I have worked for a lot of people in my career, mostly on short or mid-term contracts (up to a few years). And because of that I have had exposure to multiple leaders with multiple styles. Some good, some really good and some not good.
For me, there is one that stands out as the most challenging experience. I was in my mid-twenties and he was unabashed about his dislike for me. He also made it clear that he did not think I was qualified for the job I was doing, he questioned my intelligence and my ethics. He lied about me and he yelled, a lot. Our entire team knew of his disdain for me, and so did the volunteers in our organization. He tried to fire me on more than one occasion, but I had a camp of good people who were willing to stand up for me and his bids to release me were unsuccessful. I suspect he set me up to fail far more than he did to succeed. And it was obvious that he had a different set of rules for me.
He was probably one of the best educations in leadership I have gotten in my career. Throughout our time together I learned what not to do more than what to do in terms of raising a staff through an event with a critical timeline, high stress and changing priorities. Let’s call him the ‘Hater Boss’.
I’ve had other bosses who created a hierarchy that compels staff to compete to move higher in the food chain, most times at the cost of colleague relationships. This kind of leader remains King because their team is constantly adjusting their position to be the favoured ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. It allows their level of influence to remain high and it also creates a toxicity among the team that is displayed in a ‘cover your butt’ kind of mentality. There is little trust in these teams. On the surface they appear functional and mature, behind the curtain there is a lot of gossip and a lot of lies. They sell out their colleagues and themselves. This kind of leader never articulates a clear path to the Prince or Princess position, instead it changes often. The moving target in terms of deliverables and priorities also allows the ‘King’ to keep people hyper vigilant and highly attentive to the needs and wants of the ‘King’.
Both of these leaders created dysfunctional groups, we were not teams. Both of these leadership styles are driven by ego and not by service. Both of these leaders taught me valuable lessons. In both situations I did not feel completely at ease, ever. In both situations I carried a level of stress beyond the job tasks and duties.
The Hater Boss created a voice in my head that questioned my own capabilities, which took some years to conquer. Interestingly enough I crossed paths with the Hater about five years later just before he got fired very publicly. I did not enjoy watching him get what was coming to him. By that time I had found much success in spite of his condemnation, and he knew it when he looked at me. That was a better moment than seeing him humiliated.
In both of these situations I was on a contract with an end date and I chose to survive. And now, I choose more wisely who I will and will not work for, but I’m also in a position to be able to choose. Forever jobs with good leaders are hard to find. If you are working for a Hater or a King, be aware of your own behaviours and reactions. I believe you can still evolve and grow in these environments, but your perspective will be what keeps you sane. And it may have shelf life, so be cognizant if it’s taking more out of you than growing you, it might be time to seek another option.
If you are insecure or concerned about your capabilities a leadership role will bring those to the surface. If you share confidences, encourage gossip and insight a hierarchy you will create a team that is in constant flux, they will not be comfortable because you are not comfortable. You are the example. Don’t be a Hater and don’t be a King. Do be – fair, consistent, focused and confident.
What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader do you work for? What can you do to use your situation to grow and be a better leader when given the opportunity? Will you be a Hater or a King? Or will you be the leader that serves their team and creates a cohesiveness that they crave, they honour and they work to keep?