No matter what industry we may work for, it’s tough to make it through life without at least one bad boss.

No matter what industry we may work for, it’s tough to make it through life without at least one bad boss.

They can make our lives miserable, create additional stress and are often the catalyst for leaving one position in search of greener pastures. But what about the long term impact they have on us as leaders, managers and even fellow colleagues? What do we do with those experiences that are often painful and humbling? In response to that, I’d love to share my tale of a horrible boss.

Not What I Expected

My experience happened to coincide with the first building I ran as an executive director. It was a small building and I was so excited to be able to impact those around me, champion residents’ quality of life and be a shining example of all that is good and true in senior living. That’s not exactly how it all worked out. You see, I had been managing people for about 6 years but I had never been responsible for an entire building.

What a different dynamic that brings to the table. Staff looks at you differently, families want to see you simply because you’re the top of the food chain and you are the main person with whom regional and corporate staff interface. The boss in question was the second regional operations person I had during my time in that building. The first one had been supportive and great to me as a new ED just learning my way. When she took a different role, in came the man who started out as a positive force and later morphed into my arch-nemesis.

I Saw the Problems but Didn’t Address

It started well; he was pretty easygoing. After all, I was running one of the most successful buildings in a very troubled region so he really didn’t have too much to worry about. I had just come back from maternity leave, and I had left a building that was running efficiently. When I came back, I quickly found that much of the work I had put in to building the team had eroded. The person left in charge didn’t get along with my nurse, and there were a myriad of morale issues. I saw, but didn’t formally address them.

Then I started getting complaints about my nursing department and the way it was being run. I loved my nurses and didn’t want to think there was something awry so I didn’t directly address. Later it got messier with both of them and, after demoting one and having the other leave for another community, the damage was done. Finally, I hired another nurse, who turned out to be, hands-down, the worst employee I’ve ever had to deal with in my career. When I inquired about some compliance related information in her department and she told me not to meddle in HER department, I should have known something was wrong. But I didn’t directly address.

The Pattern

In case you are not seeing the pattern, here it is: I had some tough situations with employees and I DID NOT deal with them. I thought that if I was patient and long-suffering they would resolve themselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Enter the Horrible Boss

He was around as my community began to implode from a morale standpoint. When I was floundering and struggling he would offer one-liners such as, “learn how to manage her” or “you’ll be fine”. I was worried that the issues in my building would reflect terribly upon me, and I wasn’t used to not exceeding expectations. He joked with me about some of the issues and seemed to continue to be okay with my performance; after all, my building was averaging 99% occupancy and had a stellar compliance record in a difficult state, so it couldn’t be that bad, right?


Then came my review. He and the regional sales manager met with me and they had many good things to say about my performance. But then they told me that I was ultimately the leader in the building and that the personnel and morale issues were on my plate. They also told me that I hadn’t managed effectively in some areas. I had never had a review in my career in senior living that was anything but glowing, so I was completely deflated. I cried. I protested. I defended my innocence in the disgruntled employee drama. It was ugly.

Four Years Later

I left that job after 2.5 years due to moving back to California, but sadly I was never able to really bring resolution to some of the ongoing issues. For a long time I blamed that horrible boss. Why hadn’t he supported me more, offered more help, seen what a great job I was doing? Then, after taking another ED position, growing into the role and having the privilege of getting some great leadership training, I realized he wasn’t the terrible boss I’d envisioned for so long. Instead I began to see that much of the advice he offered was wise; I was simply too immature to be able to embrace it and let it impact my performance. I was stymied by my own fear of failure and at the same time wanted everyone to like me. Instead of being a great boss, I was the enabling leader who didn’t want to create too much conflict.

The Silver Lining

I’m thankful I didn’t stay in the place professionally, and that I had opportunities to grow under the influence of some great industry leaders. And, most of all, I learned that my horror boss was integral to my success today. That terrible boss whose words and actions continue to impact me to this day turned out not to be so horrible after all. Now that I’ve shared my story, I’d like to hear from you; what insight have you gleaned from a “horrible” boss that made you a better leader? How long did it take to see the impact for good upon your professional or personal life?