The good, the bad and the ugly

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Ever had a bad boss? You know the type ... the one you and your friends secretly like to roast as you sit in the break room or, perhaps, when you are recapping the morning events at lunch? Maybe you have an occasional pang of guilt, but you tell yourself that it really isn't your fault since the guy brings it on himself. Rationalize some more and you might think that you are doing the world the favor of articulating what everyone thinks, but is afraid to say aloud. Right?

There are as many books on leadership as there are types of bosses, but for the sake of argument and brevity, let's assume there are three: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good: here is the boss everyone wants. He takes care of the mission and the people. The go-getter who is able to find that symbiotic relationship between man and machine. He aligns the moon, the stars and keeps both officers and Airmen happy. While he may not be able to turn dirt into gold, the work environment is enjoyable and everyone except the most incorrigible are content. Life is good and things are looking better each day.

The bad: you know who we are talking about ... the one who is uneducated or, worse yet, completely incompetent. You watch his actions and wonder how in the world did he get to that position? You are sure, without a doubt, that you can do the job better if only given the opportunity. Morale is low and you are just waiting for the next faux pas, hoping no one gets hurt.

The ugly: we are not talking personal appearance here. We are talking about the screamer... the one you think is just plain mean or, perhaps a little vindictive. You wonder if something happened in his childhood that made him that way. He's the one who forces you against a wall. The one who elicits the defensive responses that transport you back to basic training. You just can't help those automatic responses from popping out: "yes sir," "no sir," "no excuse sir," "sir, it will not happen again," and so on, regardless of the situation.

But were any of these three stereotypes a bad boss? The answer is a resounding -- no! While some may be more effective than others, all serve a purpose teaching and mentoring, albeit not always consciously. The end result is that you couldn't help but learn something. You learned what to do and often what not to do in a similar situation.

The next time you have the itch to talk bad about your boss, do yourself a favor and resist the temptation. Grab a notebook instead ... maybe even one of those little green record books you see everywhere. Write down the behavior with which you disagree. Be honest and open. Be a little introspective and ask yourself a few questions. Why did your boss react a certain way? Why was this the wrong decision? What would you have done differently? Don't dwell on the negative. When you agree with something or find yourself shaking your head saying that was brilliant, do the same thing. Write it down.

Review your list of behaviors often and think about what kind of leader you want to be. How do you want to react when you are in the next higher grade or position? How will you do things better? Don't be passive and don't be the observer.

There is a huge difference between lessons learned and lessons observed, but that is a topic for another time.