Friday, March 12, 2010

The bad boss festival

In my last post, I promised I'd give a little more background about how I developed most of my principles of people management. As I mentioned, most of my ideas come from experiences I've had working for other people.

I've had a lot of different bosses over time, nine in three turbulent years at one point. They range from being incredibly good to being among the worst of the worst, and I've learned a great deal from all of them. The ones that stand out the most, unfortunately, are the bad ones.

I try very hard not to be too emotionally invested in work, but it's difficult to do that at times: I'm a solo act so work is pretty integral to my life, especially since I'm not financially prepared to retire. There have been many instances in which something my boss at the time did made me feel undervalued, disrespected, marginalized, and completely unappreciated. They include:

--Boss who tracked his guesstimates for female employees' menstrual periods on a calendar.

--Boss who ripped me to shreds and then told me I should be more like her.

--Boss who told me to my face that he was smarter than me.

--Boss who told me he requested a salary adjustment on my behalf, but turned out to be lying.

--Boss who dumped a project on me as I was leaving for the airport for a five day beach weekend with my family to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday. (Boss had six weeks notice of my time off.) She said she needed it delivered the day before I came back. I didn't feel like I could say no, so I put in four sixteen to eighteen hour days while on vacation to complete it. Boss did not review project for two weeks, did not say thank you, and also denied my request for comp time.

--Boss who was invited to my wedding, accepted with his wife, and then didn't show because he had something better to do that came up that morning. (His actual words.)

--Boss who committed me to impossible deadlines and budgets that he made up out of thin air in client meetings and then held me accountable for meeting.

--Boss who proseletyzed his religious faith to me.

--Boss who was fond of BIG HUGS and kissing female employees on the forehead. (This stopped after a sexual harassment complaint from another employee.)

--Boss who habitually allowed people to wander in and start socializing during what was supposed to be our weekly one on one meetings.

--Boss who gave another colleague and me our annual reviews together on the grounds that we were interchangable and it would save time.

--Boss who spent my midyear and annual review time talking about his career, reading his Blackberry, and sending instant messages.

--Boss who told problem employee he was outstanding because he didn't want to deal with his behavioral issues, and then gave him to me to manage and asked me to "fix" him.

Some of these managers are still around, and I've been promoted up to their level. One very senior one remains but was counseled by HR for his inappropriateness around women. One was fired for cause, one was laid off, and two had all their staff taken away and have no one reporting into them.

As a manager, I work very hard not to do these kinds of things to other people. My track record isn't perfect, but it's pretty good. I also learned quite a lot (mostly what NOT to do) about confrontation, picking battles and difficult conversations while going through these experiences. The point is, as bad as bad working situations can be, if you can use them as a guide on how to do better when your opportunity comes, they aren't all wasted.

Do you have any bad boss stories of your own to share?

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12 retorts:

goldsmith,  March 12, 2010 at 4:02 PM  

Well, I already gave a lot of detail in my previous comment. I had one absolutely awful boss, in another division of our parent organisation prior to taking up my current role, but our full-time occupational psychologist intimated to me that she might be afflicted with mental illness. She is also struggling with advanced cancer these days and is retired on health grounds. So I do not want to say any more about her.

Anonymous,  March 12, 2010 at 4:52 PM  

One used to play solitaire while you were talking to him.
One that said "You used to be so good, and now.."

Gord March 12, 2010 at 4:59 PM  

Seems we have in our company a common theme of how to "fix" bad behaviour; it is not limited to 1 or 2 managers, they all like to do it.

One or 2 individuals (out of 75 or so) will do something inappropriate (like making personal calls for instance) and instead of dealing with the individuals, they write a memo or email reminding everyone that it's not appropriate to do that.

They don't have they courage to talk to them, but will instead annoy everyone else who are already doing the right thing.

Rachelle March 12, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

My least favourite type of boss is the one that lacks courage to deal with incompetents. My current boss has renewed one guy's contract 12 years in a row even though he literally does not do his job. An old boss of mine got a letter signed by everyone in the department (about 15 people) asking him to deal with our incompetent, snarly, inappropriate, and somewhat smelly secretary. He took her out to lunch, came back, and announced "She seems nice to me."

But my all-time worst boss was my dad, who is a really mean boss to everyone and even meaner to me. Never again.

mOOm March 12, 2010 at 5:32 PM  

The main one that comes to mind was a department chairman who would start yawning most times I was talking to him. I didn't think much of his performance otherwise... but some colleagues liked that he didn't do anything... He's now Dean of a business school. So I must have been wrong in my assessment :)

I hate managing people myself and try to avoid it. As a result I haven't had too many people to manage. Main cases have been research assistants, teaching assistants, graduate students, and staff involved in organizing a conference. Graduate students were best because they were motivated to get their degrees. I guess teaching undergrads is to some degree management too. Worst case was the conference organization where the person I was directing also had another permanent boss. I ended up doing a lot of things myself to make sure they got done. I was very stressed out by the deadlines coming up. Research assistant cases were very hard to get the person motivated to do anything.

Anonymous,  March 13, 2010 at 3:17 PM  

I worked with a manager who gave me positive feedback to my face but behind my back said I was useless to him to more than one person. A nice colleague of mine was pretty annoyed when told this and assured me it was not true and to just be more watchful of him. I am generally amazed at how some managers stay in high paying jobs/positions, get paid tons of money and do not produce results. It's all about being friends with the right senior people in the company and saying the right things rather than getting ahead on your own merit.

Karin March 14, 2010 at 8:21 PM  

Oh my goodness FZ, you have worked for some nightmares! Some of my scarier bosses have included:

- the one who told me she'd give me a bad referee's report if I tried to leave, as she didn't want to lose me
- the one who ignored the elephant in the room (an utterly unproductive staff member) for years
- the one who misconstrued my request (intended to be helpful) to do some work for another colleague, and went on a backstabbing spree (she had a PhD in psychology too - don't think I've ever met anyone so lacking in empathy)
- and at my first job out of school, the bosses who assumed no orientation or training were necessary, failed to tell me how to do my work and then told me off for getting things wrong

I am sorry to say that most of my ghastly bosses have been women. As a woman myself this saddens me.

Liz March 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM  

worst boss? she went on vacation, and when she came back she called me into her office, told me she was writing me up for something I had said to someone while she was gone, but wouldn't tell me what it was, and then said she liked to discipline an employee when she returned from vacation so everyone would know she was back. my best bosses by far have been men, which, like the last responder, makes me kind of sad.

Bonnie March 15, 2010 at 1:06 PM  

FZ, I think your stories beat just about everyone else's! I've had some amazing bosses, but I've had some horrible ones, too. One was later demoted, which thrills me to no end. She hated from the get-go and gave me the worst possible review during the year I worked for her. When I colored my hair, she said I looked like s***, etc. I heard tht her FIL had his foot amputated and I told her I was sorry to hear it, and she said, "Why? It's his own fault." I mean, this is the kind of person we're dealing with. I could not do anything to make this woman happy. Thankfully she requested that I be transferred (which was totally fine because I was already looking for other jobs inside and outside the company). At a previous job I was sexually harrassed by my boss, who apparently thought that since he slept with the previous woman who had held my job that I would be no different!

Revanche March 16, 2010 at 12:34 AM  

Oh jeepers, have I got stories.

Male bosses:
- A pantsed a male intern in the front office in full view of the window facing the street, in a room of female employees.
- B told me that he liked to lie to test his employees.
- B said that he preferred not to waste his time with the company's firing policies and preferred to make his targeted employee as miserable as possible they would quit.
- B finally managed to obtain an administrative layoff for a hated employee, and gave him the news in the middle of the office where anyone could witness the layoff. I accidentally walked through that scene.
- A and B would work in tandem promising deadline after deadline, and then after committing the staff to it in writing, B would turn around and call the vendors liars for asking for our side of the work by certain deadlines.
- B told me that he hired me based on looks. *greeeeatt...... Creepy old sod*
- A was on a permanent power trip and would kick, scream, and froth at the mouth whenever B's punting of deadlines screwed up our final product dates. Except he'd be directing his ire at the already harassed vendors.
- A dictated who new hires would be...based on gender. He actually had gender quotas.
- B liked to openly mock employees for their religious beliefs that interfered with his agendas.
- B also liked to make it very clear that since he didn't do jury duty for reasons that never apply to any of his staff, didn't take vacation, didn't take time off, didn't go to the doctor or didn't take breaks from work to eat, no one else on his staff who was serious about their job should either. But he usually just directed that at whichever employee he'd singled out as that quarter's scapegrace. He'd buy muffins for everyone else.

Female boss:
- C was informed by an employee of her recent health development post-work injury. Her response was, "and you're telling me this why?"
- C hired multiple employees she'd designate as a favorite and shield them from all forms of training so much so at least three of them didn't know the business hours after more than a month of work.
- C told her newly pregnant employee that she was on a short list because she'd gone and gotten pregnant, because she was sure that Expecting Employee "would leave her like new mom employee had during her pregnancy." Which was completely untrue, btw.
- C felt that as the manager, she was entitled to know everything but held a staff meeting and berated everyone for their refusal to call her about problems in the middle of the night because her husband would answer the phone and curse out the employee.
- C hired her own kids who turned out to be delinquents to administer treatments they were untrained for, and turned a blind eye to their sexual escapades on the clock with other employees. Oh right, the other employee was the kid's girlfriend who had also been hired by C. For her son to play with.

Er.... this has gotten too long ... sorry about that!

frugal zeitgeist March 16, 2010 at 4:09 PM  

Wow. I think Revanche wins! Thanks for all the horror stories.

Shadox March 28, 2010 at 7:43 PM  

I got many contributions. I think my current CEO could be a serious contender.

How about a CEO who refuses to let his executives look for more funding for their company 3 months before money is due to run out, saying that they should focus on operations and don't understand the big picture, and then has to lay off 20% of personnel and beg the investors for a bridge loan to allow his executives to raise more money? True story. Happened on Friday.

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