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12 Tales Of Leadership: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

From the age of 14 to 17 I worked at a large independent coffee house in the centre of town. I loved being a barista, learning how to make the perfect cappuccino and perfecting the art of slicing cheesecake with a hot knife. The team were great fun and I loved my regulars. I took pride in my work and got a buzz from getting into flow on a Saturday behind the serving counter.

But what I didn’t love was the manager. Not only did she terrify me (the fear of being shouted at was ever-looming) but she’d strop around and grumble under her breath making everyone feel on edge. I felt awkward for the customers and she was widely known for being temperamental. 

I loved the work but hated my boss.

How many of us have experienced that? According to the TINYpulse Employee Retention Report, employees who rate their manager’s performance poorly are four times more likely to be job hunting. If you talk to friends and family and ask them their reasons for changing their working situation, poor management comes up time and time again.

So how do you stop yourself becoming one of those tyrants when you become the boss/the MD/the CEO? 

The key is self-awareness. It’s your job to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s your job to set the tone for your workplace and your company’s culture.

The best way I’ve found, as I’ve become responsible for bigger and bigger teams is to remember the good managers and the things they did that made me feel valued and motivated and remember the poor leaders and actively avoid behaving in ways that made me resentful.


The Good…


1. Making the effort to learn everyone’s names

“I’ll never forget the CEO at my first supermarket job who made sure he took time out to introduce himself to every new starter and learn (and remember) their names. He’d even stay late to speak to the new night workers at the start of their shifts. It made a huge difference to people, but was such a small thing to remember.”

Ryan, Hampshire


2. Ask everyone to share their vision

“The best Head Teacher I worked for asked every member of staff – from the cleaners to the heads of department – to share their ideal vision for the school. Everyone worked on and towards the development plan feeling empowered and working towards a common goal. The lesson I learnt from them was to value everyone’s opinion.”

Jessica, Surrey


3. Insist on work/life balance

“The leader who stands out most in my career is someone who insisted on work / life balance and taught me that you can’t give from an empty cup. It can be hard to instil that in a business when there’s so much pressure as the owner to keep it profitable, but a happier, less-stressed workforce is far more productive, engaged and loyal and it means our business attracts truly talented people.”

Mohammed, Somerset


4. Trust your team

“In my first job I was so lucky to have a manager who supported me, trained me and guided me to be the best I could be at my job. But the biggest lesson I learnt from her was to trust my team. She would let me have ownership of projects and client relationships and I wanted to prove her trust in me to be right so worked even harder at doing a great job. Now that I’m a manager I can see how difficult it is to relinquish the control to your more junior team members but I remember her and how she trusted me and by doing so in turn, I have reaped the rewards with my own team”

Jen, West Sussex


5. Respect preferences

“An amazing leader I worked with asked each member of staff how they liked to be referred to. Every day she would greet that person with their preferred name. So simple, but every team member felt valued as a result.”

Katy, Sussex


The Bad…


6. Learn how to give feedback properly

“A team leader I used to work with used to tell people off in front of the whole office. She took great pleasure in belittling staff in front of others and used 121s to highlight all the negatives. The worst thing was, she believed she was doing nothing wrong. When I asked her if she thought her approach was motivational, she said she didn’t care and that people need to know how bad they are at their jobs.”

Lynsey, Warwickshire


7. Don’t be a coward

“In the days after a surprise restructure, the senior leadership team were all absent from the office. At a time when the employees needed support, explanations and reassurance (if possible), there was no one to be found. It was cowardly and damaging to morale. Making staff redundant rippled anger and disappointment through the office and even affected those who weren’t directly impacted by the redundancies. If you have to make difficult decisions, at least face the music.”

Douglas, Aberdeenshire


8. Don’t repeat their mistakes

“I don’t think you learn anything from bad management other than never, ever to do that yourself to other co-workers!”

Ann, Surrey


9. Don’t surround yourself with yes-people

“I once had a catch up about my future at a company and because I didn’t tell my boss what she wanted to hear, it resulted in a redundancy process. That was enlightening to say the least.”

Emma, Oxfordshire


The Ugly…


10. Don’t break confidentiality or the law

“The worst leadership I’ve experienced is someone who broke confidentiality to the extent that basic employment law wasn’t abided by. I learnt the hard way not to take it for granted that professionalism will be reciprocated and to be prepared to follow policies and take issues above your line manager if necessary.”

Jessica, Surrey


11. Keep difficult conversations private

“One of my previous managers continued a conversation with an employee (that was escalating into a full blown disagreement) on a group Whatsapp of staff members. This allowed everyone the opportunity to get involved and it turned very ugly. “

Katy, Sussex


12. Don’t be an £$%*£$£!*%£!

“When I worked for a small business, the owner would regularly send letters to the team reprimanding them for minor misdemeanours or mistakes. They were rude, factually incorrect and often singled team members out to give them a telling off. The first time I received one I thought it was a joke. After the 6th or 7th I realised I was working for someone who had no respect for her staff and was just a nasty piece of work. The sad thing is, I don’t think she knew she was so bad. Some people are just not made to be managers and the only thing I learnt was to walk away, and avoid working for  $£!*%£! in the future.”

Tom, Merseyside



Take heed of these lessons as you step into leadership and always remember to treat others as you’d expect to be treated.

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Jen Smith

Jen Smith is an award-winning content and social media strategist and is one of our resident bloggers, with over five years writing for and supporting small businesses.

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