“My Boss is Crazy” is a Redundant Statement [HorroR Stories][Best of FaN]
I picked this post as my “best of” because: 1. I didn’t have many to choose from as I’m a relatively new contributor here and 2. this is hands down the question people ask me more than anything (or a version of). It seems that having a crazy boss is like the common cold of the working world–we all get one eventually and they are really really annoying. Don’t forget to send your questions to email@example.com. All questions are confidential. Enjoy!
Dear Madame HR,
I hate my boss. I’ve worked at this company for over a year, and I’ve tried everything to work with this person. He is crazy and incompetent, yet the CEO and CFO seem to love him. He has no clue how to do his job and half the time I have to explain his own job to him. What do I do? I’ve thought of leaving the company but the job market scares me.
–Only Sane One Left
Dear Sane One,
Ah, the crazy boss, who hasn’t had one of those? I feel like I’ve had several. In fact, after reading your letter, I did a little tally of all the bosses I’ve had over the years and here’s how they broke out (this is just counting my post-college, what some may call “real” jobs):
Crazy, but I kind of liked them- 2
Crazy, but I couldn’t stand them- 1
Crazy, like Pol Pot crazy and kind of mean- 1
Crazy, like Norma Desmond crazy and kind of fun- 1
Crazy, but they only talked to me like 3 times, so it didn’t really matter- 2
Crazy, but once I figured out how to work him, I learned A LOT from him- 1
Crazy, but in her defense, it wasn’t really her fault, and she loved me so it all kind of worked out ok- 2
Not crazy, in fact pretty fucking awesome, someone who actually cared about my career and told me the TRUTH, and looked out for me even when it didn’t benefit her, in other words, the most crazy insane of them all- 1
So yes, Sane One, I hate to break it to you, but all bosses are crazy. And, I’ve been a boss and I bet my employees have uttered the words “she’s crazy” under their breath plenty of times. What to do? How do we cope with these deranged few who hold our professional fates in their hands?
First, a story: Let me focus on Mr. Pol Pot from above. He was the most challenging of all my crazy bosses in all the years. He was a CFO who had no idea what to do with an HR Department, and to make it worse he held the very strong belief that everyone except for himself was a complete moron. The only thing he really felt comfortable letting me do was plan parties. Now someday in a future post, dear Sane One, I will go in to all the things in HR that I hate, for now let me give you the abridged version here: 1. Planning parties, 2. Holiday themed clothing and jewelry, 3. Rubber stamps.
Anyway, usually I’m pretty good at finding my angle with people. Usually, no matter what level of mental health I’m dealing with, I can figure out pretty quickly how to approach someone, what to focus on, what details are important, etc. With Mr. Pot, I could not do this. He would come out of left field with things that would sort of stun me and I couldn’t respond. For example, I was planning a party that involved taking the entire company to a Dodger game. Pretty cool, huh? Well, they wanted to rent a bunch of buses to cart everyone up to Chavez Ravine from Torrance, and after looking online and gathering some quotes, I became suspicious that one quote was SERIOUSLY lower than the others. I told him that I wanted to check them out a little bit, make sure they had insurance, etc. You know, be responsible, mitigate risk, fun little things like that. He snapped back at me: “Don’t be manipulative.”
Huh. “Don’t be manipulative?” I’m still not sure what to say to that. I mean, I might be a little naïve about manipulation, I try and be as up front as possible with people, so maybe because he was sooo much smarter than I was, he saw some inner meaning in my words that was buried so deep not even I was aware it was there. Pretty savvy, Mr. Pot! I thought I was just trying to ensure that the entire company didn’t die in a fiery bus crash on the 110 freeway, and if they did, we could at least get some insurance money or something out of it. But no, clearly there was some sort of trickery afoot. I wanted our company to spend more money on safe buses that didn’t smell like urine because that’s just the kind of evil conniving bitch that I am, well just call me the Mata Hari.
I could write a book about this asshole. I would walk past conference rooms where he was meeting with people and notice that everyone in the room but him would have tears streaming down their face (including men). And he was “in charge” of HR! So what did I do? After about a year (a year!) and what felt like an ulcer, I quit. I didn’t even have another job to go to; there was a piece of me that thought I’d never be able to work in a corporate environment again. And do you know what happened? Two months after I quit, he quit.
So, we have now reached the part of the post where I actually answer your question. How do you handle Mr. Looney Tunes? Is your only course of action to quit your job?
Be patient- this is my favorite piece of advice to always give and never take. There is nothing harder than being patient. Do I regret quitting my job when 2 months later the reason I quit was gone? Yes, I kind of do. Organizations change all the time. Some of you might have noticed from my tally above, I’ve had a lot of bosses. I spent a lot of time chasing something that was different than what I was experiencing and I learned that every organization has the crazies. In the immortal words of Fletch: “it’s all ball bearings nowadays.” You can’t escape the crazy, but at least where you are right now, you know the crazy, and if you can figure out a way to live with it, then at the very least you’ll be happier. I guarantee all the agita you are feeling is only affecting you, and the more indignant and wronged you feel, the worse YOU will feel, no one else. Protect yourself, that’s all I’m saying. When I gave my notice to Mr. Pot, he was stunned. He tried to talk me out of leaving, told me to take a leave of absence, but I was so incensed, so wronged, so far gone, that I said no! Boy did I show him, 13 months of unemployment and a 30% pay cut when I finally did get a job again. I win!
Don’t go over his head- this will make you look worse than he does. Don’t turn it into a me vs. him thing because you will lose.
Find your angle- think about what he’s doing that really makes you crazy and confront it. I had a boss that used to send me these three page ranting emails at 2:00 in the morning so they would greet me first thing the next day. I started printing them out and taking them to him and asking him directly if he wanted to discuss my performance. He would ALWAYS back down. See my previous post, bosses HATE conflict. The emails got to be fewer and fewer, and I started feeling differently about them when I got them. I started to see that he was just venting and stopped taking them personally.
So, I’m about to give the most unpopular advice you’ve ever heard. How do you deal with your crazy boss that you hate? You need to change your perception, stop letting him get to you, DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY. In other words, protect yourself while this crazy world keeps on spinning. Don’t quit your job because your boss is crazy, quit because you’ve got a kick-ass new job to go to, or you are opening a cupcake business (tip: I prefer red velvet), or you are going to spend a year picking olives in Greece. And until then, show up, do a great job, get noticed by that CEO and CFO. If your boss truly is incompetent, chances are you aren’t the only one who thinks so. Give him enough rope to hang himself with. You don’t have to tie the noose or even put it around his neck. Just smile and keep handing it over. He’ll be twitching in the wind soon enough, and then it’s time for a new crazy boss!
Good luck out there,
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