Following Someone Not Fit To Lead: Four Lessons I Learned From My First (Bad) Real-World Boss
When an agency hired me shortly after I graduated from college, I was very eager to learn as much as possible from the CEO of the company I was in. His experience was far beyond mine, and prior to joining the organization, I had read countless stories on the powerful influence your first boss will have on you and on your career growth trajectory. Because the company was an SME, our day–to-day activities were very transparent; my position required me to work directly with our CEO, which gave me a rare, golden opportunity to witness firsthand that –contrary to popular thought- a decision-maker does not necessarily have to embody the traits of a genuinely great leader.
There are pros and cons to experiencing a leader not fit to lead, especially when you’re just beginning your career, like I was. Rather than developing a cynical attitude during my time at this organization, I soaked in all of the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to fully comprehend what to look for in the next company I apply for. Here’s what I learned from my first real-world boss:
1. A boss who lies about your company to others should not be trusted.
In order to be a successful and proactive part of your company’s team, trust in the company and leadership plays a crucial role in career growth and progress. In my opinion, it doesn't matter if it’s a Fortune 500 company, or a brick and mortar deli. The moment you find yourself embarrassed or concerned that others will obtain knowledge of where you work is a clear indicator of either poor leadership or unethical practices. As someone who observed our CEO continuously embellish the dynamics, values, and manpower of the organization to prospective clients, I became ashamed to give out my business cards, not to mention become hugely concerned with winning accounts for the company under my name. I didn’t want to make promises we couldn’t deliver on.
2. A boss that lacks trust creates a ripple effect.
We all know the micromanager, especially in startups when the organization is still in its infancy. Although it’s protocol to keep track of employee progress, a boss that controls all forms of employee productivity creates a damaging ripple effect that disrupts the progress, execution, and the confidence of the team. When a boss micromanages, it shows distrust in his/her staff, which demotivates employees to reach their full potential and demonstrate initiative. My former boss micromanaged so much- he drafted all external emails and developed concepts for which he had hired specific people to manage and execute. What I observed were severe delays in all of our work, due to him taking on additional tasks that he wasn’t able manage. Because of his distrust and lack of confidence in our team, deadlines were constantly missed and poor results produced.
3. A poor leader looks for quantity, not quality.
Because my former employer was a small agency responsible for only a handful of clients, our duties could easily fit into a standard five-day work week. About 90% of any possible business development leads, new accounts, and existing clients didn’t operate on weekends. My boss continuously told us he worked seven days a week and 16-hour days for the organization. Therefore, our six-day work week should be seen as a privilege. My colleagues and I were exhausted, and even worse, bored during weekend work. Why? Because we were simply asked to come in due to my boss and his desire to appear productive, important, and lucrative. This in turn, contributed to employee unhappiness, lack of enthusiasm for the job, and poor work-life balance.
4. A poor boss doesn’t invest in long-term employee potential.
After college, I struggled (and I still am!) to land a role that will invest in my development and potential. Because I didn’t intern or train with prominent well-known organizations, the early stages of my career development will undoubtedly happen on the job. For self-made people like myself and for those just starting out, it’s important to join a company that strongly believes in on going employee training and development. Because my former boss micromanaged and excessively controlled his team, long-term development and progress weren’t apart of the company’s mission. How do I know this? Well, the loyalists that joined seven years before I did were fearful of requesting higher salaries, promotions, training, and a weekend off. If promoting employee growth is something your boss ignores, it’s a red flag that you are wasting precious time and most importantly, your talent!
So take it from me, a woman who continuously strives to achieve personal betterment. My first real-world boss taught me that being the boss does not necessarily equal being a strong leader- and strong leadership, ethics, and investment in your growth is everything when you’re striving to build the foundation of a promising, successful, and long-term career.
Related: How To Be A Better Boss
Jamilla Ali is a native New Yorker and graduate of Saint Francis College in Brooklyn, New York. Jamilla previously worked at a boutique branding agency in Dubai, United Arab Emirates where she was responsible for all new client business development efforts. Prior to Jamilla’s experience in Dubai, she was a writer for various startup blogs catered to the underground hip hop music scene and cultural activities in and around the New York City area. Jamilla continues to pursue multiple disciplines and aspires to write a book documenting her life changing experiences at home and abroad.