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5 Incredible Lessons I Learned from Bad Bosses A Guest Post by Nelsea Fagerlund

Can bad bosses be beneficial to your growth? Can they prepare you for a tough corporate world? Are bad bosses in some way, good for us?

Anyone who has had a long career will tell you, without hesitation, that they have had at least one bad boss during their time. Though I have been blessed to have worked with the most inspiring and supportive bosses, especially in the last three years, I most certainly have had my share of appalling ones too. I could go on and on about how those bad bosses made my life a living hell or due to their unforgiving treatment of me, turned me into this pathetic creature with low self-esteem who fears making mistakes or taking risks in life, but I won’t. Because they didn’t. In actual fact, they had the complete opposite effect.I do not wish to make excuses for their behaviour because it was bullying and I do not tolerate bullying in any way, shape or form, however, in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, who said it much more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” and how true he was.

I am and always have been the type of person who surrounds myself with positive energy and if I so much as sniff a whiff of toxicity, I take myself away from the environment. My motto is ‘don’t suffer for a job.’ Sure, there are several considerations to be had; should there be challenges in the job you love? Milestones to set and goals to reach? Your productivity measured on a daily basis? Most certainly! However, no one should have to deal with people whose high point is to cause people anxiety and stress, to isolate or make them feel worthless.

For those people who are going through this type of treatment now, I say to you stand up for yourself or walk away. I chose either options at one time or another; I spoke up because I had grown bold enough to do so and I walked away because I refused to be treated in any other way than with respect. As horrendous the experiences were, I learned great lessons that I apply into not only my working life, but my personal one as well. The below are lessons I learned and they would greatly benefit current managers or those who are just starting out and aspire to be one.

1. Yelling is the least efficient communication technique in the world! Speak to your staff like they are worth your time, they’ll hear you.

I had a boss who yelled at almost everyone in the establishment. I could tell that the power she derived from yelling at people and causing them to fear her, was like a high for her. It seemed the art of keeping cool, calm and only ever speaking in measured tones, was lost to her.

No one really hears you when you yell; like a child being yelled at, we only hear the noise and instead of concentrating on what is been said, we pay more attention to the grotesque and/or funny expressions on your face as you shout.  For me, the message got lost for a couple of reasons;

  1. The shock I felt at the realisation that someone is actually yelling at me like I was a child.
  2. It’s happening in front of paying customers!

This had me not only flabbergasted by the sheer unprofessionalism of my boss, but I also felt a little embarrassed. I was embarrassed for myself, my boss and the company as a whole.

Yelling, in my opinion, is in no way conducive to positive productivity in the workplace. You’d think this is an obvious statement, but you’d also be amazed at how many managers out there just don’t seem to get it.

2. Gossiping in a way that is apparent to your staff will not make them more productive. Support your staff and do not make them feel alienated.

When my manager at the time, gossiped about me, I was greatly taken aback. I didn’t think bosses were capable of such juvenile behaviour and especially in a working environment. I had this notion that bosses were righteous beings who only do good by you and are the epitome of professionalism. Yes, I was extremely naive. I know.

What affected me most was not the fact that she was gossiping, but that she didn’t bother to try and hide it, which clearly indicated the lack of respect she had for me. I felt Isolated at work and dreaded going into work. I was good at my job and proud of it, regardless of what was going on around me, but her behaviour made me question myself from time to time and also made me wonder what it was I was doing wrong. Since I got positive feedback from the management above her, I just assumed it was personal; that perhaps I just wasn’t her ‘cup of tea,’ which would have been fine – she wasn’t quite mine either. As my manager, however, and if she was unhappy with my performance, why wouldn’t she just come out and tell me? To this day, I do not know the answer to that question.

For a long time I ignored her and her ‘followers’ as much as I could and got on with my work. I never allowed her to see that she got to me. The situation was toxic, but I stayed, which went against my motto – ‘don’t suffer for a job.’ The truth is: I loved that job. The role itself was my dream at the time and by digging a bit deeper within myself each day to not succumb – I stayed.

For someone who was already suffering from depression, I must admit, this experience almost destroyed me and when I felt I earned enough experience from the job, I walked away with my head held high, off to the next adventure. I survived this one.

 3. Constantly blaming others for your mistakes does not erase them. Take responsibility for your own mistakes. There’s no shame in being human.

You’d think that after what happened with ‘the Gossiper’ above, that I’d be least surprised by what bad bosses are capable of. You’re wrong. This experience took the cake, ate it and then took another bloody piece!

I wasn’t long there; as a matter of fact, I was on probation and yet the boss had it in for me from day one! What is it about me and female bosses? Why do they hate me so much?

On the first day, I had a nice gentleman welcome me into the establishment, only for his next words to be ‘run, run as fast as you can!’ At first, I thought he was one of those people in the office who everybody knew as the ‘trouble maker’ and so I ignored his warning, to the detriment of my emotional well-being.

As a new starter, I was not trained and there wasn’t anyone there within my job role, past or present, who could train me, so I had to pick things up pretty quickly on my own; a task that wasn’t too difficult as I had plenty of experience under my belt by this time. My time management skills were excellent and my attention to detail was unrivaled. It was a pretty easy job. However, not even a month into the job and things began to take a turn for the worst; All of a sudden, I was blamed for work that I did not do, which was riddled with mistakes, being told my performance was poor despite numerous praise from clients and colleagues. The list went on. I just couldn’t do anything right. Things got so bad that HR were called in, but with no resolution in sight I turned to the senior manager and again, no one saw my side or refused to. With no proof, what do you do? The only support I got was from the nice gentleman who consoled me with numerous ‘I told you so’s’ and for fear of losing his job, he couldn’t do a damn thing to help me. Needless to say, I did not pass my probation period and I wasn’t surprised. As a matter of fact, I was relieved.

The one good thing I can say about this boss was that she loved the company. I could see the passion she had to do well for the organisation and I commend her for that. However, she didn’t understand, that even if you blame others for your mistakes over and over again, the mistakes do not cease to exist. The mistakes still happened and they still affected the clients. In the end, not only did she let medown, but she also let herself, the company and the clients down.

4.  Belittling and publicly disrespecting your staff will not earn you their respect or trust. Respect your staff regardless of their station. Every role      contributes in some way or another to the company.

Have you had a boss who’s made you feel like you were ten inches tall? I’m talking about a boss that dismisses your views and ideas as unimportant, or who verbally despises you in front of people or constantly threatens to fire you.

Even if your working record is superb, you get on with your colleagues and are always punctual, there are some managers who won’t be satisfied until they see you tremble beneath their cold and demeaning stare. If you’re a smart person, you’ll try not to take it personally and just get on with things, but it’s never quite that easy. As an assertive person, I usually get the need to speak out if something really bothers me or is affecting my work, however, some bosses cannot handle a professional conversation that addresses their working behaviour and its effect on the business as well as staff. So what do you do?

Well there are many smart and reasonable things you can do, but at the time, I didn’t read up on them. I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions or words, I didn’t call for a meeting with the boss so we could quietly and sensibly iron out our differences and I most certainly didn’t bite my tongue. After months of being humiliated, being belittled and verbally abused and holding myself back with the greatest effort I could muster, I regret to say that I finally reacted. I think my mouth reacted way before my brain knew what was going on. I couldn’t stop it. As I stood there in front of my colleagues and this woman. Trying to control myself as she’s telling me with disgust displayed plainly on her boneless face, that I must have gotten my diploma from a backstreet bin in London instead of a reputable college in The Netherlands! “Shut up!” I immediately yelled out.  After a short pause and this is what I really regret, I said “Go home and get laid woman, you need it!”

I felt the whole room stare at me, everyone was gob-smacked – including myself. My boss looked as if someone had slapped her unexpectedly and in a poetic justice kind of way, I guess I had done just that. But as much as I regret my words and the way they were delivered, I had never felt so good. I felt, for want of a better word, free.

To my surprise I wasn’t fired, but I didn’t stay either. I needed to be around positive people with far less personal issues that they didn’t require to belittle others in order to feel good about themselves.

5. Openly showing favouritism to your staff and patronising them just shows immaturity and inexperience in leadership. Recognise the value of each of your staff

Okay, everyone has a favourite at work and at home. Even parents with more than one child, will have a favourite, even though they would never admit it. As a manager, showing favouritism at the workplace can have a negative effect on the harmony in the office, especially when it is explicit.  Why? It causes low levels of staff morale, promotes bitterness between colleagues, hinders productivity and definitely puts the ‘me’ in team.

A manager is meant to be fair and whether they have a favourite or not, they must appear impartial. At my second job of my entire career, I had the displeasure of working with a boss who insisted on giving me the least desirable assignments including doing their laundry, which, the last time I checked, was the responsibility of a different department entirely! If we were in an office of say, ten or twenty people, then maybe I wouldn’t have been affected too much, but we were in an office of 3…I was most definitely the third wheel. To add insult to injury, her ‘pet’, took it upon herself to patronise me at least 75% of the time, as if people straight out of college are caged baboons and it was my first day being human.

So what did I do? I nipped this baby in the bud! I saw myself working there for quite some time and I did not want this inappropriate behaviour to continue. I asked for a meeting with the manager and explained to her how I felt. She resented me for speaking up – I could tell from the body language – but she apologised and promised to change things from then on. Sadly, things went on as if our conversation never took place, so I reminded her again, this time in writing. I was offered the same empty promises. Towards my third month, nothing had changed so I decided to take a slightly different tactic. I politely asked her if it was possible to have a meeting together with herself and her boss in order to finally close this issue that was hindering my chances of progression within the company. Needless to say, I woke up each morning finally looking forward to going to work and in later months, I arranged some fun team bonding activities which helped in washing away any ill feelings.

Displeasing as this experience was, I later realised that my boss was not a bad person, but perhaps just needed a bit of training in positive leadership.

I could not go into greater detail in this article as I do not wish to taint anyone’s reputation, however, the experiences mentioned above, were very upsetting, depressing and at times, soul crushing. I have come to accept them as part of life and consider myself blessed to have gone through them and survived. They have made me stronger and a little less naive. I have had a hand in supervising people in the past and at difficult times in my career, I find myself giving thanks to all that I have learned from the great bosses I have ever worked with, but some credit must also go to those bosses who strove to make my life a living hell and failed. After years of growing and learning, taking or dodging the ‘punches’ – I can finally say – I am exactly where I want to be.

“A Leader influences and inspires the uninspired. A Boss threatens and bullies the uninspired.” ~ Ty Howard.

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