Aug 11

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.