I want to lead, but not like my boss. (Having a bad boss can be a gift.)

Musing for:

“I want to lead, but not like my boss.”

Some lessons are just no fun to learn. Having a bad boss is one of those lessons.

Through no fault of your own, you’re overlooked, neglected, belittled, or maybe even set up for failure.

Depending on your situation, escape may be the right option. If your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health is in danger, protecting yourself may be more important than educating yourself.

But if you have the space to look for the gift or opportunity in your current situation, here are a few ways that having a bad boss can prepare you for a successful leadership career of your own.

1️⃣ Maybe the most obvious thing is that you can learn what not to do. As you observe your boss’s bad behavior, notice the direct tie between specific, observable behavior and the negative outcomes that hurt your boss or the company. Take a note of those so you’ll be ready to see them in yourself or in other leaders who someday report to you.

2️⃣ For the qualities you identify as “bad,” see which of your personal values are being violated. For example, if your boss consistently shows up late to their own meetings, is this irritating your value of punctuality? of faithfulness? of respect? Sometimes knowing what bothers you is a key to learning what is important to you. And being able to articulate your personal values can help you make tough decisions in the future.

3️⃣ Learn to thrive when you don’t have support. If your boss isn’t helping you grow, you’ll be forced to develop your own skills of relationship building and problem solving. Start to build a positive network of allies – not to conquer or overthrow your boss, but to mentor you and help you become someone who helps the company succeed even without your boss’s input.

4️⃣ This one is harder. Honestly evaluate whether you may have misjudged. Is it possible you simply don’t understand your boss’s behavior, and that they’re actually trying to help? I hear many people complain, “My boss makes me do their work, but I don’t get their pay.” They don’t realize that being asked to do some of your boss’s work is part of the preparation and evaluation for a promotion. What might you learn if you simply ask your boss to help you understand what their actions are designed to accomplish?

I’d never wish a bad boss on anyone, but if you have one right now, this may be the time you look back on with gratitude as a turning point in your own leadership journey.

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