You can read all about my issues on my personal blog, byjohnbrandon.com, but suffice it to say: I learned a few things about how to be a terrible leader. By the time I “graduated” to a larger company working as a writing manager with a large team in an IT department, I had put most of my bad habits to rest. But not all of them. Here are a few that lingered longer than they should have.
1. I expected good communication from employees but didn’t communicate well myself.
I had this mixed up view of communication: I wanted my project leads to give me regular status updates and send routine emails. I expected them to let me know if they were slipping on any project budgets or had a temperamental employee. Sadly, I did not pay them the same courtesy. I lived in a management bubble thinking, even later on in my career, that I didn’t have to talk that much about my own challenges, the company vision, or budget snafus.
2. I promoted people before they were ready.
I’m not sure why I had this bad habit, and it’s the hallmark of a terrible boss. Maybe my intentions were good–I wanted my team leads to succeed. But here’s the real reason Ipromoted employees: I was scared they would leave the company. That’s a ridiculous reason to put someone in charge of something when they aren’t ready for it. It makes everyone on the team look bad, and it’s really creating a monster, one that has my own bad habits.
3. I charged in with guns blazing.
When I worked at a small software startup years ago, I had this cocky attitude about conflict. I wasn’t about to let anyone get away with anything. If there was any sign of trouble, I’d arrange a meeting and drop a few bombs right away on people, suggesting they were in danger of being fired or even raising my voice loudly to make a point. I should have asked questions and looked for resolution to problems, easing people into the solution. Cracking the whip never worked.
4. I bought hardware I liked without knowing if there was a need.
Have you ever seen this problem in the workplace? The boss suddenly totes in some new laptop that’s going to be distributed to every employee–probably one with an Apple logo on it. It’s decked out with loads of RAM and storage. Yet, you’re suspicious: The laptop is just the one that everyone wants and has some illustrious new features. I made this mistake more than once, getting caught up in the latest marketing pitches. The problem with this approach is that the gear might not match the current project requirements. The worse problem is that I didn’t talk to my employees enough about what they really needed and if they could do their jobs adequately.
5. I took too much pride in my role.
This isn’t a problem I’ve dealt with completely. There’s good pride and bad pride. The good kind makes us free to lead others because we have the most experience. The bad kind is where we get value and purpose in life solely from our lofty position. It’s just a job. Bad bosses always act like they’re on a pedestal looking downward. Which leads to another problem…
6. I thought I knew everything.
My kids still tell me I’m a know-it-all. Part of the problem, of course, is that I really do know more about how to drive a car or clean a fish than they do. But in my years working as a corporate manager, I tended to treat my employees like they were peons who didn’t know anything. Leaders often have a hard time giving up control to a more experienced officer, but that’s where servant-leadership comes in–bowing to the knowledge of someone who performs a task better than you can, letting others have control, and overseeing the progress.
7. I didn’t share my vision enough.
Perhaps the worst thing I did as a boss during those years was that I didn’t hit home the whole point of the team. My last role involved leading a writing and design team, and I had some great ideas about how to make sure end users understand complex applications. My transition to the writing field worked smoothly because it’s essentially the same thing–distilling complexity. But I didn’t share the vision enough, and people often rebelled. They didn’t know where the team was going, and I expected them to read my mind. That was my biggest mistake of all.