5 invaluable lessons from bad bosses

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Most articles about bad bosses say that the best thing you can learn from them is how not to manage employees. Can’t disagree with that.

Aside from that, there are other things you can learn from a bad boss that you can’t learn from a good boss.

Tim Sackett wrote a post about some of them here at TLNT. Here’s what he says:

Working at really great companies gives you an opportunity to work in “Utopia”-you get to see how things are supposed to work, how people are supposed to work, how in a perfect world it all fits together.

The reality is we don’t work in “Utopia” (at least the majority of us don’t). We work in organizations that are less than perfect, and some of us actually work in downright horrible companies. Those who work in horrible companies and survive tend to be better hires—they have battle scars and street smarts.”

5 things you can learn

In a New York Times interview with Mark B. Templeton, president and CEO of Citrix, he talks about what he looks for in job candidates.

“I look for scars. You can call it wisdom, you can call it experience, or the things that went wrong in your life. That’s where I think knowledge turns into wisdom. A lot of people will have facts and information. I’m looking for wisdom, and wisdom ends up being a measure of scars, and things that went wrong and what you did about them and how they shaped you as a person and your beliefs.”

So, here are the five things you can learn from a bad boss:

1. You must do your best work—always. You don’t have room for error—ever. You learn to check everything four, five, six, even seven times. You know that the penalty for screwing up is not pleasant. It’s the stick versus the carrot, and you learn it quickly.

2. You learn how to be creative. You don’t have enough time or information to do your job. You don’t ask for help from your boss. You learn to “make do.” You learn how to innovate and how to use your investigative skills to gather information any way you can. You learn that 80 percent of the information available is enough.

3. You learn how to protect yourself. You learn how to fly under the radar as much as possible. At the same time, you learn how to play politics, and you realize that you have no one to “watch your back.” Your boss will not support you; he or she may join the others ready to have your head if you screw up. Be nice to his or her allies and friends—and walk the other way when you see his or her enemies.

4. You learn how to “read” people and situations. You learn to recognize your boss’s moods—the good, bad, and the ugly—and to adjust your behavior accordingly. You learn to do the same in meetings with them. By correctly reading his or her moods, you are less likely to step on a landmine or trigger a temper tantrum. This ability to read situations actually turns out to be an asset in the long term. It will serve you well in your career to be able to read co-workers and situations and know how to work with people.

5. You learn the value of having close working relationships. Many times you form close relationships with your colleagues. You look out for help and commiserate with each other. Because of your shared experience, many of these relationships endure throughout your career. It’s like having been a Marine. Semper fi.

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Learning in spite of the abuse

OK, before you get all huffy and mutter, “She’s crazy,” let me say that I am absolutely not recommending that you seek out bad bosses so you can gain this knowledge. But if you happen to find yourself in this situation, understand that it is a personal decision as to whether you stay or go.

Ask yourself, “Are there enough positives and opportunities in this job/company that are worth my staying?” If not, leave.

If yes, tell yourself you are choosing to do this for now, and if you ever decide you can’t take it any longer, then you can leave. You need to know yourself well enough to recognize when that time comes. You certainly don’t want to stay until they carry you out of your office on a stretcher!

Remember the people who continued to work for Steve Jobs after he verbally abused them? There were many who left—but there were many others who chose to stay because they were learning something in spite of the abuse.

HR might not understand that reasoning, but it was their choice. Apparently it worked for them.

Paul Schoemaker once said, “The school of hard knocks is a great teacher, even if the tuition is very high, precisely because the lessons make such a deep imprint.”

Jacque Vilet, president of Vilet International, has more than 20 years of experience in international human resources. A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.(Image via

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