Learning and Growth

What Do You Do If You Work For A Bad Boss?

What do you do when your boss is bad leader? In How To Fail As A Leader, one of the main characters has real problems with the vision and direction of his boss. Sadly, this is not a fictional problem. I spoke this week with a friend who is a similar situation. Here’s what I said:

First, ask yourself if you really are supposed to stay with that leader. Jimmy Collins (former President of Chick-fil-A) taught me that it is our responsibility to choose our bosses well. Tweet This It’s normal to feel stuck. But you have more options than you probably realize. It might take some time to make a transition happen, but you can find a better job with a better boss.

an unwitting victim screaming man

But what if you believe you’re supposed to stay with that leader? My friend believed God was calling him to stay for at least a while longer.

Then ask the leader how they would like to receive feedback. Before you give challenging feedback, ask them what the best way would be to offer input to them—and on what topics they’re willing to listen. Pre-negotiate how to have that conversation. At best, this opens the door for you to come back later with specifics in the way they want. At worst, you’ll find out they aren’t open to challenges before you stick your foot in your mouth.

But what if—as in my friend’s case—they aren’t open to feedback?

Is time to establish boundaries to protect yourself. Know what you need to stay healthy and protect that. You might need boundaries around how much time you’ll work. Or you might need to limit how often you’ll talk about how bad your boss is with your colleagues and friends. Stirring up frustration after you’ve decided to live with only makes it harder. You might even need to protect yourself from your own passion for excellence and be willing to do what the boss says even when you don’t agree. Choosing to stay means choosing to follow that leader even when you disagree.

If you can’t live with these limits, then I refer you back to the first question. Why are you staying? If the only reason is because you can’t see a way out, then you can decide to leave and give yourself the freedom to start figuring out a way to do that well. There are always options, if you’re willing to be both creative and persistent. And be sure to interview your next boss thoroughly. The second time around with the same type of bad leader you won’t learn as much—and it hurts just as bad.

Lastly, if this is happening to you, do not waste this opportunity. I learned so much from my bad leaders. Hopefully I learned enough that I’m not “teaching” my staff these lessons, too. 🙂 It was painful and exhausting and I don’t recommend staying very long. But while you’re there, squeeze as much learning as you can from it. Don’t let your pain go to waste. Tweet This You might even want to journal during this season, both to help you process your pain and to crystalize the insights.

This post is my answer to a discussion question from Chapter Four Debrief of How To Fail As A Leader.

photo credit: an unwitting victim…bwahahhahahaa via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakWhat Do You Do If You Work For A Bad Boss?

The Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner

We’ve all encountered a hardheaded, stubborn know-it-all. This kind of boss or neighbor is a stereotype, it’s so common. Especially as kids, we all promised each other we would never end up like that cranky adult (insert your childhood example here). But I realized as I became an adult that attitude is actually the default destination.

stubborn man

As a child my natural state was not knowing—needing to learn. Just in case I wasn’t sure, grown ups constantly reminded me. But as I grew and learned, I earned respect. Eventually, people paid me for my knowledge—even gave me awards. And I remember the day, years ago, when I put down a cool looking book on leadership, thinking to myself, I know this stuff already. But a few months later a friend of mine told me what they learned form the book and I realized the price of my arrogance.

In his classic book, The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin says the primary barrier to progress is the illusion of knowledge and a dedication to expertise (or at least the appearance of it). Tweet This The best discoverers, Boorstin asserts, are not the smartest or most talented, but those who either have the discipline to remain “expert beginners” in their field.

And I’ve found the more I learn, the harder I have to work to keep learning. Tweet This Our tendency is to rest in our knowledge. The posture of a learner must be chosen.

As a parent, you can decided you already know your child. But today, when they tell you stories and show off their scribbling, what if you choose to discover who they are as if they are new to you? How would that change the way you interact?

As a leader, do you already know the best way to solve your team’s problem or your team’s vision? Or will you choose to open yourself up to learning new methods or even choosing a new path? Are you finished learning? Or can you humble yourself and walk today with open eyes and a curious heart? Are you an expert or an expert beginner? What posture do you choose today?

photo credit: Stubborn. via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakThe Crucial Difference Between Expert and Expert Beginner

How A Bad Grade Made Me A Better Man

My latest book (which launches in 2 weeks!) has the unusual title, How to Fail as a Leader. Partly, that’s tongue in cheek—I want you to succeed, of course. But partly it’s about the power of learning from our failures. Many of the greatest learning moments in my life were right after I failed. Tweet This

sad man

For example, I have a vivid memory of sitting at my desk in my college dorm room, staring at a paper with my first truly bad grade at the end of a class. I was valedictorian of my high school and I planned to repeat those grades in college. Despite my diligence to play Axis & Allies (epic war board game) at least once a week, I somehow hadn’t gotten perfect grades.

I remember leaning forward in my chair, looking closely at the paper one more time, thinking, “What do I do now?” My dream for perfect college grades was over. Permanently. And I still had three and a half years to go. I had failed already.

Then I heard God’s voice in the quiet of my heart: “Why do you like yourself?”

My answer changed my life. In the pain of that moment, I realized that I had depended on being smart to like myself. And I used grades to validate that I was smart enough to be worth liking. In that moment I realized how dangerous and unhealthy it was to depend on perfect grades in order to like myself.

For the first time in my life, I released myself from the pressure of being perfect in school. Thankfully, I didn’t stop trying to do well in my classes. I even learned how to study better (not that I stopped playing board games).

Over the years I’ve come back to this question again and again, each time uncovering another aspect of my identity that needed adjustment. Failure has often been the catalyst.

And now I’m asking you: Why do you you like yourself?

In the game of life it’s a good idea to have a few early losses, which relieves you of the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated season. ~Bill Vaughan Tweet This

photo credit: Sad Man via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakHow A Bad Grade Made Me A Better Man

Famous Failures Who Won

On April 25th, my new book hits the stores. It’s titled How to Fail as a Leader: A fast-paced fable about leaders who totally biff strategy and execution but learn enough to win in the end. It’s an adventure story embedded with practical and profound leadership lessons. It’s a story of two leaders who learn about leadership the hard way—so you won’t have to.

Obviously, the title is tongue in cheek. I want you to win as a leader. But the fastest road to success runs right through failure. Tweet This My path certainly included fruitful fails. Many of the most successful people in the world, from JK Rowling to Abraham Lincoln, credit their failures as crucial to their eventual success. In fact, a friend of mine just created this sweet infographic on that. Enjoy!

Without Fail Infographic

Source: OnlineMBAToday.com

read more
Scott WozniakFamous Failures Who Won

The Unique Power of Good Discussions

Last night, I had a great phone call with my personal leadership coach. Yes, everyone benefits from coaching, even leadership coaches. Tweet This It’s not just about learning from someone who knows more in a field than you. Teachers are valuable, too. But great leadership coaching helps differently than great teaching. Coaching is more about asking the right questions and creating a safe place to discuss things at a deeper level.

Discussion at TED salon

And a good discussion is more valuable than most people realize. Humans thrive when interacting with each other. We grow through deep discussions in ways no other situation can stimulate. Tweet This

I’m a leadership coach. I even train others to be leadership coaches. You might think I already know the answers—or at least the questions. But in discussion with my coach I experienced a mini-breakthrough last night, realizing for the last few weeks I’ve been coping with a stressful situation the wrong way.

This isn’t an introvert or extrovert things. This is how Jesus developed his disciples. He taught the crowds and he coached his disciples. This is why one of the central design principles of all my leadership workshops is sparking meaningful discussions between the participants. Those discussion sessions are often the highlight of the workshop.

And this is why my new leadership book, How to Fail as a Leader, includes a discussion guide at the end of each chapter. Because while I hope many people read the book, I’m even more hopeful that they will discuss the book with each other. Because a good discussion is more valuable than most people realize. Tweet This

Do you want to accelerate your growth? Find a good discussion partner. One way is to hire a personal coach. I provide that for others and work with one myself. But you can also create a lot of the same dynamic talking with a good friend.

Who do you discuss the deep things in your life with? What would it look like to do that more often?

photo credit: TEDxSKE salon: 10.03.16 via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakThe Unique Power of Good Discussions

What If It Actually Works–Are You Ready?

It’s common to be impatient for success to come sooner. I’ve been there more than once. But it’s not always better to succeed sooner. There are times when slower is better. If you know me, you know slow is not my style. It took a lot of time for me to realize this.


One of my very best childhood friends with became a multi-millionaire by age 30. Neither of our families were wealthy and it came as a huge surprise. And while I was really glad for him, it also made me really impatient to accomplish something epic myself. But my friend found out the hard way that wealth doesn’t change who you are, it magnifies who you are. Fame and fortune made all his personal struggles much bigger. And in the end, it drove him to end his life in his mid-thirties.

Success will test your character in ways that struggling cannot. Make sure you have a strong enough foundation of character to handle success, or it could be the worst thing that happened to you. Many, many lottery winners end up saying the worst thing that ever happened to them was winning the lottery. They weren’t prepared for success.

For leaders working to grow a great company, this is just as true. It’s crucial to get your operations excellent before launching that big marketing plan. It actually harms you if a lot of people come check out your mediocre product. You just convince a whole of people not to do business with you.

Are you prepared for real success? What foundational character quality or operational system do you need to strengthen?

I hope we all become wildly successful. And I hope we will be ready when that happens.

read more
Scott WozniakWhat If It Actually Works–Are You Ready?

What Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

Every Christmas, my family loads up our minivan to drive thirteen hours to visit extended family. This year we almost made it. Around 1:00am, I exited the interstate to refuel our gas tank. The kids were still asleep, a minor miracle for my family. And as I drove away from the pump, the car died. Steering onto the shoulder next to the gas station, I rolled to a stop. Even with the help of a friendly stranger and jumper cables we couldn’t get the car started. It took until 3:30am to get our car to the shop and us to Grandpa’s house.

gas station at night

The repair shop confirmed what we feared: bad gas had damaged our engine. (I’m tempted to make a burrito joke here, but I’m way too mature for that.) I learned the hard way that the quality of your fuel determines the story of your journey. Tweet This

And a great life requires more than adding good ideas. We also have to filter out contaminants. Good fuel mixed with bad fuel equals bad fuel. I put the correct grade of petroleum in our gas tank, but the groundwater that snuck along drowned out the benefits of the good fuel.

What contaminants do you need to protect yourself from?

As an individual, it could be a TV show or music album with seductive lies or a bad relationship or junk food or even a particular place. As a leader, it might be your highly skilled, but bad attitude employee or even that toxic customer.

Maybe the key to your growth this year is not more good ideas, but stronger protections from the “groundwater” trying to get in.

photo credit: in the desert via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakWhat Happened When Water Got In My Gas Tank

The Icarus Story Is Backwards

The story of Icarus is one of the most famous Greek myths. He was imprisoned with his father, a great inventor who made a king angry. His father used feathers and wax to create wings. They escaped out a window overlooking the ocean. Icarus ignored his father’s warnings to stay low. As he neared the sun, the heat melted the wax, dismantling his wings, and Icarus fell to his death.

This story is really famous and really tragic. It’s also really bad advice.

Icarus statue

The story was written by people who had never flown. The skies were strange and terrifying—they were unknown. So they warned their children to not be too audacious. And if by some chance you do fly, they warned, then don’t fly too far from the ground.

But, the truth is that the higher Icarus flew, the colder it would have gotten and the more firm his wax bindings would have become. He would have actually been much safer flying high than his timid father, who flew low over the ocean where it was warm and moist.

Generation after generation, the story gets told. Like you, I’ve been told again and again: fly low and play it safe.

But I say we should be just like Icarus. We should fly as high as we can. We should soar to places no one has ever gone before.  It’s not as risky as we’ve been told. Flying high doesn’t mean flying recklessly (see my previous post on this). As my former boss, the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, said, “No goal is too high if we climb with care and confidence.” Tweet This So I say to set high goals.

As you think about what you will attempt this year, don’t let fear keep you grounded. Reach further and become better than you every have before.

read more
Scott WozniakThe Icarus Story Is Backwards

The Oldest Computer Teacher In the World

My team was talking about spending time with our extended families over the holidays and one of my colleagues told us about her remarkable grandmother. At 93 years old she is finally handing off baking responsibilities to other people in the family. But before you think she’s getting soft, you should know that she still walks on the treadmill and plays along with the TV quiz show Jeopardy—every single day.

But what impressed me most was that she teaches computer classes at the senior center. (She’s a big believer in the value of click and drag mouse movement as a way to keep hand-eye coordination sharp.) As far as I can tell, she is the oldest computer teacher in the world.

grandma on computer

Long past the age when most have settled into a comfortable rut, she is fully engaged with life. She has found ways to test her thinking, build her body, and invest in others. That sounds like a formula for a pretty amazing life to me. And its sounds like a great goal as well. I hope when I’m 93 that I will be living as fully.

At any age, we can choose to coast or we can make the most of what we’ve been given. Tweet This

photo credit, Mark Conklin (unfortunately, not actually of Betsy’s grandmother)

read more
Scott WozniakThe Oldest Computer Teacher In the World

Baking a “Change Cake”

Creating concepts is hard work, but it pales in comparison to creating change. I’ve tackled both idea creation and change management many times. A big part of my work at Chick-fil-A has been serving on teams charged to design and lead change. We know what we need to do. The research is done and the ideas are validated. But if no one changes their behavior, then the idea wasn’t actually helpful. Tweet This

So I get asked often: What’s the key to making change happen, especially in a big organization? Is it a grand event to inspire them? Is it active support from top leaders? Is it sharing measures? Is it coaching? Which element makes change happen?

The answer: None of them. And all of them.

Inspirational moments boost of energy and shift mindset. And we also need to track progress, ideally every day. The key people in our lives need to support, not undermine what we’re attempting. And having someone walk alongside you as a coach adds energy, accountability, and specificity to your change efforts.

Each of these elements is awesome. Each of these elements is a complex craft in its own right. But none of them alone results in lasting change.

chocolate cake

Creating real change is like baking a cake. No single ingredient makes a good cake, not even pure sugar tastes as good as a well made cake. (Trust me, I know. To properly research this post, I ate a piece of chocolate cake last night.) The better quality each of the ingredients, the better the cake. But all of the ingredients together result in something far greater than each item on its own.

This recipe works for a person trying to get in shape and it works for a multi-billion dollar company. Maybe you’ve tried changing something before and failed to sustain it. Maybe you were trying to make a cake with only one ingredient. This time, try using all the elements. You might be surprised at what’s possible.

photo credit: chocolate cake via photopin (license)

read more
Scott WozniakBaking a “Change Cake”