Lessons You Can Learn From a Bad Boss

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BossLet’s be honest. We have all had that boss who we hoped would, well, just disappear. Working for a bad boss can suck the enthusiasm right out of your career. But believe it or not, there is plenty to learn from difficult bosses.

“First and foremost, you can learn invaluable interpersonal skills. Business life is full of difficult people – bosses, coworkers, clients and customers, among others. Developing a strong set of people skills will stand you in good stead throughout your entire career. The better you are at dealing with all kinds of people – especially difficult ones – the more likely you are to succeed in your profession. Remember, business is all about people. Getting good at getting along is a worthwhile endeavor,” points out workplace expert BJ Gallagher, author of the new career book “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been.”

If you survive a bad boss, you can probably survive any career crisis. “Second, you can learn survival skills. You’ll learn how to not take things personally, because your bad boss has nothing to do with you. Develop thick skin. Let things roll off your back. Don’t get triggered by your boss’s comments or behaviors. Learn how to ‘read’ your boss in terms of moods, energy level, pet peeves and other idiosyncrasies. Bad bosses come and go, as do good bosses. They are both your teachers. Learn from them,” notes Gallagher, who also teaches a workshop called, “How to Manage Your Boss.”

And obviously by dealing with a bad boss, you can learn what not to do. “One of the best lessons employees can learn from a bad boss is how to be a good boss. By paying attention to what your bad manager actually does to rub you the wrong way, it can be an opportunity to increase your own self-awareness. Hate being micromanaged? Then you’ll learn to be more aware of not becoming a micromanager yourself. Learn from your bad bosses mistakes,” says Poppy Ellis, career strategist and founder of career blog PoppyEllis .com. Career coach Jane Scudder, founder of Never Settle Coaching, agrees and adds, “While working for a bad manager you will be directly exposed to a few things that you would otherwise not be, specifically you’ll learn exactly how you don’t want to be managed and how you shouldn’t manage people. It’s just as important to understand what we don’t like as what we do like. Though this can be really challenging to identify without experiencing it first hand.”

Dealing with a bad boss hour after hour, workday after workday, will make it challenging not to bring your frustrations home with you. But this could be a big lesson on how to leave the office in the office. “A great skill to learn when you’re working for a bad boss is how to separate your work life from your personal life. It takes time and practice, but being able to switch off as soon as you clock out is a very valuable skill. You’ll spend less time bitching to your friends, and more time actually enjoying their company,” says Ellis.

Another exercise would be to look for the good in your boss–even if you have to look deep. “View working with a bad boss as an opportunity to learn. Personally, a former manager was particularly nasty, and would bring her personal life into the office. So, I focused on what she was great at: closing deals. Very few bosses, even bad ones, get to where they are without some sort of positive skill. Find that skill and take every ounce of positive learning that you can,” advises Ellis.  Adds Gallagher, “Sometimes a terrible boss can be brilliant in other ways. Learn to separate style from substance – don’t let the boss’s awful style get in the way of learning substantial things from him or her.”

While you may not be able to admit it now, some of the toughest bosses in your career can be the ones spur you on to greater things.