Have you ever fantasized about winning the lottery? Taking Johnny Paycheck’s advice and telling a bad boss to “take this job and shove it”? Actually, I’m surprised the Lottery Commission doesn’t use bad boss spoofs to sell more lottery tickets. In my travels, I have observed several fascinatingly dysfunctional management styles. Hopefully you are looking back on your days working for one of these bosses and not currently living the dream. To those where these are a memory, have a good laugh. To those working for one of these, the rest of us feel your pain. Do any of these sound familiar?
Keep that head buried in the sand. If they hide in their office or cube just long enough, they figure they might just get through the next 20 or 30 years without any conflict. Forget that people in the department are at each other’s throats. Ignore the revolving door of turnover. And whatever you do… don’t leave your office or cube. Somebody might approach you and ask for feedback or guidance. You might actually have to manage! When employees complain about the Ostrich to HR or upper management, the response is often “so and so isn’t a people person”. Wow! Really? Then why are they in charge of a department of 10 or 20 “people”. Being a “people” person might not be a prerequisite, but I’m sure basic communication skills are a must. Annual reviews absolutely horrify the Ostrich. There is no place to hide! I’m hoping nobody out there has had an annual review e-mailed to them, but with the Ostrich nothing is impossible.
The Headless Chicken
Keeping with the “bird” theme, let’s discuss the boss that runs around like a chicken with their head cut off. Every day is a series of fire drills. They move from crisis to crisis creating an illusion of engagement and importance. What they don’t realize (but so many around them do), is their management style creates most of the fire drills. They don’t have a plan to get to the end of the day let alone the end of the week, month, quarter or year. They drag everybody in the department onto their daily roller coaster of drama. For an organized person, working for the Headless Chicken can be pure torture. No matter how much you attempt to try and bring order to the department, the Headless Chicken’s propensity for chaos always seems to undermine your efforts.
The Spineless Jellyfish
Sticking with the animal kingdom… the name really says it all. You sit there miffed as 20% of the people do 80% of the work while the Spineless Jellyfish says nothing. Although willing to mix with the people in their department (unlike the Ostrich), they avoid conflict at all costs. The slackers never receive much (if any) disciplinary action – even if they do play fast and loose with all the spoken and unspoken office rules. If you’ve ever heard the expression “the inmates are running the asylum”, then you are well aware of how the Spineless Jellyfish runs a department. The 80% already doing most of the work receive any additional work that comes the department’s way – and we all know the Spineless Jellyfish is usually just as incapable of saying “no” to another department, peer or upper management as they are of standing up to their underperforming subordinates.
We’ve all see this one. They rule their department like it’s a 1935 factory shop floor. Fear and intimidation are all they know. We didn’t like these people back in elementary school and realize they didn’t get any nicer with age. Go to HR and complain? Bullies usually thrive in sub-par companies that look the other way or even condone the behavior as the end justifying the mean. Chances are very good your complaint will fall on deaf ears and incur even greater wrath from the Bully. Without going into lawsuits and other potential remedies (all wonderful career enhancers – not), let’s just focus on the day-to-day misery one goes through working for the Bully. You dread Monday morning on Friday night. You cringe whenever your phone rings and the Bully’s name shows up on the ID. You dread meetings conducted by the Bully as a bigger audience tends to bring out a bigger Bully. The quality of your co-workers usually isn’t very good either. Everyone with marketable skill sets leave the Bully in the rear view mirror the first chance they get. Most of what stays is scared, limited or both.
They just can’t bear the thought that something might actually get done without their input. Nitpicking and worrying about inconsequential details is their stock-in-trade. “Is the font size right on that spreadsheet?” “Did you copy John, Sally and Sue on that e-mail?” Don’t even think about scheduling a meeting without them attending. They worked closely with HR writing a job description that requires 10 years of experience, an MBA, a CPA, a PMP, a PHD, etc., etc., but don’t think you are capable of going it alone on even the most menial of tasks. Nothing ever gets done because everything bottlenecks with the Micromanager. Stand in line and wait your turn. Don’t worry, you will probably be back in that same line covering the same issue because every time the Micromanager reviews your work they seem to find yet another meaningless detail they want to change. Charlie Brown said it best - “Arrrrgggghhhh!!!!.”
Some of us laughed at these descriptions while others probably cried. What’s the takeaway? It’s hard, if not impossible, to realize your potential working for a bad boss. I realize quitting your job because the boss is cramping your style (or making life a living Hell) is not an option for the vast majority reading this blog. What I would suggest is that if your career development is suffering under the weight of a bad boss you should take steps to remedy the situation. Even if the boss is approachable (although by definition these types usually aren’t), it’s highly unlikely they are interested in hearing criticism from anybody let alone a subordinate. Tread very lightly if you think approaching the boss will help. Assuming you pass on the approach the boss angle, can you bide your time and transfer elsewhere within the company? Is the boss close to retirement? Can you adjust your work approach to minimize the boss’s impact on your performance and maintain a positive career track?
If you come to the decision that leaving the company is your only choice, start taking steps that will lead you towards that end. Staying in an untenable situation only hurts you in the long run. Your performance suffers and your career stagnates as your life force slowly gets sucked out of you. In a worst case scenario, the stress of working for a bad boss starts to show up in your performance and suddenly the bad boss is making the decision to leave for you. You will feel better when you start taking steps to shape your own destiny. In the meantime, you may want to consider stopping on the way home for a lottery ticket. You never know, it could be your lucky day!