect of her job except one - people management. She always praised a job well done, told everyone else who'd worked on a successful project and made sure people felt valued. This covered a whole sea of inadequacies, so that if people noticed them (which was rare) they never mentioned them. You're not going to take a swipe at the person who's bigging you up, are you?
  5. Admit your mistakes. This is one I learnt from my own stint as an inexperienced manager who learnt from bad bosses - although my failings were my own fault. I mean, I could have read a book or looked up HR sites online. But I didn't, and I didn't treat my staff as well as I should have done. Admitting this to them was difficult but they said they appreciated it (although they may well have gone home and bitched about me - I don't know). But now, I hope, I'm a better boss for having cocked things up the first time around.

Have you had a bad boss? Have you learnt anything from him/her?