Is It (Sometimes) Good To Have A Bad Boss?

Who is a good boss? And when can you correctly say that your boss is "bad"? This is an issue that is subject to a lot of debate. Does the fact that your boss does(or makes you do) certain things you personally dislike, make him/her "bad"? I say NOT necessarily!

This article explores this subject, using findings from a management research paper survey conducted in 2001 as a basis for discussion.

In December 2001, I finished writing a (45-page) management research paper titled "Self-Development As A Tool For Achieving Career Advancement".

In it, I referred to the observation Zig Ziglar made in his book – Over The Top – about certain employees who go to work each day without working to improve their abilities to do the job for which they are being paid.

He accurately descried such persons as having one year’s experience repeated every other year, without making any effort to change the trend.

My paper’s research problems were stated in question form as follows:

1. What can the individual manager (employee) do to ensure career success or advancement in an organisation?

2. What can the organisation do to ensure an enabling environment is created for her managers (employees) to continuously achieve career success or advancement?

In trying to answer the above questions I administered(over a 3 month period) a structured questionnaire to respondents (managers in indigenous and multinational corporate organisations in two cities – Lagos and Benin).

I was particularly intrigued to note from the study’s results, that the managers strongly agreed that having a bad experience at work – such as working for a bad boss– could be beneficial for one’s personal development.

This was an interesting response because I had known many managers (including myself, early in my career as an employee) to complain bitterly if they had a boss that gave them what they interpreted to be "a hard time" at work.

They would sometimes even wistfully express the desire to swop places with a colleague who they “thought” was having what they considered a better time since his/her boss never seemed to make life difficult for him/her.

What made it even more noteworthy was that when asked for details of why they thought their boss was bad, they would say things like “he never lets me rest – it’s always one assignment after the other, and its so difficult to satisfy him!”.

The truth, based on the experience of many successful executives is that in working with such a boss, many managers/employees have developed better capabilities than they would have, if they had reported to some more “passive” or less demanding kind of boss.

In fact, individuals like the “complaining” managers earlier described sometimes go on to get recognised/rewarded on moving to a new job or different department later on in their careers, for their seeming ability to produce good quality work under pressure etc. At that time the manager might begin to feel grateful to that “bad” or “difficult” boss from the past!

But then again, there can be instances when a boss is indeed bad.

Maybe he cheats, practices favoritism etc. In this case, the affected manger/employee could – among other possible actions – do well to note those qualities in the boss that he/she dislikes, and use them as a guide to avoid becoming like the boss in the future.

In other words, I am saying that by having a bad boss, a manager can learn how NOT to become one him/herself! Have you ever noticed that the people who set-up human rights or child abuse refuge centres etc are often people who themselves have suffered from that same problem before getting “liberated”?

To sum it up, the truth is:

1. That difficult persons can challenge us to put in more effort and deliver better results than we normally would, if they were not present – making their presence/actions a blessing of sorts for us.

2. We can sometimes learn how to be good from those who are bad – or not as good as they should be.

The above implies that having a bad boss can, to some extent, be a useful experience which ultimately equips us to achieve more of our potential than we normally would. The challenge is for you to make the most of the "bad’ situation: Study that boss, and learn how to manage him/her to achieve your desired goal(s).

As psychologists would say: The glass can be said to be half-full or half-empty. It all depends on HOW YOU LOOK AT IT i.e. your mental attitude.

NB: This article was first published online in 2005.

[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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