The Good Things You Can Learn From Bad People

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Oct 21, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Sometimes, the bad guy wins.

Clients often ask me for advice on how to deal with highly political people who are not very good at anything other than managing up. And it’s especially frustrating because it seems to be working really well for them.

We’ve all seen these people. We all dislike these people.

I have always had a very simple approach here:

Don’t waste time resenting the success of those who don’t deserve success. See what you can learn instead.

Learn something

I have worked in the presence of many people who were super successful, while seeming entirely undeserving of that success — and all of the rest of us were left wondering, “How could that possible be working for them?”

It seems very unfair when people without big talent but who are very politically agile succeed. Or, when people are quite talented but are horrible people, dishonest, or vain and abusive to others, but seem to get ahead anyway.

It’s interesting to me that on my member Coaching Hour Calls, so many of the issues members bring up are about how to deal with truly horrible bosses or peers. Sadly there are a lot of them out there.

Throughout my career when I would see someone who was more successful than me, but I couldn’t stand them, this was my strategy:

Never begrudge anyone their success. Learn something instead. I have learned a lot from people that I would never dream of modeling my behavior after I realized that I could separate the learning opportunity from the personality.

You don’t have to copy the style to learn from it

When you see someone who is really good at managing up, or really good at winning over a crowd, but who in reality is an awful person, or who has no real content to back up what they are saying, put your distaste aside and focus finding something you can learn.

Yes, they are doing something that you can learn something fr.

It might be the way they are talking. It might be the type of people they are engaging. It might be the style of words they are using. It might be the relationships they have built in the background that have nothing to do with what they are talking about in the moment.

Once you stop focusing on everything that is wrong with this person, and focus on discerning something specific they are doing effectively, you can start to learn things.

Then you can ask yourself:

Is there any part of what I have learned that I can use in a way that has integrity for me?

Succeeding with integrity

I would find that at this point, one of two things would happen:

  1. I would learn something interesting about how to address or motivate a particular audience — AND I could conceive of a way to apply that learning with my own style and values — a vastly different style that would be authentic to my brand and have integrity for me.


  1. I would learn that whatever they were doing to get their success was something I would never do, such as being purely self-serving, hurting others, or outright lying.

But I still learned something — I learned that because of my values I might be blocked from that particular type of success, and that was OK. But, it would challenge me to go back and think about if there might be another way entirely to get a similar outcome with integrity.

In any case, when I focused my energy on learning, instead being angry or resentful, I found that to be a much better use of energy.

Simply begrudging someone of their success, even if they don’t deserve it, does nothing to move your own career forward.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.