Learning from bad bosses

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I was on a temporary assignment, about 500 miles from home. My infant son had been admitted to the hospital and his condition was getting worse. I called my boss and told him I was getting on a plane home. He told me to stay put. I still remember his exact words.

“Look,” he said, “I really need you there. And you can pray for your kid just as well from Cleveland as you can from next to his bed.”

I thought, “I’ll never treat someone like that.”

I told my boss that I was going. He told me I might not have a job to come back to. I suggested that he perform a biologically impossible act, hung up the phone and headed for the airport.

I thought, “I’ll never threaten anyone like that.”

No boss I ever had taught me more about what not to do than Bob. Mostly I learned lessons about how not to treat people. So I understand what people mean when they say they learned a lot from awful bosses they’ve had.

Bad bosses can teach you what not to do, but that’s not enough. If you only know what not to do, you’ll never become a great boss. You also have to learn what you should do. You have to fill in the blanks.

Learn what you should do from the example of good bosses. How did this one or that one handle something similar?

Learn what to do by imagining what your role models would do. Ask: “How would my role model handle this?”

Learn what to do by asking yourself the question I learned from my friend, Jim Cathcart. “How would the person I want to be handle this?”

Then act and critique your performance. You almost certainly will find things you’ll want to do differently in the future.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Bad bosses can teach you want not to do, but if you want to become a great boss, you have to fill in the blanks.

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