Learning from leaders – the good, the bad and the ugly

Becky Linklater

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and what it means to me.

Throughout my career I’ve had many managers but not all of them have been good leaders. For me, the best leaders have believed in me when I struggled to believe in myself, challenged me to push myself well into my stretch zone and most importantly, trusted in my abilities. They inspired me to go that extra mile and that made a significant difference to my confidence and productivity levels. 

Leading by example

But what about the bad leaders? I learnt as much from them, obviously in a different way, than good leaders. I think I possibly learnt more from them than any.  I once worked for a company, for a decent length of time, and the owner never once uttered so much as a ‘good morning’ throughout my entire duration of working there. Reflecting on how this made me feel, and keen to turn a negative into a positive, I make a conscious effort to speak to anyone I come into contact with – improving professional relationships with my colleagues. 

Personally, I will always say hello to people, however some people are more social than others. Having said that, being sociable is a responsibility which comes hand in hand with being a leader. 

Another leader, who I had worked for in the past, threw files and swore aggressively at me. He then wanted to know why a younger member of staff had done the same thing to another member of the team. My response was that she was young, impressionable and only in her first role since leaving school. She had witnessed his behaviours frequently and was simply learning by example. This leader had an extremely negative influence on their staff by leading them to believe that this unacceptable behaviour was in fact normal. 

Positive influence

The amazing leaders taught me the value of a constructive 1:1 meeting and how effective it can be for employees and leaders alike. I understand that sometimes a simple “How are you?” can help make a real difference to somebody’s day. When I then took this knowledge elsewhere, I was amazed at how effective it was rebuilding a dysfunctional team. The team quickly began to trust me and, in time, each other. They knew I would listen to them, I would do what I said I would do, and was fair in my approach to any complaints or concerns. 

A phrase that has always stayed with me is one from an inspirational man. One day, he said: ‘’Face that barking dog” and I have never forgotten those words. When I am feeling unsure about a task, or know that I need to have a challenging conversation with a colleague, this is what I think to myself. Following his advice, I’m able to take myself out of my comfort zone, help my team and ultimately reach my personal and professional targets. 

In my current role, I have several good leaders, but I still find it difficult when I come across a challenge – I believe I always will. However, I have come to realise that this only helps me grow, develop and sometimes even surprise myself. 

My challenge for you is to think of all the leaders you have experienced in your life, how they influenced your career and why they helped make you the leader you are today. Taking time to reflect will enable you to identify the good and not-so-good elements of leadership, and ultimately help you revise your own style of leadership moving forward.