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Why Are You Here? February 27, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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One of favorite quotes is from Ashleigh Brilliant:

It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

This quote has been immortalized in one of the delightful Demotivator posters, many of which I find endlessly amusing.  Amusing or not, these posters provide many good lessons in leadership in a very backhanded way.

In a recent email exchange, I was reminded that although I have learned a lot from several good leaders for whom I worked, I usually learned the most from the very bad leaders under whom I suffered.  Some people can share heartwarming stories of good leaders whose words and actions served to inspire them.  Everyone can recount endless stories of incredible abuse from thoughtless fools who were somehow given a leadership role in spite of their clear sociopathic tendencies.

I worked for one person who honestly epitomized every bad leadership quality you could imagine.  He punished in public and praised in private.  He never communicated.  His ego knew no bounds.  He sold out his people for his own gain.  He took credit when things went well and threw us under the bus when they went badly.  He would change projects, schedules, plans, and goals at the drop of a hat.  Even when confronted with direct feedback in a group review, he simply ignored it and thanked everyone for their honesty.  He was, in short, an idiot of spectacular dimension.

With each error, each annoyance, each dig and snub, I added to my mental list of “things I will never do when I am in charge.”  I came away with more ideas on how to be a good leader than I ever thought possible.

It’s a sad fact of human nature that we often remember punishment more than praise.  Eat bad food once and you’ll never touch it again, but the memories of a good meal do fade with time.

Don’t misunderstand: I am not suggesting that you “speed mentor” your team with a bout of bad leadership.  Continue to be a good leader, but with the knowledge that those lessons will take a longer time to sink in.  Most importantly, avoid even a single example of bad leadership, because that negative experience will never be forgotten.

To open up the conversation a bit, what good bit of leadership do you remember?  More interestingly, what’s the worst leadership example you retain on your list of “things you’ll never do as  a leader?”

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Comments»

1. Laynie - March 2, 2009

I think we worked for the same person. My ex-boss changed the project deadline without telling me, then went into a meeting, only come out ranting and raving a couple of hours later about my monumentual mistake. His raving was so exaggerated that he went back into the Board Meeting slagging me off, but the board knew it wasn’t my mistake. The HR manager was his ‘keeper out of harm’ and ensured that his species stayed alive regardless of his damage. They wondered why I was put off on stress leave after working with this gentleman for only 9 weeks. Gee I managed to deal with a 4 hour daily return commute to work, study at uni for my degree, renovate our home, and manage my husband’s chronic illness all prior to working with this mis-manager! He mis-management style ensured that 2 of the team left him in the same week shortly after. I heard later that his collaborator in my incident, suffered a karmic turn when 12 months he turned on her too. It was a satisfying day when I threw my resignation at him. I learnt so much him …. lessons on how not to manage self, a team, and support a company. He was a shocker of massive proportions.

2. Jeremy - March 2, 2009

I had a boss that would basically reserve all suggestion/criticism/praise for the yearly review. It was horrible. It turned in to some little game to communicate as little as possible about performance until the review.

I think it is bad practice to allow someone’s review to be the first place they hear criticism, suggestions for improvement or even praise. Reviews should be just that, a review. It is not called a surprise.

3. Chuck Musciano - March 2, 2009

There seems to be no end of these examples. Perhaps Longfellow was envisioning managers, and not curly-headed little girls, when he wrote that “when [they] were good, they were very good indeed, but when they were bad, they were horrid.”


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