Monday, August 15, 2011

Learning from Bad Leaders

Very early in my career I worked for a small company (several hundred employees) as a Credit Department representative.  I was on a team that supported our sales staff and worked with our customers to make sure their accounts remained current.  It wasn’t the most satisfying work for me, primarily because I always seemed to be in “worry mode” about who would pay their invoices, who was avoiding me, and what grief would I get from my sales reps when they learned I wouldn’t allow any more product to be shipped to their customers.  Candidly, I was a bad fit for the role.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
My reporting structure flowed up through a Manager and then to one of two brothers who owned the company.  He was a young, bright, and motivated man and I can honestly say I learned a lot from him.  Sadly, his example is on the “don’t do list.”  A brief illustration:

Although the failure rate among the businesses we sold to was incredibly high, our team maintained terrific metrics relative to past due monies.  However, when we met with the owner he would toss the A/R (accounts receivable) report across the conference room table as he sprinkled in a few f-bombs.  Not exactly a confidence-builder for anyone.

This scenario has stayed with me for years simply because I don’t ever want anyone that works for me to fear that I’m going to start tossing around paperwork and swearing at them.  I know the team I worked with came to dread the meetings with him because we didn’t know if he was going to attack us or not. 

How About You
Have you ever worked for someone who helped shape your leadership style because they were so awful?  It’s an odd way to think about leadership development; but for me it is a key part of my journey, and for that I have to thank him.   Can we learn from bad leaders?

I’d love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pic courtesy of michaelhyatt


  1. Most of the lessons in leadership that have stayed with me have been of the "don't do that" variety. I think good leaders have a few common traits (respect, compassion, empathy, drive) whil the bad ones are often poor leaders in their own special way.

  2. Well, I am big on likability. I think if your people like and respect you, they will follow you and do what you ask them to do. I have had more bad leadership then good, but there was a lady that I reported to, and she was a good person. She was hard but fair, she was direct, firm and decisive. But she was respectful. She spoke to us, and asked about our lives and families. When she had to terminate people, she did it directly and professionally. When she had to enforce change, she sold us on it. She was a great leader and when the company was bought out, she had to let every one go; She asked us all to maintain professionalism until the end. And we did. We came in on time everyday. We worked, no one slacked. She was great.

  3. Dwane - I agree with those traits Dwane...hope I can demonstrate them more often than not!

    Chris - She sounds like a great role model, particularly under such difficult circumstances! Many thanks for the comment.