Bad bosses I have known

There’s a movie that was released a few years ago called “Horrible Bosses.” It’s about three friends who plot to murder their respective bosses who are abusive asshats.

While I’ve never felt compelled to take action quite that drastic, I have to admit that, over the years, I’ve had some—shall we say—challenging bosses. For example:

  • A female boss was involved with a married man and spent a good portion of each day talking to him on the phone. She and I shared a tiny office, so I could hear every word she uttered (although I had to pretend not to). Since it was part of my job to answer the phone, my small rebellion was to always ask Mr. Married Man “Who’s calling, please?” even though I knew damn well who it was. Take that, you philandering dick.
  • One summer during college I worked at the front desk of a motel in my hometown. A friend gave me a ride to work one day and when I arrived, the motel owner looked at me and said, “Do you have a comb?” Nonplussed, I replied, “Um, yes,” whereupon he haughtily said, “Well, then use it.” Evidently my hair was too windblown for his taste. His tone was too condescending for mine and, fortunately, the summer (and that job) was almost over.
  • A married male boss and I attended a swanky bash at New York City’s Tavern on the Green celebrating a milestone anniversary of the big-league PR firm that represented the institution we worked for. Boss and I took the shuttle from Boston to NYC and back the same day. Tired and a bit buzzed after all the festivities. Boss drove me from the airport back to my car at our office and, as I was about to exit his car, he lunged and kissed me, sticking his tongue in my mouth. I don’t remember what I said, just that I hightailed it out of there. At work the next day—and thereafter—things were decidedly awkward between us, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I gave my notice a couple of months later.
  • At a quasi-governmental municipal agency where I once worked, I was told by a superior that he’d be letting me know what percentage of my salary I was expected to contribute to the mayor’s reelection campaign since, according him, my job existed because said mayor was in office. I opted to return to working in the private sector forthwith.
  • At another job where I was director of marketing, I was responsible for producing six different versions of a quarterly newsletter. The CEO of the company, to whom I reported, reviewed the copy prior to publication (an indication of his tendency toward micromanagement). After the newsletters were printed, however, I found copies in my mailbox marked up in red ink, indicating where he thought commas should have gone. I saw red all right—along with the handwriting on the wall, and accepted another job offer before a year was up.
  • My last (as in final) corporate job was at a company where the CEO liked to drink his lunch, and he’d spend afternoons sleeping it off behind the closed door of his office. You quickly learned that if you wanted to schedule a meeting or have any top-level decisions made, you had to make it happen before noon.

Today I look back on these situations and say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” Such as how to speak up for myself. How to address inappropriate behavior in a direct, unapologetic way. How to know that I had legal recourse in certain situations, if I chose to take that route. How to speak truth to power, as in “WTF are you thinking?” (Well, that last one probably wouldn’t have worked too well, but a girl can dream.)

Instead, my strategy was to find a different job—a variation on “living well is the best revenge.” Frankly, given my experiences, that really turned out to be the best strategy, because I gained the know-how, motivation and connections to ultimately became my own boss. And that’s been a much better fit for 21 years now. I don’t think I’d be much of a great boss to other people though – but there’s no way I’d be as bad as some of my old bosses. For some people, their lack of ability in managing people and large teams is their downfall when it comes to being a good boss. If you feel like this applies to you or any boss that you know, then something like a Building Teams workshop might be something that appeals to them, as this could aid in their ability to manage and develop teams.

Because another thing I’ve learned at this age is that you really can’t change other people or make them act a certain way—in the workplace or anyplace else. You can set boundaries, you can refuse to be insulted or harassed, you can express how you feel about someone’s behavior, and you can ask for what you want and need. But despite our best efforts, sometimes it’s all for naught: the other person can’t or won’t change, and you just have to walk away—inspiring this haiku:

We teach people how
to treat us, but some of them
just aren’t trainable.

What about you? Got some bad-boss stories to share?



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8 thoughts on “Bad bosses I have known”

  1. I don’t think I can put the link here, but I wrote a blog called, “Most Outrageous Bosses I’ve Met,” that is so similar to this post, I felt as if I was reliving every moment with you! Like you, it took me years to find my voice, but by then it was too late to speak my mind.

    1. Theresa, karma’s a bitch, and I’ll bet your bad bosses are getting theirs (one can hope, anyway!). And I really do believe that living well is the best revenge…

  2. When I was in my late 20s, and hotter looking than I knew I was (because I always thought I was uglier than I really was) I had a middle-aged male boss on a temp job who made remarks about how I could have a good time outside the office. I deliberately did not respond to him, pretending that I didn’t get what he was referring to. My other boss, his brother, gave me some unusual dimensions for a box and ordered me to call various box companies, give them the dimensions, and tell them we only wanted ONE box! You can imagine how that went down. It was embarrassing. He also had a habit of yelling at me. I called the temp agency and BEGGED them to take me off the job because those two guys were so horrible. The agency did so, very soon after.

  3. I had a boss who hired me just to complete a project and three months into this when he had to give me benefits and after I completed the project, he fired me just like that. I found out later he did this to a lot of people and he did it so cruelly. He’s probably burning in hell now…I hope.

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