Not all former bosses are gems. But there's a saving grace--the bad ones can provide invaluable lessons on how not to run a company. It's common to want to identify the qualities you dislike most in your anti-mentors, then pour a bunch of energy into making sure you never ever exhibit those qualities yourself.
Unfortunately, this strategy can completely backfire, according to Lauren Bacon who co-founded Raised Eyebrow Web Studio, a Vancouver-based design nonprofit. Prior to her life as an entrepreneur, Bacon had one bad boss in particular that left his mark on her. "He got under my skin so badly that his ghost haunted me years after I'd quit working for him and started my own company. I didn't realize how thoroughly he'd occupied my unconscious mind," Bacon wrote.
That is until five years later, when she woke up to the fact that her emphasis on not becoming her boss had been clouding her judgment the whole time.
"Where he had been relentlessly self-promotional to the point of arrogance, I resisted marketing. Where he had bought into rapid, exponential growth as the only path to business success, I refused to hire help even though I was working myself to the bone," Bacon explained.
Bacon has since left the Raised Eyebrow Web Studio, and today she's a leadership coach for entrepreneurs. As you can imagine, she's become very familiar with the entrepreneurial psyche. And through her work, Bacon has learned that she's hardly the only one who compares herself to former bosses and colleagues.
Due to the blind spots this caused for her, Bacon devised a thought exercise designed to help people avoid the distraction. It starts with identifying the person who repulses you, then answering these questions:
How do I feel about this person, in general? What specifically about them is so triggering? (Spend a good amount of time here, dumping it all out.) What are they modeling for me, in a "how not to be" way? How does my reaction relate to my own values?
Next, take a look at those qualities that you abhor. It might be true that this person exhibits them to the extreme. But you might not possess these qualities at all, and it could be to your detriment.
"If I have a habit of judging people as arrogant windbags, it might behoove me to take a look in the mirror and ask myself, 'Where in my life could I stand to assert myself more strongly?'" Bacon said. "Chances are, the reason I'm so triggered by so-called arrogance is that I'm denying my inner arrogant jerk--so to speak. (Or to put it more kindly, my inner assertive authority.)"
Sometimes it's okay to pass judgment. But make those judgments constructive by focusing on what they say about you.