I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but chances are, you’ll probably have a bad boss at some point in your career. And, while it’s easy to simply chalk the experience up to a rite of passage and move on, there are actually some pretty valuable lessons you can learn from a lousy manager.
After more than 14 years on the job, I’ve had my fair share of lackluster leaders. But, with a little creative interpretation of the situation, I’ve managed to glean a few lessons from those terrible bosses. Read on for a few easy ways to get some good out of a bad manager.
Lesson #1: Don’t Take Things Personally
This is probably one of the most important lessons of the workplace in general, but I didn’t really get it until I had to deal with a terrible boss. I was working on a small team, and my boss was rarely in the office. That meant that whenever he did show up, he had a few weeks’ worth of griping to pile on as soon as he walked through the door. And, since he rarely had a clue of what was going on in the office, the only thing he could really pick apart was us.
At first, I took every criticism to heart. Naturally, I wanted to impress my boss, so I really took every comment personally. Fortunately, after my boss was reaming me out for making a mistake I didn’t actually make, I realized that the title of manager did not equal infallibility. And, more importantly, that whatever he was saying had more to do with his performance than mine.
From that point on, I always reminded myself that any sort of criticism in the office — from a boss or anyone else — should never be taken personally, if I could help it. Sure, sometimes criticism can be constructive—but other times it can be pretty destructive. And if you can learn to look at things objectively, rather than personally, it’s a lot easier to keep your emotions in tact—and hopefully, learn from the experience.
Lesson #2: It’s OK to Question Authority
This probably sounds more like a bumper sticker you’d see in a college town, but it’s also an important lesson I’ve learned from crappy bosses.
For example, a while back I had a manager who really had no business managing anyone. She was in over her head and lacked the requisite experience to manage a team. But, she was our manager, and I initially trusted she must have some idea what she was doing.
Then, one day, we had a meeting with a client I worked with, and she gave him completely wrong information. I assumed she must’ve known something I didn’t, and let it go. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and I spent the next several weeks trying to unwind the tangle she’d put me in.
I realized then that, just because someone is in a position of authority, doesn’t mean he or she knows everything. From that point forward, I stopped assuming the title “manager” was equivalent to “all knowing.” Whenever I thought my boss might benefit from my knowledge or expertise, I didn’t hesitate to offer up my thoughts on how we could approach a situation differently. After all, just because you’re a few rungs below your boss on the corporate ladder, that doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable insight to contribute.
Lesson #3: Ask For What You Want
I learned this one on my first job out of college. I had a boss who was notoriously absent and rumored to not actually know the names of everyone who worked for him (all 12 of us). Since this was my first job out of college, I obviously had a lot to learn, and had assumed that along with knowing everything—because he’s the boss, right?—my boss also knew what I wanted and needed in my career.
Review time rolled around, and I excited awaited his feedback—and crossed my fingers for a promotion. Unfortunately, while the feedback was stellar, the promotion was not part of the discussion. After our meeting, I headed back to my desk, feeling pretty upset. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to chat with my boss at an after work function (read: I’d had a few beers of courage first) and I mustered up the courage to tell him I was hoping for a promotion. He was shocked, and immediately asked me, “Well, why didn’t you say something?”
While it would be nice if all our bosses naturally recognized our talents and rewarded us accordingly, sometimes bosses—especially the crappy ones—need it spelled out for them. If you think you’re doing a bang-up job and deserve a raise, a promotion, or any sort of recognition, you need to be prepared to ask for it. Know your worth, be ready to make sure your boss knows it, too—and you’ll find your career a lot more fulfilling.
Bad bosses are everywhere, unfortunately. But, if you can see your terrible boss from a different perspective, you might just learn something valuable from him or her. Keep these three lessons in mind when coping with a crappy boss, and you’re guaranteed to make some good out of the situation.