The Worst Boss Ever - The Boss From Hell
Beware of Mean and Crazy Bosses
Do You Work for a Toxic Dysfunctional Boss?
A truly monstrous and toxic boss isn't just one who loses his or her temper, or who is incompetent. Those things are bad enough, and they're certainly just cause for leaving a job. But world-class bad bosses go way beyond those annoying things and exhibit traits that can be insane, frightening or even dangerous.
In some cases, you may have to leave the position to save your sanity. In other cases, there may be a chance to salvage things. Here are some tips on what to do if you're faced with a monster for a boss, and the case history of my personal experience with a Boss from Hades.
Bosses Who Steal Ideas
Toxic Management Types
The Egomaniac: This boss has to be right and has to have all the attention. He will insist on being the center of the universe, and gets furious if there's another star in the corporate constellation. If you're an underling and you don't want to leave your position, just be sure to stroke his ego every chance you get, even if it makes you ill. If he's stealing your thunder, keep memos and records of your contributions to projects and copy all the right people in your office interaction. But don't be surprised if this immature, insecure jerk starts finding a way to shift you out to the street.
The Idea Thief: This person is a toxic boss in an insidious way; she steals your ideas and takes credit for your work. If she's your boss, she will present your project as though it's her own. She will resent you for your expertise and will do her best to prevent you from interacting with people in power who might recognize your contributions.
The best solution is also the only one that will protect your health and sanity; you should quietly begin finding another job. This person has no scruples and will not change. You, however, can grow and thrive elsewhere. Just play it cool, document your work, and arrange for those who do know of your contributions to supply letters of recommendation or references.
The Dictator: This type of toxic boss is more than just demanding; it seems they want to control every move you make and every minute of your day. They can often give conflicting assignments and contradictory directions. The control can even extend to your private time and private life. In some cases, this type of boss might have Attention Deficit Disorder or another syndrome that makes him jump from one priority to another.
If your Dictator Boss is brilliant but demanding, it's possible that you can set boundaries with him by carefully selecting the right opportunity to approach him with statements such as, "I can work on that tomorrow, after the XYZ report you assigned me is finished."
You can also ask him to prioritize the conflicting deadlines and assignments you've been given by saying, "Just to make certain I'm on the right page, which of these would you like first, the XYZ report, the widget project, or the budget update?"
Sexual Harassment by Managers
Bosses Who Violate Ethics and Laws
The Sexual Harasser: Yes, this still happens in the workplace. If there's a hierarchy of management above the offender, take the problem to the Human Resources Department. Keep a very precise diary of every instance and the way it made you feel. Never meet with the person alone; always keep doors open and ask others to join you. If possible, let the person know how you feel about their behavior, but tread carefully, because habitual offenders will know you're onto them and can often go on the attack by trying to undermine your reputation.
The Maniac or Nutcase: This person is noticeably more crazy than the Dictator or other types of toxic bosses. She can be passive aggressive, she can try to undermine your sense of self esteem and she can cause damage to you if you are not careful. If you're with someone who insidiously picks at you (the slap with the velvet glove), or who subtly attacks you while sounding like they're your friend, consider leaving the position. Unless this person gets therapy, things will not change. And, it's likely nobody will understand or believe you if you take the problem to someone above her.
The Liar: This person manufactures stories to shift blame and to destroy others. Some of these bosses are out to protect themselves, but others have more malice. In some cases, these people will falsify records and create artificial paper trails to produce documentation to support their lies. These people are not likely to change; get out while you can, and work to protect your reputation by keeping good records (put original files on a thumb drive if needed), and by grooming some references in the organization who understand the situation and will support you as you look for other work.
The Sociopath: One of the most frightening types of people to encounter is a genuine sociopath. Lying is an art to these people, and they do it well. The only thing you can predict about them is that they will not suddenly transform themselves, and they will hurt you. The sociopath (the condition is also referred to as psychopath or antisocial personality disorder) will distort facts and ruin lives with no remorse or sign of emotion at all.
What to do About Toxic and Evil Bosses
Talk to Human Resources: This may prove useless, especially if the Bad Boss is also over that department, but you often need to exhaust internal options before you can take a complaint outside of the organization.
Ask for Mediation: Some HR departments offer conflict resolution or mediation. This does not always address the situation adequately when a truly toxic boss is involved, but it can help create better communication and can let the boss know you're serious about things. In large organizations, the boss may not want the bad attention this brings. This can work to your advantage by getting them to back off, or it can backfire if they go after you.
File an EEOC Complaint: Depending on the situation, you might be able to file an official complaint with state or federal officials. One thing to note - it is not against the law for someone to be a jerk or to yell at you. So make certain your complaint falls under the protection of this type of agency before taking those steps.
Get Another Job: This isn't an easy solution in today's economy, but it is often the only way to effectively remove yourself from a bad situation. Take a look at the big picture, and decide how many things would need to happen for the situation to change. Then ask yourself how likely it is that these things will come about. How many of the needed changes are within your power?
The reality is that you can only change what is in your own power. You can't change your boss, you can't change management, you can't change the organizational flaws that are allowing this to happen. You can only change your own situation. Your choices may boil down to living with the situation (and trying to not let it affect you) or leaving the situation.
Happy Trails to Me: We were hired to be writers, not singers
Case Study of a Dysfunctional and Bad Boss
Since my career spans several years, I've been around a wide variety of bosses. I've worked for some great bosses, and some mediocre bosses. But one prize-winning memory I have is of a senior executive at a large organization who made us produce and perform in Country Western stage shows.
This person (now deceased, thankfully) fancied himself a C&W singer, and for years had coerced his staff members to be in bands and or to be part of the backstage production team. He had recruited (read: forced) several men who played guitars and sang to be part of his male singing group, and because the audio visual department fell under his division, he had free rein to use them as sound technicians, stage hands and for other support duties.
During his long career at the organization, he had 'volunteered' his singing group to perform at every conference or meeting the organization attended. Executive management more or less left him alone because his standard story was that everyone loved being in these shows. His downfall finally came, though, when the organization was picked to host a very high-profile conference.
This tipped his ego trip over the edge and eventually sent him into a pit of his own delusional making, because he expanded his repertory company to include a group of women singing C&W and Gospel songs, and a group of female dancers who would demonstrate the Cotton-Eyed Joe while wearing skimpy white-satin shorts and skirts.
As a new employee there (I was hired to be a writer), I was recruited to be a singer for the newly designated auxiliary quartet of women singers. I had foolishly put on my resume, under "Hobbies and Interests," that I was a classically trained lyric soprano (in Italian and Latin). I wasn't sure how that lent itself to Country Western songs, but since I was too new to know the history of the music extravaganzas, it sounded fun to me and I said, "Sure!" I later learned that these were never invitations; they were command performances and your career would be in jeopardy if you declined.
This Boss Ordered Illegal Use of Government Time
Early on, it became clear this poor man had some serious mental issues. We began practicing many months before the big event (which was basically just a banquet, with our pathetic group as the entertainment). We were required to practice evenings and weekends, which was inconvenient for those with children and families.
We were also required to practice during duty hours, the ethics of which raised questions for me. I went to my immediate managers and asked about the wisdom of using work time to practice for a (very bad) stage show, and it became clear that everyone in the division was terrified of this person. People had tried to report it before, and had had their careers shut down and destroyed.
As much as everyone hated this man (I've never seen such intense, universal hatred for anyone in my life), they lived with the tyranny and survived through various internal support systems, such as a private file of the man's poor grammar (we were writers, remember?), and various inside jokes. They also assumed that the organization's executives knew about the situation and tacitly approved of it. I'm not sure if that was the case - you'll see why in a bit.
By the time the performance was nearly on us, we'd had a few dry-run performances at smaller engagements, and we realized he was quickly losing his grip on reality. He had become obsessed with every element of the production, as well as other touches he insisted on adding to the conference, all of which used tremendous amounts of staff time and cost many dollars over and above the amount legitimately available for the banquet.
He required numerous staff members to buy 'uniforms' (blue blazers) out of their own pockets so they could be roving hosts at the hotel during the conference, and he created a TV show (all scripted and produced by his staff) to be aired through closed-circuit at the hotel. None of this was related to either the purpose of the conference or to the actual work we were paid to do in our jobs.
We 'singers' lived with pure torture. He had rewritten the lyrics to several songs, and kept tweaking and rewriting the words on a daily basis; we never knew which lyrics were his current edits and we suffered if we sang the wrong version. To the humiliation of all female performers, he insisted on introducing us by saying, "They are all professional women!" We tried to explain this wasn't quite a compliment, but he ignored us.
The stress was incredible - I had been there only a short time, but I was already looking for a new job. Worse than that, I found it appalling that this type of abuse of people and money seemed to be tolerated.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing Happy Trails to You
Reaching the Breaking Point With a Bad Boss
The breaking point, for me, came when he used me as the 'model' to redesign the outfit we women singers would wear. I was thankful not to have to wear the skimpy shorts and skirts the dancers had to wear, but when I found myself pulled into his office so he could order sequins, glittered stars, feathers and other gaudy ornamentation added to the modest white blouses and long denim skirts our group had decided to wear, it was too much to bear.
The straw that broke me was when he commented on the cleavage of my blouse. I stormed out of that office afterward and went straight to the desk of my immediate manager, and snarled at him through clenched teeth: "We need to talk!" He was on the phone, and hung up saying, "I've got to go, Marcy just came in here wearing a cowboy hat with sequins and feathers on it and she looks really funny." But it was clearly not a laughing matter.
Although I immediately demanded that action be taken, nothing was done by anyone directly above me. I now realize this man was insane, and we were all held hostage by the need to have a paycheck and the fear that our careers would be thwarted or destroyed. Many people had tried to expose the problems before, and all had failed.
Somehow, though, due to the massive amount of abuse this upcoming event had generated, word got back to the highest executives of the organization. A week or two after my embarrassing costume-fitting in his office, they ordered an investigation. One by one, we were all called into a private meeting with an attorney from the organization and one of the executives.
Thanks to the investigation, the man announced he would retire as soon as the big conference was over. The show was allowed to continue (mostly because canceling it would have embarrassed the organization). He had obsessed over it for a year, and considerable organizational time and money had been spent for props, custom-made table decorations, special stage sets and other trappings, and it would have been wasteful not to go through with it. Once we knew he was leaving, we probably would done anything to make certain he followed through.
The list of things this person did under the name of Boss and as a manager is huge. His abuses extended back for decades and there were numerous instances when it was obvious his deck lacked a few cards. For this conference alone, he had demanded one manager to create several dozen custom centerpieces made from used cowboy boots stuffed with dried floral arrangements. He also required a construction division to create a mechanical stage backdrop for a banquet 'roast' of a former executive.
The fallout from his years of unfettered tyranny was incredible, and even tragic. Some staff members had nervous breakdowns, some had stress in their marriages (and many got divorced), and many had various health issues from the stress and abuse.
Some Final Words:
This story shows how pervasive and long-lasting management abuse can be, and how it can be overlooked, ignored or literally not recognized by senior management. I prefer to believe that the highest executives honestly didn't know the full extent of the craziness.
Overall, my years with the organization were good, and I respect it tremendously. But it's clear that either group denial or a lack of awareness can create work situations that are astoundingly in violation of the law and that seriously damage the careers and morale of employees who fall under a Bad Boss such as this one was.