Everybody has had a “worst job ever”. You drag yourself out of bed every morning and wonder what the day has in store for you. Then you wonder why the hell you’re still there.
Well, the reason you are there, my dear reader, is to learn something!
Given that many people leave jobs because of problems with their boss, it stands to reason that when you are in the middle of your Worst Job Ever (WJE), leadership is a prominent factor in making the workplace a bad place to be.
Sometimes after you’ve left your worst job, you start to see things clearly and you can analyse what went wrong. In my case, I enjoyed working for my manager, but leadership across the organisation was damaging the culture and the work environment.
Bad leaders at your worst job ever teach you what not to do
If nothing else, working for or with a bad leader can teach you what you don’t ever want to do if you were in the same position. It can teach you what doesn’t work, so you can do better.
The only problem is that people have short memories and often the traits they despise about the manager in their WJE are forgotten, years later. It is worth spending some time to relive your own WJE to see whether you are taking on any of the undesired behaviour that you, yourself, experienced at that time.
For the sake of my own therapy, here are three leadership lessons I learned from my worst job ever.
1. Your behaviour is often mirrored by those you lead
During my WJE, I noticed that some leaders within the organisation considered themselves to be superior to their counterparts in other areas. They considered themselves the font of all knowledge, when in many aspects they were deficient. Instead of listening, learning and adapting to new ways of doing things, these leaders picked a direction and went that way because they knew best. It didn’t work.
Quickly, the teams below these leaders adopted the same approach and attitude. It was a monumental effort to shift this behaviour, because the leadership was reinforcing it at every turn.
Be careful what you say and do, because people you are leading might just start doing the same.
2. Act quickly when people are damaging for the workplace
My WJE contained a cast of interesting characters. Some of them were fantastic, many were good and a few were terrible. The ones that were terrible weren’t subtle. They attracted complaints from a wide range of people in the organisation because they were ineffectual and disruptive.
Several times, these people were under fire from different angles, but were shielded by their own manager, who took a few bullets defending them. One particular individual was engaged at this organisation for three years, before it was decided to let them go.
If you are in charge of somebody who is damaging the workplace environment, you have to act swiftly. If they aren’t helping you, they are hindering you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the poor performer is a terrible person, they may just be a terrible fit for the environment.
As soon as you work out that they are underperforming, make moves to either help them, move them into a role where they can perform better, or let them go. Whatever you do, don’t keep the status quo.
3. You don’t have to be correct every time
Sometimes it’s good to concede ground on subject areas that you are less familiar with, no matter how senior a leader you are. Being able to take guidance from others is a key attribute to success, because after all, you can’t know everything.
In my WJE, my team needed to document the current processes within a particular business area to a certain level of detail to be useful. From there, the future processes would be determined, enabling the team to do a gap analysis to see the best way to get from current to future.
“We already have our current processes”, the leader said. We’d seen those, and they weren’t detailed enough for us to work with. So we held a number of sessions over several months to try to explain our reasoning and why we needed to have the detail. In fact, we were willing to provide resources to help them provide what we needed.
“No, we have already done this.”
So we engaged others to assist in convincing the leader that this was really important. After all, a lot of future work depended on it. This was to no avail.
It was only after I left my WJE that I heard from somebody that a year later, this leader had decided it was a good idea to redo the processes at a greater level of detail.
My old boss messaged me and said “Maybe we should have told them it was important? I guess we forgot.”
That’s surely enough therapy for one day.
Leadership lessons are everywhere, and it’s important to remember the bad leadership behaviours, as well as to remember the good. Otherwise you just might find yourself one day doing something that you vowed you never would.
What did your WJE teach you about leadership?