In the spirit of the old adage “If they give you lemons, make lemonade,” broadcast journalist Shellie Karabell, who has worked for ABC News, PBS, AP Broadcast and CNBC recently offered in Forbes a list of things that good leaders can learn from bad bosses.
1. Mutual respect. She learned its importance from a boss who never let it occur. Instead, she would sneer at people and openly criticize their efforts. The result: “a marked decline in initiative and innovation and a general malaise of spirit within the department that was noticeable and remarked upon by senior management.” When that boss was fired, the lesson was seared into her consciousness.
2. Communication is a two-way street. Karabell says she had one boss who had three styles of communication: “bullying, pontificating, and droning on.” Listening definitely wasn’t on the list. She says the result was “people toed the line and had a field day mimicking her behind her back.” No sign that any synergy ever happened.
3. Know who’s the boss. When decisions need to be made, make them. Don’t procrastinate in a pool of self-doubt until the last minute and except “staff scramble to meet the deadline just so they’ll know who has the authority around here.” That’s not leadership, it’s sabotage, she says.
4. Pay staff well and equitably. Karabell says, “I once had a boss who suggested I hire a woman for an open position because it would be cheaper than hiring a man. I didn’t. Make it cheaper, that is.” She adds: “A salary is a sign of worth, and if someone learns he or she is being paid less than someone else doing the same kind of job, you can leave yourself open to legal action. That’s in addition to being a jerk.”
5. Hire good people, share your vision, and then let them get on with it in their own way. Karabell adds, “Don’t let your staff’s competence make you uncomfortable or nervous. You’re there to lead an entire team, to clear the path for them so you can reach your targets — not meddle in their daily work.” If you know what your job as a leader truly is, you’ll want the very best people on your team.
6. Give the credit; take the blame. With four decades of work experience under her belt, Karabell observes: “Too often, it’s the other way around, with the boss taking on for him or herself the team’s achievements while offloading failure. That’s exploitation. This tactic fools no one, no matter which end of the corporate ladder you’re trying to impress.”
7. Don’t play favorites. Karabell recalls a boss whose only business relationship was with his second in command. “The two played tennis together, their families went to dinner together. That left the other 96 people working at that company out in the cold. So none of them could (or would?) come to the rescue when eventually the board of directors, tired of lackluster performance from the CEO, ousted him one day… and his sidekick followed.” Once again, a firing brought home the lesson.
8. Keep your distance. Karabell says she’s not advocating for leaders to be aloof, but she thinks there should be something of a “no fly zone” between you and your staff. This is especially important when it comes to making sure that your people don’t “have to bear the burden of your personal problems.” She endorses the advice of John C. Maxwell, well known business guru, author and pastor, who said: “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
9. Lead by example. This almost goes without saying. Actions always speak louder than words. Her advice reminds us of the oft-quoted advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel. And if you must, use words.”
10. Trust your people. People live up to expectations – and down to them too. If you don’t trust people, you almost assure that their behavior will not be trustworthy. However, if you do trust people, they often rise to their best level of performance. “The trust you give out comes back to you,” Karabell counsels.