We have all had bad bosses — some of us really, really bad bosses. Mistakenly, when a bad boss departs, most of us feel relieved and then get back to work. The mistake is that we waste the leadership education that a bad boss brings. The collective experience of a bad boss is filled with fantastic leadership lessons because it: (1) teaches us what not to do and (2) equally teaches us the importance of a solid leader to deliver a great working environment for a team.
Becoming a better leader is both a study of what to do and what not to do. Do not waste the leadership lessons of a bad boss.
Bad bosses never set out to become bad bosses. A boss evolves into a bad boss because they fail to observe, learn, and try to be a good boss. A bad boss is marked by information hoarding, not sharing credit, inconsistent actions, favoritism, lack of confidence, public shaming of team members, lying, over confidence, and an over display of emotions.
As we become better leaders, we need to have a constant and consistent focus on leadership learning as well as leadership humility. Leadership learning must be within a mindset of humility because even a great leader can be or become a bad leader. A constant focus on leadership learning and leadership humility ensures vital lessons get through and get through consistently.
Good leadership is about consistent, open, and in-depth communication that is equal parts speaking and listening to all employee levels.
Poor communication is one of the hallmarks of a bad leader. Bad leaders do not share executive guidance, hide results, and do not freely share stories, feedback, and customer insight that make a team’s job easier. Importantly, a leader that communicates well spends most of the time listening, learning, asking questions and then speaking their opinion. Vitally important, a great leader listen and speaks to all levels within an organization. A great leader encourages their own and others learning. Speaking without listening, not sharing information, not allowing others to speak openly, and not sharing key insights are a sign of a bad leader.
Good leadership is about open standards applied equally with frequent written coaching that is specific, actionable, and appreciated.
One of the reasons the military produces strong leaders is the use of open standards for the successful performance of a task. In the Army, if I am a 30-day private or a 30-year general, there is one way to load, fire, and qualify safely on my assigned weapon.
The use of open, written, and coached standards of performance for everyone regardless of their level in an organization is a hallmark of a good leadership structure. Leaders that have different standards, inconsistent standards, unspoken standards, or no standards are signs of bad leaders. People and teams perform better when they know the standards, see that the standards are equally applied to all, and specifically know, in writing, what they need to do to be better.
Good leadership is about enabling your team to do their jobs better.
Bad bosses think of themselves as “tellers,” as in “do this” or “do that.” Good bosses think of themselves as enablers as in, “what does your team need to do next?” or, “what resources do you need to accomplish this?” Leaders that enable their teams encourage initiative, strategic direction, customer focus, and strong execution. Bad leaders that dictate, over detail, and micro-manage encourage their teams to be passive, disregard poor consequences, and deemphasize their own initiative. Good leaders enable others to find a path to success are creating a future generation of leaders.
Good leadership recognizes people are an organization’s best resource.
Easily one of the best “tells” of a good leader versus a bad leader is how well they treat others both in public and in private. Good leaders see people as sources of innovation, strategy, ideas, customer focus, and improvement. Bad leaders see people as “necessary” cost centers so “mildly important” job tasks can be accomplished. Treating others well means leading team members to higher performance and setting ambitious goals for the organization. Good leaders realize that treating others well and with respect enables people to create the future and ongoing success of an organization.
Good leadership is a consistent and inclusive leadership style.
A classic bad leader “tell” is the leader that has one style for the office, one style for on the road, one style in front of their boss, another style when they are stressed, and another style for in front of customers. Good leaders are consistent in their leadership style, how they behave in a crisis, how they behave in front of their team, and in front of their boss. The leader that displays the least variation in all situations is a leader that truly embraces example setting because there are being true to their original self. Bad leaders create inconsistency in their leadership styles to “hide” their true self which leaves everyone guessing which “self” of the boss the team will encounter today. To be a great leader, you must be the same leader every day regardless of the stress, environment, and situations occurring around you.
Good leadership publicly embraces mistakes to deliver future solutions.
When I was a second lieutenant (the well-deserved “Butter Bar”) in Korea, I was a mortar platoon leader learning to fire the 4.2” mortar. As I was about to fire, one of my squad leaders noticed that one of my elevation bubbles on my mortar sight was off, and I needed to correct it before firing. Later, at our platoon after action review (AAR) — where we reviewed mistakes and sought corrections — the squad leader and I simultaneously brought up my mistake. This was good for two reasons. First, the squad leader knew he could mention the mistake of a leader in front of the team with no repercussions. Second, I was confident enough that I could admit making a mistake in front of my entire platoon and maintain their respect.
Organizations that are learning, innovating, and pushing boundaries will make mistakes at all levels. The key is embracing the open discussion of mistakes, how to prevent them, and how to take the organization to the next level. The next time you encounter a bad leader, use it as a time to understand how the example of bad leadership can help you become a better leader.
Chad Storlie is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, an Iraq combat veteran, and has 15 years university teaching experience as an adjunct Professor of Marketing. He is a mid-level B2B marketing executive and a widely published author on leadership, logistics, marketing, business, analytics, decision making, military and technology topics.Read comments