Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bad Boss, Bad Boss, Whatcha Gonna Do?

Ask anyone you know about the worst boss they’ve ever had and guaranteed, you’ll be there for three hours wishing you hadn’t asked that question. Just thinking about your worst boss is kerosine to the blaze that already exists in your belly.

Why are bad bosses so ubiquitous and good bosses as rare as a well-dressed shopper in Wal-Mart?

Those of us who have been the doers, the producers of actual *work,* know all-too-well what it feels like to be under the stiff palm of a little Napoleon.

And it makes you wonder: how/why do people like this rise to such ranks? They have no business interfacing with the public in general, let alone directing their co-workers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a few good bosses. But the bad bosses, the Michael Scotts of the corporate world, are plentiful, and they did more to contribute to the holes in my stomach than annual revenue.

And you don’t have to be a fan of the TV show, “The Office,” to have heard about the lead character, Michael Scott. He is a composite of all of our bad bosses, checking off every personality defect in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He's known for his humility: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

Michael is pompous, inappropriate, bigoted and incompetent, with a complete lack of self-awareness. He’s an attention-feeding juvenile who lives to ridicule others, usurp credit, self-promote and make up new rules that only benefit him.

We have worked for people like this.

I’ve had supervisors who’ve taken ownership of my ideas and insisted on correcting my writing – incorrectly. Bosses who've yapped the day away about their frenzied social lives, adventure vacations and shopping expeditions. These same ones often strolled in around 10, left after lunch and would ask you to come in on
the weekend of your best friend’s wedding. I’ve taken the blame for my bosses’ mistakes and been reamed for failing to do jobs I was never assigned.

When I was in high school, I worked afternoons in an office for a man my father’s age who badgered me regularly to join him for lunch and dinner. One lunch and I knew we weren’t there to discuss my next project for the company.

Another boss sat me down and told me I needed Jesus to deliver me from my lifestyle: living in sin with my boyfriend. Jesus must have been on my side, since she was demoted shortly thereafter and I was then truly “delivered.”

And I’ll never forget my first day as a writer for a computer magazine. No introductions. No tour of the building. I was assigned to an office with glass walls and a desk. No computer.

I felt like the new goldfish. The staff peered in at me, as if waiting for me to do a number from A Chorus Line or a mime or something. My new boss, a rotund man with a megaphone voice, tossed a stack of past issues on my desk along with paper and pencils and barked at me to write a piece about the company.

I nodded.

“Can you give me some idea of the scope of the piece?” I asked
as he turned away.

“You’ll figure it out.”

An hour later, after scanning the magazines and staring blankly at the white-lined paper, I edged into his office for some clarification. He shot out his arm, pointing to the door and roared, “JUST START WRITING!”

My first day, my first hour, my first dictator.

I slid back into my seat and looked out the glass door. An assistant met my eyes, gave me a sad smile and a tipped head.

Just before noon, he lumbered in to examine the draft. He practically gave it an MRI while shaking his head.

“This is NOT what I’m looking for! You need to START OVER!”

A few minutes later, he left for lunch. I approached his assistant.

“I just want to know one thing,” I whispered.

“Sure.” she said.

“Has there been a revolving door of people in my position?”

She nodded slowly.

I went back to my desk and wrote on a piece of paper: “It’s no wonder you can’t keep a writer in this position. No one with a brain could tolerate you.”

I placed it on his desk and walked out.

The Golden Rule is all but lost in corporate America. Instead, the culture dictates, “Treat others the way you feel like treating them at any given moment. As long as you’re the boss.”

And as long as there are jobs for people, not robots, there will be bad bosses. They are a thorny part of life we wish we could avoid, much like fungus, the Kardashians and shoes that give off a fart noise when you walk.

Remember, a bad boss can alter the way you see yourself. Over time, it feels like an abusive relationship. That’s because it is.

Michael Scott once said to his team, “You should never settle for who you are.”

And I’m telling you, you should never settle for another Michael Scott.

Who's the worst boss you've ever had? (No names, please.) Please one up me with your own Michael Scott saga.


Anonymous said...

"...the shoes that make a fart noise when you walk." - LOL!! If I'd had liquid in my mouth it would've come out my nose.

Don't watch The Office but immediately thought of Bill Lundberg in Office Space, one of my all-time favorite comedies. "Yeaahh, I'm going to need you to come in this weekend."

Unfortunately the Peter Principle is alive and well in Corporate America.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

I loved Office Space. The monotone whine of Bill Lundberg's voice - he could read the phone book and I'd laugh. Thanks for checking out my blog.

Don said...

I had to laugh as I read about your first day as a writer for a computer magazine. It hit just a bit too close to home for me as I reflected on my first job in public relations working for a high tech company in the Northeast.

The VP of marketing at the company was known to have a mercurial personality, and I had an early first-hand experience with it when I delivered a draft of a press release for his review, hoping for some constructive criticism and guidance. I returned to my office.

A short time later, the VP came by and set the draft back on my desk. His only feedback...one word scrawled in red..."Sucks." Not exactly what I was looking for.

The good news is I went on to successfully manage the company's PR activities and my tenure outlasted his by quite some time.

Tree of Life Opinions said...

You do have a very good point, why it seems odd that people in leadership positions lack empathy . Eventually though you should end up with a good working environment, hopefully where you look forward to going to work.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

Don, "Sucks." Thanks for the laugh. I took a freelance job for a company that creates computer-automated cleaning systems for aquariums. The design team loved my concept: "Turn Your Aquarium Into a Thinktank." The prez of the company, however, routed my line to all of his employees alongside his line: "Mother Nature is a Bitch." Yes, he wanted this on all of their ads and promo materials that would likely be seen on his products in PetCo and PetSmart. He sent me back the grading sheets from his employees. Surprisingly, my idea got straight D's and F's and his got straight A's. It was insulting but hilarious at the same time. The design team told him to go for it, since he regarded himself as such a savvy copywriter.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

@Tree of Life: Ya, I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone ditch their job, especially in this climate. But you have to gauge whether or not your job/boss is toxic to your life. There have been studies done on the impact of a bad boss and the stress is very damaging to your physical health, not just your mental state. Thanks for stopping by!

Chef in Progress said...

Great post! I would have to say my worst boss was at a wholesale jewlry shop that I worked at for two years. It was a small business, only the two owners and myself. When one boss left, the nice one, I was left with the crazy one. She eventually hired another lady to work with us and I found out she was paying her more than me. She worked less than me as well. She basically paid her more because she was older and needed a higher wage to help support her family. I felt very unappreciated. I worked there for so long. So that was when I decided I needed to leave. Later I found out that lady she hired went behind the owners back to the man that helped invest in the company. She convinced him that she was not doing a good job with the company and basically he decided to hand it over to her instead. Lesson, watch how you treat people because it may come back and bite you in the ass.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

@Chef in Progress: Absolutely! That right there is karma! A friend of mine was treated really badly at his job by a number of people over the course of many years. He got a new job where he is the boss and now the new company is taking a look at people from his old company and he's been able to say yea or nay to some of the people who treated him like crap. Full circle moment, there. Thanks for reading...:-)