Good Lessons From Bad Jobs

Many of us do our best learning in the worst situations.

Michael Wade

Put a new supervisor in a room with a bunch of experienced ones and odds are the veterans will talk about their mistakes. Variations of “watch out for this” and “never do that” will outnumber the more positive pointers.

So it goes with jobs--it is not unusual for us to glean the most powerful lessons from the worst situations. Consider what can be learned:

Poor supervision: Make a mental note of how you felt when a supervisor didn’t pitch in, lied, took undue credit, or played favorites. Vow that you will never duplicate those sins.

Motivation: Watch for the universal motivators, the individual motivators, and when motivation efforts are thwarted by other factors. Also be sure to notice the de-motivators.

Understanding: When a boss or a coworker doesn’t perform well, be a silent detective and try to determine why. Don’t just write off the person as a dolt or a jerk. Assume that the person wants to do a decent job, but something is interfering. Remember that a poor practice may be knowingly chosen but the individual may regard it as a solution to another problem.

Reward: Think of how management and coworkers inadvertently reward or favor poor performance. The worker who cranks out excellent work and meets all tight deadlines is often given more projects than those who miss deadlines and are mediocre.

People: Which of your colleagues merits promotion and which ones should be fired? Are the best workers recognized or does management favor the office politicians?

Structure: If you were able to form the organization from the ground up tomorrow, what would you keep and what would be changed? Which three policies would you retain and which three would be jettisoned?

The fact that it is possible to learn much from bad jobs doesn’t mean they should be tolerated. The best strategy for seriously dysfunctional workplaces is simple: Flee.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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