Brutal Bosses From Hell

In Brutal Bosses and Their Prey (1996, Riverhead Books), Harvey Hornstein identifies six variations on Simon Legree: Conquerors (classic schoolyard bullies) -- Theyre concerned with power. Bludgeon you with words. Make you feel small. Treat you like trash. Expect you to genuflect or, at the very least, kiss their rings. Performers (constantly threatened bullies) -- They attack anyone who seems to be competitive. They belittle, bother, and bewilder. This type of boss puts negative comments in your personnel file without telling you. Manipulators (take-credit-for-your-ideas bullies) -- They are more concerned about how they are perceived than how they are received. They smear you. Take credit for your ideas. Blame their failures on you. Dehumanizers (people-are-numbers bullies) -- They abuse you and never excuse you. They treat you like a robot because its easier to abuse a thing than a person. Blamers (you-deserved-it bullies) -- They are righteous about wrongness. When they reprimand you, they take comfort in the fiction that you deserved what happened to you -- a fiction that they are quite clever at composing. Rationalizers (abuse-for-a-greater-cause bullies) -- They vilify you supposedly for your own good. Or for the companys. They employ self-justifying terms to excuse themselves and take refuge in believing that "It needed to be done. Someone had to do it. The company comes first, you know." Hornsteins analyses are based on questionnaires received from 1,000 men and women respondents over an eight-year period. His data indicate that 90% of all American workers experience some form of abusive behavior from a bully boss during their work life. Do bully bosses tend to exist in some industries more than others? "No," says Hornstein, "and thats the scary part. All industries are equally represented." From deep in the citys sewers and subways all the way up to the high-rise corporate executive offices, brutal bosses are abusing subordinates. The major difference is one of technique -- whether they are verbal abusers or physical ones. So what should you do when you are attacked? Start by doing nothing. Then spend time learning your predators patterns and styles. What triggers the boss?

  • Should you decide to counterattack, fall back and wait for a propitious moment.
  • You can try to avoid the bully.
  • You can seek help from a higher-echelon executive.
  • You can use your legal options.
None of these suggestions will change your brutal boss from hell into a benevolent boss from heaven. But they can help you to change how you work with the boss, because you cant change the boss -- you can change only yourself. Sometimes the only solution is to change jobs.

* * *
Some of the worst bully bosses are football and baseball coaches or managers. Many of us had our first introduction to them in our high school and college locker rooms. And yet other coaches and managers are savvy in motivating people. Here are some management gems from the mouths of some of the winningest bosses in American sports. Their advice will work in the business world, as well:
  • "Its what you learn after you know it all that counts." -- Earl Weaver, manager, Baltimore Orioles.
  • "The secret to managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided." -- Casey Stengel, manager, New York Yankees.
  • "Youve got to have integrity to be an effective leader. Thats what it all stems from." -- Don Shula, coach, Miami Dolphins.
  • "Managing is like holding a dove. Squeeze too tightly, and youll kill it. Open your hand too much, and youll let it go." -- Tommy Lasorda, manager, Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • "Present ideas, not mandates." -- George Seifert, coach, San Francisco 49ers.
  • "When you travel with the team and you eat with the team, you eat what the team eats." -- Vince Lombardi, coach, Green Bay Packers.
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