Crazy bosses

Crazy bosses I’m whipping through yet another hilarious business tome by Stanley Bing. This one’s entitled ‘Crazy Bosses’ and is chock full of laugh-out-loud tales of totally dysfunctional leaders. In the book, Bing separates crazy bosses into one of five separate species:

1.)   The bully

2.)   The paranoid

3.)   The narcissist

4.)   The wimp

5.)   The disaster hunter

Although it’s a few years old, the book is as timely as ever, what with the recent meltdowns of BP’s Tony Heyward and H-P’s Mark Hurd, as well as California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s alleged misbehaviors while serving as eBay’s CEO.

Hands down, the craziest boss I ever worked for served was the CEO of an international management consulting firm. He’d be listed as ‘exhibit one’ in Bing’s chapter on bullies. This particular boss had been a former NFL offensive lineman (and, he took the word ‘offensive’ as his watchword in the business world). The guy was a hulking menace and resembled a fitter, broader and much meaner Tony Soprano. There was no light side to this chief executive, though. He ruled by intimidation, pure and simple.

Among my more vivid memories are:

– The time I asked for a raise after going two years without one. Fond of screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs, the CEO belittled and berated me for having the nerve to even think about a raise. He said I should be ashamed of myself for taking a dime of the firm’s money. That was his way of saying, ‘Sorry kid. No raise.’

– He was fond of always using the speaker phone for his calls since it made him seem even more powerful. One time, we were on the phone with the head of a London PR firm we’d retained to handle an acquisition. Thinking he’d hit the mute button, the CEO proceeded to tell me what a clown the London PR guy was, how poorly he thought of him and his firm, etc. All the while, I’m waving my arms and pointing to the phone. Finally, I scribbled a note telling the CEO he hadn’t activated the mute button. He smiled and said, ‘David, you hearing all this?’ David responded immediately, ‘Oh yes, Tom.’ To which the CEO smiled and said, ‘Well that ought to light a fire under your ass! Get to work.’

– The CEO was street smart, but poorly educated. He often misunderstood fairly basic words and phrases. Once, as we were discussing the firm’s overall marketing campaign, I happened to say we needed to look at our materials en masse so they had one look, feel, voice, etc. I used the expression en masse a second time. That’s when the CEO stopped the meeting and asked, ‘Who the hell is this guy Maas and what does he do for us?’

– Another time I was reviewing materials with the CEO when a call came in from the president of one of the firm’s many divisions. The CEO interrupted our meeting to begin berating his direct report in front of me and six or seven others. After hearing a few excuses from the division leader, the CEO cut him off and said, ‘Jesus Christ, John. If you can’t do this job, I’ve got lots of other smarter and hungrier people than you who’d love the chance. Turn this thing around by the end of the week or book yourself a one-way ticket home!’ He hung up, laughed out loud and got back to the business at hand.

Misbehaving CEOs are far too common in today’s business landscape. What they don’t understand is the immediate impact their words, actions and behaviors have on the organization’s image and reputation.

There’s a good chance my erstwhile NFL lineman turned CEO’s boorish behavior wouldn’t pass muster with the board of a publicly-traded company in the year 2010. Or not.  We parted ways with a distaff version of my crazy boss not too long ago. She’s the CEO of a publicly-traded company and is renowned for dropping the ‘F-bomb’ and threatening immediate termination of any employee who leaks inside information to the press. I remember her first company-wide meeting in front of 5,000 or so employees. After a brief speech, she asked for questions. A meek, mild engineer raised his hand and asked if he could continue to speak to the media with whom he’d developed a relationship over the years. The CEO sighed audibly and said, ‘What a stupid, stupid question!’

Crazy bosses are epidemic. Who was your craziest boss and in which category would you place her? Any and all input welcomed. Oh, by the way, I’d probably list myself in the narcissist category.  I’m the first to admit I’m all about me.

9 thoughts on “Crazy bosses

  1. OK, I’m late to this party, but would still like to offer the following from my wondrous experiences in PR:
    o A boss who promoted me (even issued an agency-wide memo to announce it), but then told my superiors that the promotion only lent itself to one of the seven accounts I was working on. When I later learned about this technicality, I invited the boss to issue a new, clarifying memo, so as to stem the confusion; he politely declined.
    o A boss who allowed me to travel to Connecticut for a meeting at the client’s offices, despite the fact that she had called the client the previous day to cancel said meeting. It was only after I’d been milling the around the client offices for about an hour, waiting for the meeting to start, did the director of marketing casually mention that the meeting had been cancelled the previous day at the insistence of my boss.
    o A boss, who after I had given my two weeks notice, asked me to attend a client meeting and pretend that I wasn’t leaving the company. Not only did she not want to acknowledge my impending departure, she didn’t want to bring another account person to the meeting, either. I couldn’t fathom how that would turn out well.
    o A boss, who after I had left the company, submitted a $125 invoice for a lunch date to my former client, indicating that I had taken an editor out during my final week on the account. Understandably, the former client didn’t believe this story (it just didn’t jibe with my impeccable character) and threatened to call me at my new place of work. The solution? The boss had an underling call me and instruct me to lie to the former client, should he actually follow through on the threat and contact me.

  2. Great stuff, CPO Kasko. Great stuff. The phone call saga is a classic, and portrays dysfunctional American business at its worst. Despite all the best-selling management books, gurus and MBA programs, there are more crazy bosses than ever.

  3. Admiral Cody:
    I haven’t read this book – I’m going to try and find a copy. There are perhaps two other categories of crazy bosses: Incompetent and Micromanager. I’ve worked for both types, including one who was both!
    I have to say that working for a boss who is way in over his/her head and isn’t competent is pretty bad – but my worst example is this…
    The Dishonest/Liar boss (another category)! I worked for one of these for 4 DAYS! This gem was late getting to the train station to go to an important meeting with a major client and a Forbes magazine editor. So she calls me, says she “got into a fender bender” and couldn’t get to the train, so would I dial in to the meeting and hold the client’s hand (by phone!) and make sure the client didn’t freak out that my boss wasn’t physically there? This is on my fourth day of work! Never met the client or spoke with her previously! Long story short – I was listening in (on mute) and when I was asked a question, I went to unmute the phone, fumbled around with the buttons, and cut off the call! Again, my fourth day – I didn’t even know how to use the phone system! Client freaks out, calls my boss to complain that I was of no help, and the boss “fires” me over the weekend VIA EMAIL! A most bizarre experience. Incompetence and lying at it’s best (worst)!
    BTW, none of my crazy bosses were at PepperCom. While you may shows signs of narcissism once in a while Steve, I didn’t see it when it came to work we were doing at PCom!
    CPO Kasko

  4. Great story, Julie. Sounds like the original boss would fit neatly into Bing’s ‘paranoid’ category.

  5. Crazy bosses? Where do I begin… Many years ago, I worked for a moody woman who was a combination of Bully and Paranoid. She made sure no one in her department formed alliances; she wanted everyone to be beholden to her and her only. She wanted us all to feel nervous and insecure.
    So, if she found out you went to lunch with a co-worker, she would call you and grill you about what you discussed. Then, she would call the person you had lunch with and ask them the same questions and compare stories. Only difference is she would twist your words and say, “That’s strange…Julie just told me that you…blah, blah, blah.” Great way to team-build, no?
    And, if you had direct reports, she would undermine ANY decision you made (no matter how small – she actually wanted to approve any inter-office memos written) so that everyone ultimately reported to her.
    However, I am very fortunate that my present boss is smart and confident; trusts that I know how to do the job she hired me to do, and doesn’t micromanage. Good bosses (like good men) are out there; it’s just that we get so scarred by the bad experiences we sometimes forget.

  6. That’s beautiful, Michael. So, when you were initially placed on probation you had no idea why? Talk about a passive/aggressive boss. Ouch.

  7. I had a boss at a large media company who put me on a 90 day probation period for not doing my job properly and not respecting the fact that I worked for a “relationship” company. Here’s the thing – I had been there for about 32 days. My probation period was on the verge of lasting 3 times as long as my initial run. It was so absurd I had a hard time taking it seriously, but on the other hand she had been there for 11 years so relatively speaking she had a lot more equity there than I did. An important point to note – the 90 day warning didn’t even get to me in writing until 75 days after the warning period began, or 107 days after I had started at the company. So I had 15 days left to prove myself on a 90 day warning period when most of it had gone by before I ever really understood in writing why I was put on warning. A few weeks later, she wanted to give me feedback but by that point it was 30 days after the 90 day period expired. I asked her to call my assistant to schedule an appointment. My boss was fired about 14 days later and 11 years too late.

  8. Awesome war story, Lunch. Thanks for sharing. I love the Xanax-popping partner. She must have been a blast to work with.

  9. way to out yourself. that is refreshing.
    before working where i am, and after leaving peppercom, i was at a boutique firm where the ownership was a complete joke.
    the male partner of the firm was a bully & a disaster hunter while his female counter part was a paranoid wimp, if i may combine them.
    for two years i dealt with his rants and raves about how PR should be done his way, and his way only. i listened to countless diatribes (while he was drunk or hungover) about why each pitch letter NEEDED to tell the whole company story for our client. i’m literally talking War & Peace. When I tried to outsmart him and forward a few reporter’s responses asking me to get to the point, and trim down my pitches, he flipped out on me in front of the staff. after that, i worked double time…i had to write pitches his way for show and then my own to actually use.
    his partner, she had issues confronting him, staff, clients and even her own vendor relationships. she would hole up in her office and pump herself full of xanax and other mood altering pills.
    quitting that job, without giving them two weeks notice, was a great feeling. soon after, my largest client and its 50K/month retainer left.
    i even keep my time spent there off of my resume/linkedin. it was hell on earth after a nice courtship.