What I learned from horrible bosses

July 13, 2016

horrible-bossesOk. So.

Which of the following things about my former bosses is true?

  • One of my bosses had a blatant affair with our CEO. And other well-known CEOs.
  • One of my bosses thought that New Yorkers deserved 9/11.
  • One of my bosses believed there was room for only one competent woman in her department — her.
  • One of my bosses hired me to clean up a departmental mess then failed to support me when other executives protested.
  • One of my bosses handed me a complex project to handle completely alone. When it was a huge success, the CEO gave her a weekend resort vacation as a thank-you. She took it.
  • One of my bosses was clinically paranoid and saw threats around every corner, even where none existed. Actually, make that two bosses.
  • One of my bosses taught me to play bridge.

Exciting, right? Don’t you wish you’d had these experiences? NOT. Except for bridge.

Which is why I was so glad to be reminded recently of the very best boss I ever had.

He was the general manager of a small semiconductor company at which I spent four years as director of corporate communication back in the early 1990s.

It was 1994 when I moved on to another job. I hadn’t seen him since I left, but I’d kept up with him, loosely, and he with me, all that time. I knew he was in Southern California and a little about a website he’d founded, but not much more. When Michael and I decided to spend a few days in San Diego, I got in touch and he agreed to meet up.

The minute I walked into the bar I recognized him.

With a big smile he held out his arms and gave me a warm hug, saying those magic words we all love to hear, “You haven’t changed a bit!”  I mean, who wouldn’t call him “favorite boss” after that! But he looked the same, too. I introduced him to Michael, he introduced us to his significant other, and we proceeded to eat, drink and catch up for hours.

K. had an engineering and upper management background. He was always a methodical kind of guy who could explain technical concepts in easy to understand terms. He was fair and fun, both. I loved him.  And I was touched when he turned to Michael and said, “I want you to know something about Carol. I have never, ever, gotten so much work out of someone who worked for me. She could really produce!”

That comment was characteristic of Ken: he didn’t have to acknowledge me, but he did. He was also that kind of boss, rare among CEO types. VERY rare, as it turns out.

Plus he has a great laugh and also a great sense of the ridiculous. I was lucky to work for such a boss.

Oh, what did I learn from my horrible bosses?

I learned to appreciate a great one.

Being a boss is hard. Managing people is a thankless task, to be honest, and it takes a certain skill level. I’m not sure I ever fully mastered it, even though K was a great role model.  I’d had plenty of bad ones. At least I never slept with a CEO or thought competitors were following me, something I learned NOT to do from my horrible bosses.

K was a boss of a different stripe and so much so that we socialized outside of work.

At the time, I was seeing my second husband, who worked at the same place. Ken was married to a woman I liked. The four of us began hanging out together and since he and his wife played bridge, and my husband at the time did, too, they taught me. I can’t remember much about how to play now, but we spent many a wine-soaked Saturday night at one house or another at the bridge table.

And, we picked right up where we left off 20+ years ago.

Now, K is divorced with a delightful significant other.  We’re planning another get together, probably in Santa Fe. So about those bosses. Got a good boss story? Share it in the comments.

K, in case you read this (of course you will): you rock! See you and B. in Santa Fe!

Fill me in on your own horrible bosses: I know you’ve had them. What did they teach you?

38 comments on “What I learned from horrible bosses
  1. Great piece Carol! My last boss fired me without any warning, after 6 years on the job with no training or evaluations. He was a small, hateful man, but he taught me it was time for me to quit my old career and go do something I love…What a fantastic gift that was!

  2. Carla says:

    After college I worked in retail – – I was young I didn’t pay enough attention to my boss 🙂 – – then I got my Masters and open my own business. I’ve been so unbelievably lucky because when I think I have a horrible boss I probably do because it’s myself 🙂
    I’ve had some quirky clients but it seems there such a difference when they aren’t your all day every day boss type. I’m currently mid-pivot and maybe taking a job with a more traditional structure and a boss. I’m choosing to view it as a new adventure…

  3. pia says:

    I have a friend—great friend, horrible boss. We had a catfight,I guess it would be called. she threw something at me, I threw it back. But I learned a lot about how to and how not to deal with people from her

    All my bad bosses, almost, have become good in my memories as I learned something from each one.

    I’m fixated on the “deserving 9/11” my achilles heel to begin with–9/11, not deserving it!

  4. Jennifer says:

    He sounds like great guy! My boss experiences were tame compared to yours. Have a blast in Santa Fe. I’m so jealous!!

  5. Barbara says:

    I’ve always been happier when I am my own boss. I’ve had several businesses over the years and they made me happy, except for the health club that almost ate my house.
    Worst boss ever was the classified manager of The News Journal, (a Gannett Co.), in Delaware. He hired me to be the Real Estate specialist and threw me to the wolves. The wolves were all the other bitches in his dept. who immediately hated me. It was mutual. They used to complain because I would drive into the parking lot with the top down on my car and radio blasting. He actually asked me to stop. HA!
    One day he and I got into a shouting match in his office. I was furious. I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee and one of the writers, who could clearly hear us from her desk, came up to me and advised me to bring charges against him for harassment. I gave it some thought but decided to quit instead.
    On the plus side I’ve had some good bosses too, but still, prefer being my own. And, as Pia said, I’d like to know more about the 9/11 boss!

  6. Candy says:

    Room for one smart hard working woman. That woman needs some trading and attitude adjustment

  7. Sometimes I look back at my “work” days and shake my head! For 20 of my 32 years with the City of Sacramento, I mostly had one boss. He was great in most ways, but like any human, had his issues too. Once I did my personality assessment on him, then I understood him better. Sadly, most of my women bosses had mean streaks and I believe were much harder on their female subordinates than their male ones. So glad those days are over.

  8. I’ve had some horrible bosses and I learned that I just needed to be my own boss! I’ve worked mostly for myself my whole life and been much happier for it.

  9. I never really had a boss except when I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm doing melodramas. He was a sweetie. Otherswise, I’ve always been a freelancer and my own boss.That has it’s own set of issues.

  10. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I agree with Barbara. I am much happier being my own boss. I’ve had some really crappy bosses and am glad to have moved on on my own.

    • Lisa Kelly says:

      Wok colleagues can be equally difficult, especially when they are insecure and patronizing to their peers.

  11. sue says:

    How lovely for you to meet up again and catch up. There certainly are some horrible bosses. I had one who for some reason disliked me the moment he arrived. He would greet everyone except me each morning, exclude me from meetings and generally made me feel so inadequate and depressed with many nights of tears, I left the job – he won. From that moment on I decided I would never let another treat me that way. It was a hard lesson but it made me a better boss when it was my turn. Thanks Carol.

  12. Laurie Stone says:

    We all love the good bosses and remember (with a shiver) the bad ones. Still, they all shaped us in one way or the other. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Sophia says:

    I have learned so much for my horrible bosses too.

  14. Oh my goodness I may have to write a similar post, there were so many bad ones.
    One especially creepy one when I was young kept asking me to climb the rickety stails to do inventory in the attic. I had to wear dresses and I was so naive I didn’t realize he was looking up my dress.
    It was a great lesson and I fought to wear pants and won.

  15. Leanne says:

    I’ve written about my soul sucking job previously on my blog and it boils down to a narcissistic boss who couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge anyone else’s contribution. It just drains you going to work in an environment that is toxic and miserable. You can laugh when you look back at it but MAN it’s great to get out and move on!

  16. The Southern stylista says:

    That line is so true, what did I learn from horrible bosses-to appreciate great ones. That is SO true! I’ve had some not so great bosses in my short working life, but now I presently work for one that is supportive and wants to help me succeed.

    xoxo, SS

    Southern And Style

  17. Well, I guess the most horrible bosses I had taught me I would be better off leaving them and becoming my own boss. Although sometimes I am a slavedriver to myself!

  18. Estelle says:

    I learned how to be tough from the horrible bosses–male and female that I’ve had. One was so bad that my nickname for her was Elizabitch. Guess her real name?

  19. I had one boss who made me cry, well it was kind of a cry/laughattheabsurdity thing. Fortunately, my husband gave me the courage to leave that job after my boss would not agree to my proposal after a year. The hubster had sent me off to work that day, saying something encouraging like, “If you wimp out, don’t come home.” I came home and told him, “I hope you’re satisfied, I just quit my job.” His response was, “No problem, just start your own law firm”. Thus was born the law firm of Me, Myself and I. It was surprisingly (to me) successful, so I ended up being a boss. I was the nice boss. My law partner was the mean boss. It worked for us.

  20. Roxy says:

    It’s great that you have experienced such an awesome boss, but unfortunate that you had to experience so many crummy ones. I hope for the day I have a boss I love enough to keep up with years down the road.

  21. Cori says:

    I was having this conversation with a coworker yesterday. When you have good bosses, especially if your first boss was a good one, the not-so-good ones drive you crazy!

  22. Angie Scheie says:

    Wow, you’ve really had some awful (I mean, awful!) bosses. You’re right, bad things like that really help us appreciate the good. Or even the average haha. K. sounds like a great guy and I’m glad you connected.

  23. Liz Mays says:

    I’ve been fortunate, I guess. I’ve never had to deal with a horrible boss. Whew! I can’t even imagine, but yes, it’s a learning experience.

  24. What a great post, I think I have worked for all the same sort of bosses that you have had except the Bridge one. So nice that you can continue a good relationship like that. My husband had a good female boss, she expected a lot but she was fair and knew what she was talking about and everyone respected her.

    Bloggers Pit Stop – the home of great posts

  25. What not only bad bosses, bad “bad” people teach me all the time is the value of Good.
    It’s easy to take the Good for granted and focus on the negative.
    These people reminded me of also doing my best to be good to others as well.

  26. Great writing Carol! My last boss was so horrible. I have 5 kids and went back to works as an ASM of a local big box store. I was putting in 60 hours a week with no complaints, and was going up and over for my job. I received a stellar review and they offered me a 25 cent raise! Are you kidding what am I going to do with that?? I asked for $1 raise and my boss said she just couldn’t do it, so I left! It was sad for me because my customers still call me at home and the know the torture that woman put me through, but now I am way better off! #BloggersPitStop32

  27. Lisa says:

    Twenty years in law firms as a librarian (i.e. a job “anyone can do” ) yeah…I feel it. The pain. The desire for revenge. The dreams of a massive heart attack while he’s atop a summer law student with a thigh gap. The dream of the wife finding him in the pool with the neighbors wife and aiming for his you-know-what and actually hitting it. SUPER POST!!! [The blog link I used to sign in and comment on those delightful bosses is to my Secretary’s Day post with more details.). And, if you ever need it? I blogged on bridge recently.
    Superb post!! Keep writing. Please keep writing!

  28. So nice that you took the time to reach out to him and re-establish the relationship. Sounds like you have lots of fun planned.

  29. Wow! I don’t know if I’d be able to handle the crazy attitudes and statements from some of your bosses in the past! “One competant woman”…oh hell no!

  30. I’ve had my share of great bosses, and not so great ones. I worked at a startup for an internship and my boss (the CEO) was younger than me! He wasn’t quite ready to take on that leadership role, of having employees below him, and that made things very awkward and uncomfortable. But, I learned from it for sure! Thanks for sharing, it helped me reflect.

  31. Carol, this post was among the most clicked on the Blogger’s Pit Stop. Congratulations, be looking for a feature on Friday.

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