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20 Things I Learned from My Bosses (Even the Bad Ones)

I’ve had more than 20 bosses in my career. Most of them were surprisingly average—even forgettable. But some I remember, to this day. One was brilliant and became a role model. He took responsibility when things went badly. He gave others credit when things went well. He exuded integrity. But he was the exception.

One boss was malignantly incompetent. He couldn’t do anything right. I dreaded every meeting I ever had with him. He was a nice guy, but I think he retired mentally about two years before the company let his body go. I was honestly embarrassed to tell anyone I worked for him.

Two others were downright sinister. They could be kind and charming one minute and then, an hour later, mean, paranoid, and vindictive. Though I tried to stay out of the line of fire, they both skewered me on a few occasions. I still have the scars in my psyche.

Regardless, I learned from all the bosses I've had over the years. You usually don’t get to choose your boss. Sure, you can always quit. But most bosses aren’t so bad that you would actually leave the company. They are more like a low-grade headache. You learn to live with them. Besides, if you quit, you’ll miss some really great lessons—lessons that will help you be a better boss to those you lead. Here are 20 random things I have learned from my bosses:

  1. Everyone on the team matters. No one deserves to be treated poorly.
  2. Bosses create an emotional climate with their attitudes and behaviors.
  3. The higher up you are, the more people read into everything you say and do. Stuff gets amplified as it moves downstream.
  4. A word of encouragement can make someone’s week. Conversely, a harsh word can ruin it.
  5. Hire the right people. Then trust them to do their job.
  6. Never intentionally embarrass people in front of their boss, their peers, or their direct reports.
  7. Don’t attack people personally. Instead, focus on their performance.
  8. Get both sides of the story before you take action.
  9. Tell the truth; then you don’t have to remember what you said.
  10. Give people room to fail, and don’t rub their noses in it when they do.
  11. Be quick to forgive, and give the benefit of the doubt.
  12. Measure twice; cut once.
  13. Don’t ever ask your people to do something you are unwilling to do yourself.
  14. Respect other people’s time, especially those under you.
  15. Don’t believe all the nice things people say about you.
  16. Follow through on your commitments, even when it is inconvenient or expensive.
  17. Don’t be eager to get promoted. Instead, focus on doing a great job.
  18. Be responsive to everyone at every level. You never know who may be your next boss.
  19. Keep confidences. Make no exceptions.
  20. Do not complain about your boss to anyone. If you have to complain, then have the integrity to quit.

What are some things you’ve learned from your bosses?

Last modified on October 10th, 2022 at 9:25 am

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