RRGwrites

On life…and learning

What I Learnt From My ‘Not-So-Great’ Bosses…

with 7 comments

Lessons Learned RRGwrites

We all love to talk about our Bosses, don’t we? And Lord knows, a minority of of us would regard our bosses as good leaders. When I wrote my earlier blog – ‘What My Great Bosses Taught Me’ – many of the readers asked me, “Hey, what about the bad bosses?”

So here it is…

The matter of fact is, I never had a really bad boss. Truly! That said, I have had my fair share of bad apples – a very insecure boss, another one who was ill-mannered and one who was simply incompetent for his job. However, none of them were awful enough for me to either loather or run away from them. In fact, I performed better under a couple of them, and was more successful under one of the tougher nuts.

There are many things I learnt from my great managers. The earlier blog enlists those. However, I learnt lot many more things from my, should I say, not-so-great bosses. A learning that proved invaluable in my later years; both, as a professional and as a people leader. Some of them were very simple, practical things and few were too profound a learning…

They are:

  1. Don’t reply to an unfavourable email in a hurry; wait till evening at least. That helps my hyper-reaction settle down and choice of words become calmer!
  2. You may be really intelligent and smart and all that, no point over-fighting your peers – functional or cross-functional. Even though they may not be able to score a point over you, they will end up despising you – something that won’t do good to the professional image in later years. From this boss, I learnt the value of building a truly well-knit peer-group, which may not be my besties, but wouldn’t despise me either.
  3. No one comes to work to do a bad job. No one joins office thinking they will give their worst that day. Keeping this in mind made me practice empathy and statesmanship, even when I was right and others were grossly wrong.
  4. Harsh language never helped the cause. If you are younger and more successful than your peers, you need to not oversell it. Success is a lousy teacher and it encourages arrogant behaviour and as rash tongue. Worse, even if you are right in what you say, how you say that will be picked, and surely used against you. Here, I learnt to be firm, yet stay polite. A learning that has held me in good stead since then.
  5. I learnt the craft of managing very senior management employees from one of my most difficult bosses. He was really good at this. I learnt the art of polite persistence, presentation skills to a senior audience group as well as how to handle tough questions from them, specifically those whose answer I didn’t know!
  6. Never work for a powerless boss. This is a great life/career-saving tip I received from one such a boss. I have written in detail about this learning here
  7. One must not feel insecure when your subordinate’s stars are shining brighter than yours. I once had a very insecure manager, who, despite being extremely competent functionally, was extremely inhibited in front of smarter juniors. He would simply feel threatened! My learning was a life-long one; that the key to success for any deputy is to do such good work that his boss gets promoted and recommends him for taking his spot! I have written in detail about this learning here…
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7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for sharing. It was always an opportunity for me to grow and learn faster every time I worked with ‘not-so-great bosses’. Below are some of my learnings.

    1. Working with ‘not-so-great bosses’ makes you powerful. Because that’s when you learn to be decisive and stand for your actions taken. You know that incompetent boss will not provide you air cover, hence you face the heat, which is an invaluable experience.

    2. It helps develop maturity because you learn to think on your own and you know in absence of any value addition from incompetent boss, your thinking will be make or break factor. You feel more responsible.

    3. Question, question and question. Never ever settle down for anything which the incompetent boss says and it doesn’t make sense to you. If you disagree with your boss after all the logical arguments, simply refuse to obey orders. Do not stand with something that you don’t agree with.

    Sahil Chopra

    August 15, 2016 at 12:19 AM

  2. It is always good to learn from the experience.

    It can be stressful to work under an unpleasant senior and at times you may feel things are not working with you. But “What if your next boss is worse?”

    It is really surprising how much you can learn from such difficult people. You get an opportunity to work hard and be a self-starter.

    Thanks for sharing. It is a very useful read.

    Hitesh Sharma

    August 15, 2016 at 6:33 PM

  3. It is always good to learn from experience.

    It can be stressful to work under an unpleasant senior and at times you may feel things are not working with you. But “What if your next boss is worse?”

    It is really surprising to read and reflect how much you can learn from such difficult people. You get an opportunity to work hard and be a self-starter.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Hitesh Sharma

    August 15, 2016 at 6:36 PM

  4. I remember when I was young and my brother was joining Army, my father gave him an advise “There are two kinds of officers – one successful and the other good. Always be a good officer”. My father also an Army officer, who I always saw as a brilliant Manager.
    Now, when I started I remember each of my bosses. I remember their style of working as well. The best one in the worst category always used to send me back saying – if you have a problem, come with a solution. But, there is no doubt that I learned as well, for e.g. not to be like them.
    Also, when you work with bad bosses, either you ‘grow’ or ‘go’. One always has a choice.

    Ankush Thakur

    August 15, 2016 at 10:58 PM


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