The Bad Boss (all about bullies)

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“Where the Hell did you learn basic procedures?” he thundered. By now everyone on the floor knew that I had submitted an unsigned and undated petty cash voucher. “But,” I protested, “it’s just a lousy $6 claim for office supplies.” I should have stopped there but I didn’t. “And besides nobody else in this department bothers to do that.” This was, of course, an immediate and grievous mistake. I don’t even let my own kids get away with, “But Dad, everyone does it.” It was weeks before my colleagues forgave me the audit the boss ordered on our petty cash system.

Yep, you might recognize the tyrant that heads my department. He’s an archetype. In his own mind he is well bred, well connected, and high in the saddle. But he’s also long in the tooth, has never taken a management course in his life and proud of it. “Yep, I’ve worked with (never “under”) the best of them.” And we are all “under” him.He is wont to say that, “Those that have worked under me go on to great things.” (We do wonder why everyone seems to ‘go on to great things’ in any organization but ours).

He is an editor. No, no one pays him to be an editor, and no one in our organization appreciates his playing that role. But he sure can edit. He can find a typo at fifty paces. When we proudly present a dynamic business development plan be craps on the font size.

He is a form fanatic. “There’s a form and structure for everything,” he says, noting that the document just placed before him, “does not use the accepted form of salutation”. “But,” I protest, “I have a very close rapport with this client and I want to keep our correspondence collegial.” “Nevah!”, he proclaims, and I am reminded suddenly of both the Pinafore and the Titanic in one bizarre juxtaposition of marine metaphors.

He has not the slightest notion of how one conducts a meeting. He does, I will acknowledge, come to the meeting with an agenda – not that we have had the opportunity to see it beforehand. That would help us be prepared.  But though he drops an agenda in front of us at the start, with that all semblance of order dissolves. There are always “urgent” items that must be dealt with first (though they always come from him, never from us). There are last minute crises that have come up since the agenda was typed (by his secretary that morning) and that must now be added.

We could tolerate all of this if there was a reason to meet, and value to be added by bringing us all together for the regular two hour Monday morning session. This is a high pressure shop and we are all doing time and a half effort. But, sadly, these meetings produce only staff dread over the weekend, and a grey pall for the balance of the week. Usually, lunch intervenes thankfully before we are utterly deflated. The boss has never been known to work past lunch call.

These meetings with the boss are just a forum for his pronouncements and posturings. They never go anywhere, never solicit input or opinion and never seem to conclude. What decisions are made, are never made in the presence of staff.

His meeting style typifies everything he says, does and likely believes about organizational management and process. Managers manage. Workers work. “Workers should be seen working, and not heard or herding,” he says with relish – quite often actually –  this being typical of what he deems to be hilarious commentary.

As you might expect, he is ham fisted, hammer headed, a union bater and hater and a male chauvinist pig. Because one can’t espouse such views in today’s workplace, he has sharpened his innuendo skills to a fine point. Putdowns are an essential ingredient to his management formula. Every putdown, in his mind, generates an equal and opposite boost in his power and prestige. (But it’s actually a boost in his power and a drop in our prestige). He is clever about it. Three days later you realize he has insulted your race, language and religion in one breath, while to anyone looking on, it seemed like you were getting a compliment. Only you and he knew exactly what his remarks meant.

One wonders how, in this day and age, this type rises in organizations. The type is not about results, but about rules. His rules. His values. They may proclaim client service but in reality service to self is the bottom line. “Teamwork” is something to be driven, not participated in. He may seek views when he is ordered to do so. But he has highly developed talent denial capabilities and is an expert in forgetting all that he has heard from subordinates. A good manager, he says, is one who asks an employee how long it will take to get a job out, and then tells them to do it in a day less.

In fact, bosses of this sort love the expression “doing more with less.” Distrusting their employees, they suspect staff are holding out on them ….after all,  there has to be lots of slush around. ” If only everyone tightened up we could better the bottom line.” In this manager’s view, you should bring full qualifications to the job and it’s up to you to make sure that you are fully occupied at maintaining your end of the deal. Staff, of course, look with misty eyes to the halcyon years of paid training based on identified need, conferences and travel, of Christmas bonuses and promotions. Health club memberships and car allowances are vague memories.

The boss may not know a whole lot about what supports and motivates people, but he sure understands what impresses the upper ranks. He is a very clever soother. “Everything is fine in the ranks, Mr. President, and may I compliment you on your new suit?”

He delivers what most corporate executives and Boards of Directors (apparently) want. Despite what they say, it appears to the lower ranks that they are not demanding brilliance and bullish returns, so much as wanting predictability and dependability. And this boss is dependable. If there is sick time in his department then his employees have been sick. If a renovation is made to the work area it is mandated by safe workplace codes. If there is a protest from a dismissed employee there is a whole drawer of evidence against the miscreant.

These bosses do not surround themselves with people of imagination and strength. In fact, if such happens (usually by the imposition of a new employee from outside) the boss will use his every wile and guile to drive the newcomer out. This boss does not enjoy either a challenge, or being challenged. He can be brutally vindictive when someone questions his plans or his procedures in front of colleagues or subordinates. But (interestingly) this boss type has also been known to implement such suggestions, and we suspect, lay claim to them at senior management meetings. Our boss, in a nutshell, does not like or trust his employees, cares only for the company in the way it can serve him, and probably does not like himself very much either.

Self confident, competent managers promote employee participation and leadership. They are comfortable with shared agendas and shared accountability. They have a vision of the future ….. ideas about where the company should be going, and a clear sense of how they and their team fit within that process. Unlike the bad boss we have described here, they do not create and maintain soul-destroying toxic workplaces.

Here’s my published work on leadership, teamwork and empowerment – activities all directed to achieving objectives – without conflict.


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