Recently, I asked a room full of nearly 100 first-time managers about the worst managers they ever had, “How many of you have had a manager who was so wonderful that he or she became a mentor to you?”
I was knocked out that most of them raised their hands.
“You are among the fortunate ones,” I told them. (Ordinarily, when I ask a room full of first-time managers that question, less than half of them raise their hands.)
Then I asked, “What did you learn from your mentor that you carry with you, and that has helped make you the manager you are today?”
I heard enthusiastic stories about mentors who brought people under their wings, who confided in them, who shared their thought processes on difficult decisions, who included them in high-level meetings, and who honestly cared about them and their future.
Then, I asked, “How many of you have had a manager who was a complete and utter jerk – someone who you swore you would never be like?”
(I’ve always believed that any good question reversed is an equally good question, especially when it comes to your worst managers.)
So, I added, “What did you learn from that jerk that you carry with you today – and that you’ve promised yourself you will never be like as a manager?
And the room became electric.
People were sharing their fervor, commitment, angst and passion.
First, someone said they worked for a jerk that was demanding and moody. And took his irritable temperament out on everyone.
Then, someone said she worked for a woman who pumped everyone on the staff for their ideas, then the jerk repackaged them and presented them to management as her ideas.
And someone said he worked for a jerk who would blame things on everyone on his team, while accepting no responsibility for himself.
Then, it seemed like everyone was chiming in. The room became clamorous.
They started tripping over each other, apologizing for interrupting as they ardently recounted stories about being treated shabbily by their jerk of a boss.
And I was bowled over.
I realized, as I said to them, that they had just helped me discover something quite amazing.
It is ironic.
But we often learn more from people who we do not want to be like, from the jerks of the world, than we do from those who have our best intentions in mind.
Or maybe it’s not that we learn more from them. Maybe it’s just that we remember them more. And we still feel the passion of wanting not to be like them.
We carry with us the commitment we made to ourselves of wanting to be the exact opposite of them. Of not wanting – in any way, shape or form – for anyone to ever vaguely confuse us with them. So we carry their negative messages with us.
Embedded in our subconscious.
And we insist, with every fiber of our body, we swear that we will not be like them.
To the universe, we shout, “No!”
And in that ‘no,’ we affirm a ‘yes’ to ourselves.
So, here’s to all the jerks we’ve had as bosses.
And to all they taught us.
You absolute jerks!