Talk to enough founders or CEOs, and you'll notice that many of them struck out on their own after working for an oppressive boss and never forgot that lesson. Here are three lessons you can learn from bad bosses:
1. If you want loyalty from others, be loyal to them.
We've all worked for hot-and-cold leaders. But one of Erik Huberman's bosses took it to a new level. Now CEO and founder of Hawke Media, Huberman recalls that his supervisor's critical emails seemed to be forgotten the moment he walked into the guy's office.
"I would receive crazy, long-winded emails about all of the terrible work I was doing; then I would confront him, and he would say, 'Don't worry, it isn't a big deal.' It felt like I was getting a lot of fake smiles in person but getting screamed at through email. It killed any loyalty the team felt toward him, and turnover skyrocketed," Huberman says. "Eventually, he was kicked out of his own company."
Huberman's takeaway: "I learned to respect the people around me. If I'm going to ask team members to have my back, then I have to prove that I have theirs, too."
2. Trying to cover up problems only makes them worse.
People problems are inherently complex. But challenges don't go away when they're swept under the rug; they multiply. Business consultant Don Maruska learned that lesson when working with a CEO who struggled to engage employees.
Looking to reassure his team, the CEO set up small-group sessions. Rather than ask about employees' frustrations, however, he just told them that the business was great and that they had the chance to contribute to its success. By doing all the talking and none of the listening, the CEO effectively communicated that his employees' concerns weren't important.
3. Admitting you're human establishes trust.
What's the most important lesson Leo Wang, founder and CEO of Buffy, got from his terrible boss? To not be afraid to show your emotions. Wang learned the value of emotional vulnerability while working for a partner at a consulting firm who, according to Wang, was a good person but lacked the skills to become a strong manager because he couldn't show his true self.
Although emotional outbursts don't belong in the workplace, stoicism erects barriers. Expressing emotions appropriately generates trust and gives others the green light to show their own feelings.