What You Can Learn from a Bad Boss

What You Can Learn from a Bad BossGot a Horrible Boss? Well, lucky you!

Stay with me for a minute. The truth is, having a terrible boss early in your career can present a hugely valuable learning opportunity that you might not recognize.

Like most people, I’ve had my share of challenging bosses. Here are three lessons I learned from the experience that you can too:

1. Even bad managers can be right about something (and maybe lots of things).

No detail was too minor for one of my bosses, a real stickler for the small things. If I was sending a fax (yes…that was our speedy mode of communication in the ‘90s), my boss would insist that I type the cover sheet in a particular font size and style, which seemed like a monumental waste of time (but made the fax instantly recognizable as coming from our firm). If I was putting together a luncheon meeting, she wanted a wide variety of details on the restaurant in a written memo even if she’d been there before – from the table layouts to the closest parking lots and what she’d ordered in the past. I frequently had to call a restaurant multiple times to get the information she wanted, but all of that effort always made the actual meeting go more smoothly.

What I learned from this micromanaging was that small things do matter. I learned how attending to the details could bolster my own personal brand as an organized, detail-oriented professional.

No matter how prickly your boss, try to identify a redeeming takeaway, even if it takes a treasure hunt to find it.

2. A bad manager will teach you what NOT to do.

When I was doing research for my book Becoming the Boss, one of the pieces of advice I heard over and over from professionals at all stages of their careers was “I learned how to be a good leader by doing the opposite of what my worst managers did.” I wholeheartedly agree: I once had a boss who paid me monthly. She was always a few days late paying me and would make a big show of the inconvenience of going to the ATM for my cash. I’ve had my own business for 13 years and have never paid an invoice late because I remember how disrespected I felt by her treatment.

Whether your bad manager makes you stay late without notice or takes credit for your work, remember how you feel – and promise that you won’t ever do what is being done to you.

3. A bad manager will allow you to appreciate an awesome one.

The sad truth is that most bosses aren’t good, and that stuns a lot of workers who are just starting out. But whether you work for someone who rivals Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, or a lazy manager who never gives feedback, someday you’ll realize that although bad bosses come in different shapes and sizes, they are often the rule rather than the exception. Recognizing this not only allows you to appreciate a great boss, but also will help you learn to look for red flags when you’re in the interview process in the future – so you can avoid those bad apples from the start.

As you move through your career, you will eventually learn how to deal with difficult people, and if they’re totally toxic you’ll learn to name it as such (it’s them, not you) and move on as fast as you can. But hopefully you’ll take the time to find a silver lining with every bad boss – and file it away for when you’re the one in charge.

What have you learned from your worst manager? Tell us below in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, and the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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