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How Your Terrible Boss Can Make You a Better Leader

Carol Leaman, CEO of AxonifyCarol Leaman, CEO of Axonify
Carol Leaman, CEO of AxonifyCourtesy of Axonify

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?” is by Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.

As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every lesson I’ve learned in my career I’d be a very rich person. In fact, it’s actually a good thing that you have no way to anticipate or appreciate just how many challenges you’ll be faced with when you’re young. If most of us knew, we’d eschew the traditional career route and find a beach shack in the Caribbean where we could sell fruity rum drinks and live “the easy life.” Now that I’m more than a couple of decades into my career, I’ve come to accept that the lessons will never end. Over time I’ve recognized patterns and themes to the point where new lessons tend to be a variation of things I’ve encountered before.

But there is one lesson in particular that has been consistent. It’s had a direct impact on my success, the success of the people I work with, and the success of business as a whole. It all comes down to how leaders present themselves at work; they have the power to turn a good company into a great one, or destroy it. A leader’s general attitude — how they deal with challenges and how they actively treat others in the business — is the best test of effective leadership.

See also: The Easiest Thing You Can Do to Be More Successful

Very early in my career I was on the receiving end of abysmal treatment at work. My boss at the time was arrogant, intimidating, and loved to — ahem — raise his voice. In fact, he was so difficult to work with that I was constantly asked how I could work for such a terrible boss. Looking back, I think it was a combination of things; I was young, naiive, and shy. I felt like I had no choice but to put up with it, plus I didn’t know any differently.

The fallout was all around me: people were afraid to take risks, disclosing bad news incited panic, and offering an opinion meant you were setting yourself up for ridicule. In a nutshell, not a single employee including me, performed at peak. We lived in fear and spent a lot of time at work whispering about problems and who was the latest target.

Several years later I became a CEO for the first time and finally got the opportunity to see how a leaders mood and attitude effects performance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t run around the office with a smile pasted on my face, making happy proclamations — I’m just real. I do my best to tell the truth. I don’t have wild extremes of emotion. And I try to deal with tough situations with a human approach. At the end of the day, my goal is to instill confidence — in me, my employees, and my team.

Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Never Do This When You’re Starting a New Business by Adam Ochstein, founder and CEO of StratEx.

A Major Sign You’re Working In a Toxic Office by Sandhya Venkatachalam, co-founder and partner of Centerview Capital.

The Best Way to Deliver Bad News to Employees by Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat.

The Best Way to Deliver Bad News to Employees by Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat.

You Should Never Hire A Job Candidate Without Doing This First by Phil Friedman CEO of CGS.

The One Quality A Leader Should Never Lack by David Silverman, CEO of McChrystal Group.

What This CEO Learned From a $40 Million Mistake by Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit.

The Most Valuable Lesson You Learn As An Entrepreneur by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of BroadbandTV.

Why It Pays To Be Nice at Work by Erin “Mack” McKelvey, CEO of SalientMG.

The key to a successful career change: start a blog by Peter Thomson, marketing director of SeedInvest.

The secret to dealing with difficult coworkers by Clark Valberg, CEO of InVision.

The best way to plan for a successful career? Forget the plan by Stephen Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.