Once in a blue moon, if you're lucky—or perhaps cursed—you'll encounter a phenomenon in your professional life that can both uplift and haunt you: I’m calling it the "Golden Manager Syndrome." It's that rare experience of working under a leader so exceptional that they transform the way you view work and leadership.
This human—the Golden Manager—was so in tune with how to guide, support, and inspire their team, that they inadvertently set a sky-high bar and left you thinking "This is what leadership should always feel like."
And then, inevitably, things change. Maybe you move on, or they do. What’s left is a feeling of disappointment over every subsequent manager, none of whom can quite live up to the leader you loved working with so much. You're left with a mix of nostalgia for what was and a good amount of resentment because now you know what you're missing. It's a blessing and a curse, really.
A blessing and a curse
Of course, working under exceptional leaders is a blessing. You've seen the best, learned from the best, and been pushed to your best. You've experienced firsthand what it means to be genuinely supported and believed in, and most likely, you’ve learned a ton as a professional and a human.
But here comes the curse: the relentless comparison of every future manager to the one you enjoyed working with so much. You know what great leadership looks like for you, making the present feel oddly unsatisfying in comparison. It's hard to change or lower your expectations. Maybe work doesn’t feel as easy (and fun) as it used to, and you’re realizing that whatever you're missing isn't coming back anytime soon—and that realization truly stings.
But when you’re suffering from a serious case of Golden Manager Syndrome, take a moment to ask yourself: What if you had never experienced working with an outstanding leader? I’m sure it’s an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
The gift of experiencing outstanding leadership—and how to pass it on
Exceptional leadership is rare and precious, so acknowledge the gift you were given in experiencing it. Now it’s up to you to use what you've learned. Strive to embody the qualities that made your Golden Manager so impactful in your own work, whether you're in a leadership position or not. And while you may or may not find another leader quite like them, you can be that leader for others. Inspire, motivate, and support your colleagues or team in the same way you were once supported.
Also, keep an open heart towards the new people you meet on your professional journey. Remember that there are no “born leaders.” If you ask that leader you admire so much about how they became so great at their jobs, they’ll most likely tell you that they were terrible at it at some point. They got better over time by learning from their mistakes, and by putting a lot of energy and care into honing their leadership skills.
And finally: When was the last time you talked to your Golden Manager? Did you ever tell them what a difference they’ve made to your professional life? If you haven’t, now is a great time to reach out. I’m sure they’ll love hearing from you.