What You Can Learn from a Bad Boss | Lindsey Pollak's Blog

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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  1. Alexandra H says:

    I learned from my manager, how important is to listen to others and I also learned that people may use words differently and we can interpret them in a wrong way. So, before judging someone or becoming defensive, one should ask questions and to make sure that he/she understood the issue.

  2. James Davis says:

    Great tips. These tips are very helpful for the candidates who thinks that their boss is a bad person. In-fact they should try to learn something from their bad boss that why is he behaving in such a manner might be he wants to teach you something.

  3. I learned from my bad bosses not to micromanage people & tell people what you appreciate about them. I also learned not to show favoritism.

    • Dee says:

      I learned a similar lesson as well. I learned that if a supervisor or manager is on friendly terms outside of the workplace with her subordinates, that sometimes the line is crossed from subordinate supervisor relationship to friendships and therefore when another employee has an issue that needs to be addressed with a supervisor that issue is overlooked and disregarded because the friendship she has with other subordinates gets in the way of her clear judgment. I learned in this case that the supervisor overlooked the mistakes and improper behavior and allowed her posse of favorites to get away with many time and attendance issues and overlook their imperfections where buy over-emphasizing any mistakes as minor as they may be and chastising other subordinates not in her posse in a disrespectful unprofessional manner. I also learned that I could not trust my supervisor so the only choice I had was to address my concerns with our Union leadership which they were not happy with. From that moment on I was targeted and retaliated against and it got so toxic that my health was at risk and I started to lose time because of my medical issues related to the toxic environment. Now that I have solidified a transfer within my company which I am very excited about I have two weeks left in my current office and the supervisor and her posse are doing everything they can to get to me too piss me off annoy me Etc. That shows me the unprofessionalism the disrespect and the disdain and hatred they have towards me and individual who worked my butt off goes above and beyond every single day but doesn’t seem to be good enough because I don’t choose to be an ass kisser. All I wanted was to be treated fairly and in a professional respectful manner. I have learned what not to be and who I do not want to be based upon the evil toxic environment I am getting ready to leave. My confidence in my abilities has taken a hit but I believe I have a good foundation to be a good leader and to give props and kudos where it is do instead of taking credit for someone else’s hard work.