HR Insights, HR Management

The Real Value of Bad Bosses? They Make You Appreciate the Good Ones

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Remember when you were younger and you wanted to be older?

Remember how your mom/dad/aunt/grandma/trusted adult told you, “This is the best time of your life! Don’t rush it!

Remember how you didn’t quite believe that, but now that you’re a little (or a lot) older, you realize maybe there was some truth to what your mom/dad/aunt/grandma/trusted adult said?

Pining for all the good bosses

Or, remember when Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi 

Don’t it always seem to go,

That you don’t know what you’ve got

‘Til it’s gone …”

Yeah, working for a jerk kind of feels like that.

Working for a jerk can make a person pine for all the good bosses (and even some not-so-good bosses) she ever had, in ways she never would have thought possible.

Trust me on this.

So, if you’re working for a good boss, I entreat you to treasure this time in your life, because odds are, an a-hole manager is just around the corner. And at some point while toiling under the a-hole manager, you’ll long for the “good old days,” and you shouldn’t be taken aback by these feelings. They are both natural and predictable.

Here’s all the stuff you’ll be yearning for:

Reasonable and rational discussions

With a good boss, you can have a conversation and it actually makes sense. There’s a true give and take and a logic to the interaction that results in a problem being resolved, a problem being averted, or maybe, an increased mutual understanding and appreciation for each of your persons.

Regardless, it’s nice and you’re going to miss it.

Honesty

A-holes, jerks, bullies, narcissists, and other undesirables thrive on confusion, manipulation, and deceit. When they aren’t creating it, they’re using it to their advantage.

So whether taking pains to hide their true motives or just hanging out and messing with your mind a little, these shape shifters are about as interested in honesty as a teenage boy is interested in chastity.

Put another way, if you value transparency and work for a bad boss, you may have to hold that thought for a moment, or find your “truth fix” outside the office.

And as such, it’s only a matter of time before you begin looking back on all those straight forward, no-hidden-agenda conversations with your previous good bosses with fondness — even as you want to weep a little.

Letting your guard down

When reporting to the worst of the bad bosses, i.e., He or She Who Is Not To Be Trusted Under Any Circumstances, your guard must be up at all times or you’re liable to become a victim.

Working in a psychologically unsafe environment leaves you with few alternatives in this regard, but constant vigilance can become tiresome and a bit depressing, too.

And when your work situation is challenging you for all the wrong reasons, it’s a no brainer that you’ll look back and sigh. Oh, for the days when you spent more time on work, work rather than the work of managing your boss’s aggression. Good times!

Mentorship and teamwork

Egotistical, control-freak managers aren’t big on sharing. Instead, they’ll hoard their time, talent, and experiences, doling them out (with the proper amount of condescension, of course) or those rare occasions when they’re feeling magnanimous. Or maybe bored. (Who the heck knows?)

The point is, you’re sure to learn from a jerk boss but it’ll be despite his or her best efforts, and, minus any sense of cooperation or camaraderie.

And when all this comes after working with a fantastic boss who knew a lot and was gifted at teaching, you won’t be able to stop yourself from noticing the difference.

What’s the silver lining?

It has been mentioned before here on TLNT, but even bad bosses have value. And the one thing they’re really good for is encouraging you to appreciate all the decent bosses out there.

So, whether you’re viewing your decent boss from across the hall or in hindsight, go ahead and appreciate him (or her).

And then know — this too shall pass.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.