We hear all the time about the people in our world who are effective leaders, and how great the impact of such people can be on our lives and careers. In fact, one item just posted here on LinkedIn reminded me of this topic and of my own personal experiences with one such wonderful leader who in effect caused my entire career to happen. I will be forever grateful to her, and to others since then, who have given me the freedom to grow or the chance to prove myself. There can never be too many leaders who recognize talent and, rather than being threatened by it, cultivate it and allow it to thrive.
This article is not about those amazing people, however, as you may have guessed from the odd title. This article is about those people in leadership roles (I am deliberately NOT calling them leaders) who are actually so bad that they, too, create opportunities. And I don’t mean the kind of opportunities that end up in a settlement or whistle-blower case, although we probably all know how bad actors can also cause those types of outcomes.
We have all known them; that boss who walks around at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon looking for that ‘slacker’ who left a few minutes early, or who criticize any ‘out of the box’ ideas in order to maintain control. The manager who micro-manages employees and stifles creativity, who finds ways to intimidate independent thinkers and who actually punishes those who dare to offer unsolicited suggestions, even if it’s to benefit the organization. They hoard information so they can maintain control, they make sure their employees don’t get recognition, and they find ways to sabotage anyone under them who might be a threat to their carefully structured universe. These bosses might sow division or undermine employees by getting them to report on each other. They might ignore employees with a passion for doing the right thing, snubbing them at meetings or excluding them entirely. You know who I’m talking about, you’ve probably worked with some version of this person at least once.
I’ve had more than one such experience and, as a person whose career has been focused on auditing, law, and compliance, you can imagine that I have received more than my share by virtue of the work I do. Being independent and sticking to lawful and ethical behavior is not always popular; it can cost money, be politically unfavorable, or cause someone to look bad in the Board reports. Typically, at some point, there will be a powerful person who decides it’s time for the troublemaker to leave, and they work toward making this happen one way or the other. Been there, done that, have a few scars to show for it.
But I’m not complaining, and now, finally, I am getting to the point of this article. Every time a ‘bad leader’ has driven me to make a change, it has pushed me to move forward in ways that I might not have otherwise. I never intended to be someone who changed jobs regularly or moved around. I’m somewhere between the older generation who would stay in one job forever and the newer generation who couldn’t fathom that. But when those days came that I was forced to recognize I had no future in an organization, no opportunities would be coming my way, and perhaps even that I would be somehow eliminated, I had to face taking a leap that I had not planned.
In every single instance, no matter how ‘risky’ the leap was, I have managed to land on my feet and end up with some incredible change to my career that would not have occurred if I had remained ‘comfortable’. For that I am grateful. And I don’t believe it’s just my unique talent or strength (it would be great to think that, but I really don’t!). I believe these outcomes exist more than we realize.
I also believe that how we frame things in our own mind makes all the difference in our view of the world around us and how others perceive us. I also believe in making lemonade out of lemons. Bad things happen, and bad people do exist, but I ask you to think about some of those really awful times in your life, and look at how those events ultimately took you to a better place, whether mentally, physically, financially, professionally, whatever. I’m betting that if you think about it, you can recast at least some, if not all, of those events and recognize them as a turning point.
It’s not always easy, and often it needs to happen after a period of time. I’ve felt traumatized, shell shocked, kicked in the teeth, more than once. And in that moment it’s usually not gratitude we experience. But down the road, once you have moved on, take a peek back and look at ways to be grateful for some of those bad actors in your past. What changes did they force that turned out far better? It’s my belief that even bad guys happen for a reason, and I’m grateful for each and every bad guy who has led me to where I am today. I am exactly where I want to be, and I owe it all to them (well, maybe not ALL…I did make some efforts!) I hope you find this perspective useful, and that it may help you put those bad guys where they belong. Best of luck!