When I worked at Bayer, I was honored to be selected as a coaching participant in an organizational wide program called, Cross Connect. This program was designed to bring mentors and mentees together based on a variety of qualifiers. I met three great mentees during my stint in the program and hopefully made an impact on them as they progressed in their career.
Being a mentor is important to me. While I enjoyed my role in the Cross Connect program, I have to say being an informal mentor fits my leadership style better.
I have had the pleasure of working with a few great mentors along my professional journey. Mentors that have helped shape my value system, going all the way back to my childhood. Those mentors were always in some form of leadership and like others, my style developed as a result of the mentoring I received.
But not every experience with a leader fits the definition of a mentor. Quite the opposite, some bosses along the way are just plain awful. But what do we do with that experience? How do we capture the gains of working for a bad boss? What does a bad boss really look like?
Most of us have worked for someone who abused the power of their position and in doing so created an unstable and hostile environment. Bosses who lead like this do so from a position of insecurity and the old saying goes, “insecurity + power = weak leader”. A culture is created where work becomes a burden and the performance of those in this environment suffers greatly.
It simply becomes a toxic environment where there is no trust, no collaboration, no innovation and no fun. Turnover is likely high, micromanagement is at a peak and weak leaders tend to surround themselves with people who are less experienced or do not pose a threat. Ultimately, a weak leader spends more time focusing on self-preservation and fear than they ever will on leading and developing others.
Don’t panic! This is not all bad.
The one thing I have learned over my career is that two things can happen; the weak leader will not survive (few rarely do after a period of time) or you will leave the organization. Either way, you learn more in the experience than you could have ever learned in a classroom. If your core values are others focused, you strengthen your leadership capabilities, and money can’t buy that.
Taking advantage of the lessons learned from weak leaders or bad bosses is just as important as having a great mentor and solid leader in your network. It is easy to pick the obvious place you would rather spend your time but don’t despair when you find yourself hitched to a weak leader – it is not permanent. Use it to your advantage and eagerly learn from it. Keep yourself positive through it and help others do the same. This is where your impactful character is revealed.
How we lead defines the culture we want. A great leader inspires and is constantly on the lookout for anything that runs counter to his/her values. They have learned from the good and taken advantage of the bad and have captured the gains. In doing so, they have become the kind of mentors you would want for yourself or a close family member.
So if you find yourself on the wrong end of a weak leader, boldly move ahead. Rather than complain and let the energy be sapped from you, create a way to thrive in the environment. Inspire others, keep a positive outlook and make a mental list of things you never want associated with you. Lead with impact, that’s what the good ones do!