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Five Lessons I Learned from Bad Managers (and How to Turn Them into Leadership Wins)

Updated: Mar 4

We've all worked with difficult people; unfortunately, some have been our managers. The saying, "People don't quit jobs, they quit bad managers" rings true for many. But what separates a manager from a leader?

Managers focus on tasks, metrics, and processes – the operational side of business. Leaders, however, invest in their people. They motivate, inspire, and build trust. While lessons learned from bad managers can be painful, they highlight what not to do and offer ways to improve as a leader yourself.

Here's my top five:

  • Bad managers fear change. They crave control and see new ideas as threats. They hoard information and stifle progress to maintain their power.

How to overcome this: Share innovative industry ideas and focus on continuous improvement. Once a bad manager's information advantage is gone, so is their control.

  • Bad managers lack dignity and respect. They may use demeaning nicknames or treat some employees differently. This is unacceptable. Respect everyone as individuals.

How to overcome this: Model respectful behavior. If you witness disrespect, report it. Focus on fair and objective performance reviews, giving employees time to prepare for a thoughtful discussion.

  • Facts aren't always facts. Bad managers rely on outdated information or surround themselves with "yes men." They may contradict themselves without realizing it.

How to overcome this: Be skeptical and verify information. Tactfully challenge assumptions: "That differs from what I've learned. Can you help me understand your perspective?"

  • Experience doesn't equal wisdom. Some seasoned managers are stuck in their ways, relying on outdated strategies. They ignore current market dynamics and resist training.

How to overcome this: Embrace continuous learning and critical thinking. Welcome constructive criticism as a team to stay ahead of competitors.

  • Both sides of a story can be wrong. In difficult workplace situations, the truth can become obscured by self-preservation and bias. It's important to discern between honest mistakes and ethical lapses.

How to overcome this:  Approach these situations with a clear head. Your heart will tell you what to do if organizational values feel compromised. Remember, your potential is too valuable to waste in a toxic environment.

The Takeaway

While bad managers provide painful lessons, they also highlight the path to becoming a strong, empathetic leader. By focusing on respect, open communication, and continuous improvement, you can create a workplace where everyone feels motivated and valued.

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