The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

2 thoughts on “The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

  1. Thank you Dr. Gottschalk. I have worked for many wonderful and many not so wonderful bosses, as I am sure we all have. My best and favorite person that I have been privileged to work for once called me to his office to give him information on a subject I was trained in. I suppose I seemed surprised he didn’t know the answers, and I did. When the conversation was over he told me “I don’t know everything, I don’t have to, that is why I have the best and brightest staff around me. You guys make me look smart.” It was at that time that I knew this was by far the best leader ever. He was smart and in charge, but he always made us feel and know that without his staff he was just another businessman with questions. I have used his teaching and his mentorship throughout my career since then. He is the way all leaders should be – human, humble and honest. He made me want to follow him and that is the mark of a true leader. He took great pride in who worked for him, what we accomplished as a team, and how important we all were to his success and the success of his business. I thank you every day Harry. Your actions still make me smile.

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