Having a Bad Boss Can Make You a Better Leader
Ever had a boss like Michael Scott from The Office or Dilbert’s Pointy-haired Boss? While these are caricatures of bad bosses, massive numbers of people associate these fictional characters with bad leaders, bad bosses, or bad board chairs they’ve experienced in real life.
Is bad leadership a total loss?
Can there be an upside to having experienced the downside of poor leadership?
For years, I thought it was just me; I thought I was the only one whose first lessons of leadership came through seeing it done wrong. Maybe "done wrong" rubs you the wrong way and a better way to state this would to describe doing it wrong as learning by observing a negative example. A negative example occurs when you learn a trait or a skill by observing it’s absence or malpractice rather than seeing and experiencing it in action.
A few years ago I enrolled in a graduate program studying Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University. Over the two years of the program one thing that constantly amazed me was the sheer number of my classmates who when asked how they first formed their leadership philosophy cited learning from negative examples.
In other words, many people first form their understanding of what it is that makes a good leader by seeing bad leadership in action. I thought I was the only one who experienced this on my leadership journey. Instead, I found that for many, their firsthand experiences of bad leadership was actually the catalyst that inspired them to become a different kind of leader, a servant-leader.
Rather than being someone who grabs power so they can exert it over others or seek a position simply for the privileges it affords; there are a multitude of leaders who deliberately and consciously choose to become servant-leaders. Servant-leaders are people who view leadership as an avenue for serving others rather than an opportunity to be served. They are people who view power as a force to be harnessed to accomplish great things for those that are powerless, rather than manipulating powerless people to serve their own desires and purposes.
Last week in correspondence with a new friend, “Hazel” from Australia, I began considering that many nonprofit board chairs, or aspiring board chairs, like other leaders, form their impressions of what it means to be a board chair from observing ineffective, or bad, board chairs. Again, it’s the negative example at work. Seeing board leadership done poorly, or not done at all, and thinking, “If I were in their position, I’d do things differently”.
What about you and your leadership journey?
What’s your personal leadership philosophy and where did it come from?
Were you fortunate to have excellent role models of great leadership?
Or, did you observe or experience bad leadership in action and know there must be more effective ways to lead people and organizations?
Whatever your journey to leadership has been, we’re fortunate in the social sector to have a profound opportunity to affect the lives of literally millions of people around the world and do it in a positive way if leaders, regardless of their position, use their power and authority to serve others first.
Robert Greenleaf, the one who coined the term servant-leader, summarized it as follows: “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant - first to make sure that other people's needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer is: Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wise, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least not be further deprived?”
It’s a shame that bad leaders, bad bosses, and bad board chairs exist. It’s an even greater shame if their bad leadership is perpetuated to the next generation of leaders. Whatever your experiences have been that led you to your current leadership position, you can consiously choose to be a good steward of the leadership entrusted to you and use your leadership role to serve others. That wise decision will benefit both you and your community. What's your story?