Bad Bosses Exist — Choose to Learn from the Good Ones

By: Christine Alvarez

I have had, over the course of my corporate career, a multitude of bosses. Some I have worked with for a long time and others have passed through my career life rather quickly. But I am lucky: most of my bosses were those whom I am grateful and honored to have worked with and for. Then there were the few who were not so great.

The stories of bad bosses can go on forever with each story sounding more unbelievable than the next. And these bad bosses do exist. But as much as we learn from bad bosses what not to do, it is from the good bosses that we learn what to do and, more importantly, to practice good leadership and business skills on a daily basis.

But spotting a not-so-great boss — that is much harder. I was always taught that it is my job to make sure I make my boss look good, keep him informed so there are never any surprises. Having this attitude has helped me build trust and strong relationships with bosses. Also, you need to support your boss even when you disagree with their opinion. Being supportive and collaborative for the greater good are important qualities bosses look for in their employees.

Nothing beats a great boss. They inspire, lead, challenge, and cover your back. How do you identify great bosses? This is a difficult task. It can be a gut feeling on your part, recommendations from those you trust, or you can work hard to prove yourself and then earn their trust, which in turn leads you to begin trusting them. Great relationships take time to build. They require accountability, dependability, and trust. A great boss will almost always have a great team.

One of my favorite stories was from a boss who was a difficult taskmaster. It was early in my career, and while there were some challenging moments, the best piece of advice this boss gave involved making decisions that were hard to call. My boss said, “Always go with your gut, because even if you are wrong you will still be true to yourself.” That thought has resonated with me over the many years as I climbed the corporate ladder. It taught me two lessons:

1. Do your homework as best you can when a decision is required. Because there will come a point when the rationale/facts seem equal on both sides, and it is imperative to make a judgment call;

2. By practicing this, it helped me to develop strong and keen instincts to be able to make good judgment calls on the fly when situations demanded.

Practice of any skills makes you better, pure and simple. Ask any musician or dancer. When they perform, it is with ease, but that ease is the result of hours of practice. In the workplace, you practice different skills as the situation and business demands, listening to a point-of-view you may disagree with, listening to listen rather than just preparing a response, keeping a positive attitude in a tough situation, or simply being grateful and kind to everyone.

On another occasion, I had a wonderfully smart, strategic boss, and no matter what problem I brought them, they always saw something I did not see. It got to be a bit of a game with me: bring them a problem, figure out my own solve, and then see how close I came to how they saw things. This helped me develop perspective on looking at situations from every possible angle. And those times when we both saw the same thing made me feel that I was growing and learning. This experience made me realize, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” It is an odd phrase, but it means there are blind spots you may never be able to see. So tread thoughtfully, and think as completely as you can.

In addition, the more I manage my boss, the stronger the relationship. And by manage, I mean: how do they like to receive information? Email? Weekly meetings? Are they more data-driven? Do I need more analytical information to help them understand what is happening with the business, or are they more creative? Do they need to hear concepts and see things to better understand business needs? Knowing the forms of communication your boss prefer helps you understand them and in turn they better understand you.

Identifying the not-so-great bosses? Well, if someone constantly reschedules an appointment for an interview with me, this makes me wonder: does this person have no respect for my time? Or is their schedule — and perhaps the company — so chaotic that it could be a tough place to work or even a tougher person to work for? Granted, some people are truly busy, and schedules get pushed around constantly, but if an important position is open, it is the responsibility of the boss to get a person hired. They have to make the time.

When meeting with future bosses, look at how they handle themselves in the meeting. What do they say about their teams? Can you find out what their teams say about them? Are they giving you complete attention? Do you have a good feeling about them?

Everyone will have good bosses and bad bosses, but the goal should be to have more good bosses than bad, because that is where the learning and the practice occur.

©Copyright 2017 by Christine A. Alvarez

Originally published at



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