• Gina G. Scala

Toxic Bosses Teach Lessons, Too: 8 Lessons I Learned from Mine

When I think of what constitutes a good leader I think of two things: “If” by Rudyard Kipling and the demeanor, etiquette and elegance of Mark Messier, captain of the 1994 Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers - among many other accomplishments.

Being a boss, team leader, manager is something I take seriously. The morning I was starting my first day as a news editor, I was having breakfast with two friends and one of them said “You’re going to suck because you’ve had no good role models.”

Those words have stayed with me all these years. It wasn’t something I consciously thought of at that moment but over the years it’s definitely popped up when least expected. I didn’t necessarily agree or disagree but there was absolutely room for improvement. So I took my cues from a Canadian hockey player I’d never met. If he could lead the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup after a 54-year drought…well...I could navigate my team effectively.

I am a firm believer you learn as much from losing as you do from winning; actually, you learn more. In most team sports, they like to say a player is only as good as their last shift. In my experience, employees are only as good as their bosses allow them to be. I’ve worked for bosses whose own success was in letting their employees shine. Unfortunately, I’ve also worked for bosses who would do anything to keep that from happening.

Lesson One: Flexibility

I don’t believe there is only one way to get something done – maybe it’s because I learn differently and know from experience 1+1=2 but 4-2 also equals 2; so does 2 x 1. Learning individual member’s strengths and weaknesses sets everyone up for success and makes work much more fun.

Lesson Two: Perception

Who among us hasn’t needed an attitude adjustment? Since we can only control our reaction to toxic bosses the options are this: change your perspective or change your job. Seriously, if you can’t accept that you’re never going to win this person over – LEAVE. You’ll be happier.

Lesson Three: Boundaries

Setting boundaries can be difficult no matter what area of your life you’re trying to establish them. Do it anyway. My personal life at work was off limits at my last corporate job. I never discussed anything about my family or friends. If my boss walked into a room while I was telling a story, I simply told the other person I’d finish the story at another time. I wasn’t doing it to be a difficult employee but to keep my lives separate so when I left the office all the political drama and bulls#%* stayed there.

Lessons Four: How important is it

In full disclosure, I can be fairly competitive and when I am right…well, I want you to know. But working for a toxic boss taught me to ask this simple question: did I want to be right or did I want to be happy?

Lesson Five: Get to know your team

Taking this small step will help set your team up for success. You don’t need to know every detail of their life outside of the office but getting a feel of what’s going on will help you guide them if they seem to be hitting a wall. I’ve learned people who really like each other, care about each other are more willing to go the extra mile for each other.

Lesson Six: Act as If

Thankfully, I’ve had a fair share of good bosses who lead by example and who never asked of their teams what they weren’t willing to do themselves. If you’re working for a toxic boss, you’re likely not going to get that kind of leadership. Do it anyway. Give your team what you wish you had from your boss.

Lesson Seven: Let It Go

Even the best employees have bad days or bad projects. Recognize it, address it and move on from it. It’s not fair to hold an employee hostage because of performance on a single project. Have the difficult conversation; work with them so it doesn’t happen again and it won’t as long as you don’t hold a grudge. They already feel lousy why make them feel worse?

Lesson Eight: Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

There are somethings a boss is expected to know but no one expects you to know it all. Be honest. Saying “I don’t know” isn’t the end of the world. It is, though, an answer your employees will respect.

Lesson Nine: Listen to Learn; Not Respond

Maybe two months into my last corporate job I had a conversation with my boss and I really wish she’d listened to learn. Instead, she listened to respond and nothing changed. Looking back on it, that was one of the many red flags screaming for my attention.

Final Thought:

Lesson Ten: Gratitude

I am stubborn. As a result, I’ve found myself in jobs longer than I should have stayed. And while I had to decompress after leaving those jobs, time and distance led to gratitude. I recently heard: hurt people hurt (other) people. It explains it but it doesn’t excuse it. Remember what Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”