Five lessons from lousy leaders

When you’re on the end of poor leadership, you swear you will never make the same mistakes. Some of my best learnings on leadership have come from experiencing poor behaviour by past bosses.

In the interest of sharing, here are five lessons I was taught by bosses operating in ‘lousy leader’ mode:

1.    Manage your emotions.

Being consistent and respectful is not a lot to ask. Walking into a meeting with your boss not knowing whether you are going to talk to Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde is very unpleasant. It’s unbelievably stressful working with a boss who one moment is fun and energising and the next day bites your head off or puts you down because they are having a bad day. Managing your emotions is critical if you want to get the most out of your people.

2.    Clearly spell out expectations.

The boss who keeps changing their mind – what a nightmare. It’s both frustrating and stressful when your boss doesn’t take the time to think things through and give clear directions. Slow down and think about exactly what you want to achieve and what you want the person to do. Make sure you both agree on what is required and how you will judge their performance. If circumstances make it necessary for you to change the brief, explain what’s going on and why you need to make the changes.

3.    Walk the talk on Trust.

A breach of trust will undermine your ability to get the best from your people. When you empower someone, let them get on with it. Provide support and clarification when requested, but don’t be a control freak and keep hovering and second guessing as they work. Make sure you do what you said you’d do. If you promise to support something, don’t change your mind and try and justify it unless you have a really good reason to do so. Don’t run for cover when things get tough. If you support a decision and direction being taken by one of your team that someone up the ladder subsequently doesn’t like, don’t play the blame game when the approach is criticised. Stand up and support your team members.

4.    Park your ego.

While the band Skyhooks suggested that “ego is not a dirty word”, it can get in the way in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you won’t always be right and your way won’t always be the best way to do things. Recognise that differences in personality and style don’t make people stupid. Take the time to listen and explore what the other person is saying. Don’t assume you know what is motivating them or that they have a particular intent in mind. Ask open questions to explore the situation and understand what’s really going on. Your assumptions will often be wrong. And don’t act like you are so much more important than people lower in the pecking order. You’re not.

5.    Share the glory.

Remember to ensure that all contributors are acknowledged and recognised. There is nothing worse than spending hours slaving away on something and never receiving a thank you. What’s even worse is watching your boss being praised and held up as a living genius when you’ve done 80% of the work. It’s not hard to share the glory and thank those who helped make it happen. Be generous with your praise and you will get continuing support and respect from your team. If you don’t, you will lose good people to other organisations. The research is clear – people usually leave managers not organisations.


I’m sure you have your own lessons from lousy leaders that could be shared. The take away is to reflect on what you are doing now and try and make sure you are not making the same mistakes your boss made when you were on the receiving end of poor leadership.


Mark Rosenberg

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