Turning bad bosses into positive experiences
I have worked for some truly awful bosses (a retirement announcement from one of the worst inspired this blog!), so I thought I would turn my feelings around and capture what I got from them that has powered my career. If you are working for a bad boss, this will give you hope for the future.
I worked for 3 men as part of a small team in a global investment bank. At every opportunity, they belittled me, made me feel stupid for asking for more information, withheld details until I had finished the work so they could tell me I had done it wrong. It was a miserable experience at the start of my career, but it helped me realise how stupid and insecure they really were. Confident people are always willing to share answers and help others succeed because they have nothing to fear. If someone is always keeping things to themselves, it is probably because they don’t know that much and are scared they will be found out because they cannot answer your questions.
A few years ago, I had some medical treatment. I was not suffering a life-threatening situation, but it was scary and painful. This woman made it clear that she had had a far worse cancer and was not going to tolerate anyone else on the team telling her that they were ill. I had never encountered “illness envy” before, it was the strangest situation. Instead of using her experience to empathise with others, this woman couldn’t shake her anger at what had happened to her. It was a useful lesson in checking in with ourselves to see what we are really feeling and how our emotions might be “leaking out” to others.
In part, it is why I write this blog, because any anger closes down conversations, stops ideas sharing and prevents collaboration. Being able to reframe a bad situation to find the good in it and see the future as full of opportunities, not threats, draws people to us. This boss had a very high staff turnover and was eventually removed from her post. Years later, she is still behaving in a similar way, and she hasn’t progressed in her career.
If you want a quick check on your own emotions, take this quick assessment
This turned out to be one of my favourites. I am not sure this man was that bad, but on my first day in a new global role, he told me very forcefully that he did not believe in jet lag. In my head, I wanted to say that it was a physical reaction to different timezones, not a religion that required belief, but I stayed quiet. This boss drove the whole team, not just me, very hard. We would be expected to fly to NY on a Monday night, work until Thursday night and return overnight so we could attend the weekly team meeting in London on the Friday morning. It didn’t matter where we were working, we had to be back for Fridays – Hong Kong; Sao Paulo; Chicago; Cape Town; Singapore. What I took from this was the amazing bonding experience of a team working hard to support each other when the going got tough. I also learnt how hard I could work and how resilient I could be.
There are always people in our lives we would rather not work with, and there are always difficult situations. But…we can build the habit of looking past the immediate pain for something positive, something that we can learn from, knowledge and skills we can use in the future or an insight about ourselves about what is important in life.