How having a bad boss can teach you management skills

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Dissatisfied managerBy Gretchen Barton, writer for National Association of Sales Professionals

Unfortunately for the American worker, management skills are not always taught in the way they should be. Many books and articles have been written on the subject, but most management skills are most powerfully taught on the ground, experientially. As a result, new managers, for better or for worse, often just mimic what their former managers did when they were under their charge. Many an employee has been subject to a difficult manager, and while these experiences are certainly unpleasant, they’re also learning opportunities for those who wish to avoid the mistakes of those who have come before. Here are some habits inspired by bad bosses of this author’s past to avoid practicing in management:

Being overly controlling: Managers who enjoy their status can often be overly controlling. Whether it’s micromanaging their subordinates or creating impossible rules to follow, being overly controlling can discourage workers who are self-motivated, hamper creativity and create a culture where all employees become overly dependent on managers to do their job.

Can’t admit mistakes: Albert Einstein once said that “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If Albert Einstein believes that mistakes are necessary, certainly managers can make mistakes. And they will make mistakes. It’s only human. But it’s wrong for a manager to not admit when he’s made a mistake. Mistakes happen, but not admitting them sets the wrong example.

Double standards: Managers who give out mixed signals by saying one thing and doing another only frustrate and confuse their staff. When the one rule of thumb is, “Do as I say, not as I do,” you can be sure that double standards are in place. Managers with double standards often model the very behaviors they want to eliminate in their staff, from being late to work to being a workplace gossip to failing to continually improve and strive for excellence. Managers have the privilege of setting the tone at the workplace, and if the tone is positive, the workplace will reflect that.

Punish the good, reward the bad: Along the lines of the double standards principles, managers who are often intimidated by their better employees will find ways to punish and ultimately bully their best workers. At the same time, managers will reward their worst workers. Why? Because punishing the good and rewarding the bad is a way for managers with low self-worth to feel better about themselves. It’s also a way to destroy a business.

Certainly, managers play an important role in creating a business culture which is positive, growth-oriented and stimulating for the workers they are supervising. While management skills are often picked up from managers who have come before them, new managers have an opportunity to take the management skills they’ve learned and consciously use them or discard them based on whether or not they are skills which grow a healthy business.

Gretchen Barton is a writer for the National Association of Sales Professionals, the largest online community dedicated to sales, customer service and social media marketing. NASP offers sales certification programs as well as training courses for sales, customer service and social media marketing. NASP provides its members with a content-rich social networking platform for jobs, articles, assessments, tools, knowledge sharing and networking at (membership is free). Follow NASP on Twitter at and on Facebook at

One Comment
  1. Gretchen, this is really great post – so many people in life refuse to learn from their negative experiences. It’s kind of like the person who has a bad parent and then becomes one themselves.. why not take the opportunity to learn who you don’t want to be rather than repeat the same mistakes. Very insightful post and a great reminder.
    Brian Clapp
    Director of Content

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