“I’ve learned just as many valuable lessons from my bad bosses as from my good bosses — maybe even more!” — Wayland Coker
One of the great things about serving in the US Navy was all the quality leaders you get to know and learn from. I believe some of the best and brightest leaders America has to offer are in the military services. But I can also say from personal experience that there are also those leaders who do the service no credit whatsoever — those who embody the worst kind of example or ideal.
Thankfully, I only experienced a couple of those poor leaders in my 20-year career. However, I can say with great conviction that I learned as much or more from the poor leaders as from the great ones. In fact, I would even be tempted to say that I learned more valuable lessons from the poor leaders as from the good ones.
An Object Lesson On The Impact Of Leadership
While serving aboard a nuclear attack submarine my first commanding officer embodied all the qualities you find leadership authors writing about: courage, vision, passion, fairness, concern for your fellow man, the virtue of hard work, leading from the front rather than behind, a man that inspired his officers and senior enlisted men to be the best at what they do and to develop their subordinates for future greatness. Our boat won many awards by those who are responsible to report on submarine combat readiness. We were awesome!
One horrible day we got the word that our Captain was very ill and would have to be relieved of his command to receive medical attention. The Navy sent us a new Captain. He was also many of the things you find leadership authors writing about, but in the negative: bureaucratic to a fault, a master micro-manager, no vision, a real perceived unfairness by the crew in his management and decision-making, no concern for anyone but himself and his own career, which resulted in the officers going from having a team attitude to one of survival-of-the-fittest. We went from award-winning and awesome, to below average and just meeting the minimums in readiness.
What Did I Learn?
Remember, this was the same boat, same crew. Only one man changed — the Captain. I was taught an invaluable lesson on the impact and value the right leader can have on an organization. It was incredible! Truly amazing to actually watch! Hard to describe unless you were there, but I hope you can use your imagination and appreciate what I’m describing. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:
- Having the right person in charge is critical. You can have the best team ever assembled, but if the leader is a loser there’s little chance for the team to be its best and highest.
- However, by the same token, if you have a superb leader and the team is only average, the leader can make the whole team superb. That’s what good leaders can do. Our first Captain took over an average sub and turned it into an award-winning sub. That all changed when he left. He was the critical factor.
- When you find yourself working for a poor leader, take notes. You can learn valuable lessons from them, too — maybe even more valuable. My second Captain showed me HOW NOT to do things all the time, especially when it came to people. That has informed my approach to leading people for many, many years since. It has been critical to my success.
Let me know what you think. Leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.