Talent Management

5 Great Things You Can Learn by Working For Bad Bosses

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“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher

Most articles about bad bosses say that the best thing you can learn from them is how not to manage employees. Can’t disagree with that!

But aside from that, there are some other things you can learn from a bad boss that you can’t learn from a good boss.

Tim Sackett wrote a post about some of them here at TLNT. Here’s what he says:

Working at really great companies gives you an opportunity to work in “Utopia” — you get to see how things are supposed to work, how people are supposed to work, how in a perfect world it all fits together.

The reality is we don’t work in “Utopia” (at least the majority of us don’t). We work in organizations that are less than perfect, and some of us actually work in downright horrible companies. Those who work in horrible companies and survive tend to be better hires — they have battle scars and street smarts.”

5 things you can learn

In a New York Times interview with Mark B. Templeton, President and CEO of Citrix, he talks about what he looks for in job candidates.

I look for scars. You can call it wisdom, you can call it experience, or the things that went wrong in your life. That’s where I think knowledge turns into wisdom. A lot of people will have facts and information. I’m looking for wisdom, and wisdom ends up being a measure of scars, and things that went wrong and what you did about them and how they shaped you as a person and your beliefs.”

So, here are the five (5) things you can learn from a bad boss:

  1. You must do your best work — always. You don’t have room for error — ever. You learn to check everything 4, 5, 6, and 7 times. You know the penalty for screwing up is … not pleasant. It’s the stick versus the carrot, and you learn it pretty quick.
  2. You learn how to be creative. You don’t have enough time or information to do your job. You don’t ask for help from your boss. You learn to “make do.” You learn to be innovative and to use your investigative skills to source information any way you can. You learn that 80 percent of the information available is enough.
  3. You learn how to protect yourself. You learn how to fly under the radar as much as possible. At the same time, you learn how to play politics if necessary. And you realize that you have no one to “watch your back.” Your boss will not support you;  in fact he or she may join the others ready to have your head if you screw up. Be nice to his/her allies/friends — and walk the other way when you see his or her enemies.
  4. You learn how to “read” people and situations. You learn to recognize your boss’ moods — the good, bad and the ugly. And you learn to adjust your behavior accordingly. You learn how to do the same when in meetings with them. By correctly reading his or her moods, you are less likely to step on land mines or trigger a temper tantrum. This ability to read situations actually turns out to be an asset in the long term. It will serve you well in your career to be able to read situations/people and know how to work with them.
  5. You learn the value of having close working relationships. Many time you form close relationships with your co-workers. You look out for help and commiserate with each other. Because of your shared experience, many of these relationships are long-lasting and follow you throughout your career. It’s like having been a Marine. Semper fi.

Learning in spite of the abuse

OK, before you get all “huffy” and mutter to yourself “she’s crazy,” let me say that I am absolutely not recommending you purposely seek out bad bosses to work for so you can gain this knowledge. But if you happen to find yourself in this situation, understand that it is a personal decision as to whether you stay or go.

Ask yourself, “Are there enough positives and opportunities in this job/company that are worth my staying?” If not, leave.

If yes, tell yourself you are choosing to do this for now, and if you ever decide you can’t take it any longer, then you can leave. You need to know yourself well enough to understand when that time comes. You certainly don’t want to stay until they carry you out of your office on a gurney!

Remember, the people that continued to work for Steve Jobs after he verbally abused them? There were many that left — but there were also many that stayed, too. They chose to do so because they were learning something in spite of the abuse.

HR might not understand that reasoning, but it was their choice. And apparently it worked for them.

Remember: Paul Schoemaker said, “The school of hard knocks is a great teacher, even if the tuition is very high, precisely because the lessons make such a deep imprint.”

Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has over 20 years’ experience in International Human Resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. Jacque has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at jvilet@viletinternational.com.
  • Laurie

    I couldn’t have written this better myself! I lived in the environment you describe and credit my bad boss for helping me to hone my best skills. If you come out of a bad boss situation without having learned the 5 things mentioned here…you have wasted your time!