What You Can Learn From a Bad Boss

Businessman speaking before inattentive colleagues at meeting
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Many professionals have had the experience of working for a boss who falls short of the gold standard. According to the book "Good Boss, Bad Boss" by Robert Sutton, research from Gallup polls has found that 75 percent of employees cite their supervisor as the number one cause of their workplace stress. The same Gallup polls (which surveyed over 100,000 respondents) found that an employee’s immediate boss has much more of an influence on their performance than the company they work for.

The Effects of Bad Bosses

With a boss playing such a pivotal role in the workplace, it is easy to see how bad bosses can have extremely negative impacts within their organization, causing high rates of employee turnover and forcing some workers to take a leave from work due to stress.

Believe it or not, there is something to be gained from the experience of working for a bad boss; it may seem counterintuitive, but working under a bad boss can actually have a positive effect by sharpening your own management skills and preparing you to take on a managerial role in the future.

Learn What Not to Do

A bad boss provides an object lesson on how not to handle situations while working in a managerial role. You could be a boss yourself one day, and you will hopefully remember not to model your behavior after the bad boss to which you have been subjected. The time you spend in the service of such a manager gives you a front row seat to observe their lack of leadership and poor decision-making skills.

Take these lessons to heart and be a better boss when your turn comes around. Even if you never become a manager, you can learn a great deal about relationships and how to handle stressful situations.

Self-Motivation Helps

A bad boss isn’t going to take the time to provide help or direction, and they certainly won’t bother to be generous in giving praise and encouragement to the workers they are tasked with supervising. This can actually help you to develop your self-motivation, fostering a sense of accountability to yourself for your successes and failures. You won’t be looking to outside sources for validation.

Document your own successes and contributions, and review your list to remind yourself of the good work that you are doing.

Sharper Communication Skills

Difficult managers force you to be clear, concise, and willing to negotiate. They often lack patience, so you have to be able to make your point quickly. You must also learn how to read your manager’s body language, which can be a great nonverbal indicator of how they are reacting to your ideas.

Interpersonal and Conflict-Resolution Skills

Some bad bosses are primed to explode at even the smallest sign of a problem, so it is important that you learn when to pick your battles and when to let the little things go.

Learn to focus on the big picture goals and how to minimize conflict within your organization. Compromising and keeping cool under pressure are critical skills that you must acquire.

Building a Team of Your Own

It is important to remember that there are other employees going through the same situation, and you have the opportunity to support each other in the face of this challenge.

A bad boss can actually motivate members of a team to bond with each other and provide encouragement and assistance since they know that they won’t be receiving positive attention from their superior.

The Bottom Line

While having a bad boss isn’t the ideal situation, you can make the most of it if you are not ready to quit and move on to another organization. Take what you can from the experience, make a note of things that are not working for the bad boss, and use the experience to improve your own management skills.