Socrates, Butterfly McQueen, and the Castrato

Last week I received an email from someone who wrote, “What’s with all of these kids I have working for me? They’re lazy, don’t do what I tell them, and their technical knowledge doesn’t make up for the fact that they expect everything handed to them on a silver platter.” I thought for a few minutes, then wrote back, “What are you doing to help them?” I never heard back.

That led me to think of the number of people I’ve worked for over the years. Did they help me or just give me an example of how NOT to be in a supervisory position?

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had some great bosses, but the rest left me shaking my head… and twitching. See if you can recognize these horrible boss types:

The Jimmy Durante. They’ve always got their big noses in everyone’s business. No conversation is sacred when they stop by. They have to know everything about everyone and spend more time talking than working.

The Butterfly McQueen. You know the type, “Miz Scahlett, Miz Scahlett!!!!” Their asses are always on fire. Every situation is a huge problem, and there is nothing they can’t get overwrought about. I once worked for a woman who used to page me when she couldn’t find me. Big deal? If I didn’t answer the page, she’d track me down, interrupt a meeting, call me out in the hall, and say something profound like, “Have you seen my blue pen? I think I left it in your office.”

The Castrato. A few centuries ago, boys would be castrated so they could sing the high notes in the opera. The Castrato in the office doesn’t have any you-know-whats, either. Great ideas roll up to their door then crash and recede. They’re so afraid to make a move that they’re paralyzed. Nothing ever happens when you work for a Castrato. Nothing.

The “I’ll Take ‘Get a Life’ for $400, Alex.” These bosses live and die for the company. Here’s how you can tell if you work for one of these people:

  • They sport company logo-wear at least three days per week.

  • They have their home phone forwarded to their office number.
  • They accumulated 98 vacation days because they know that the company would come to a grinding halt if they took a few days off.
  • They have a pair of slippers in their office so they can get comfortable after 8 p.m. when the slackers go home.
  • They send emails on Saturday morning at 7 just so you know they’re working.

The Ostrich. This boss won’t let you attend industry trade shows, local Ad Club meetings, or anything that might actually further your career. Their biggest fear is that you might talk to someone who might want to hire you. If you’re tethered to your desk, there’s no way for you to interact with the outside world, so you can never leave. Uh huh.

The Steven Seagal. Sure, he’s the finest dramatic actor since Sir John Gielgud, but he’s a one-trick pony. The Seagal boss is always “Out for Justice” or “Under Siege.” They use intimidation to get what they want. Yelling and screaming, they enforce their reign of terror over anyone who can’t stand up to them.

The O’Jay. Remember the song “Backstabbers”? If you work for an O’Jay, you’re always on guard. They won’t back you up in a pinch, and no information is ever sacred. The other scary aspect of an O’Jay is that they are completely unaware that everyone has them pegged. They usually self-implode before anyone has to do it for them.

The Socrates. This is the philosopher. Not to be confused with the Steven Seagal, the philosopher takes 20 minutes to say hello. I once worked with a guy that was such a bag of wind we devised a game to see how long he could pontificate. We’d say something like, “Bill, I heard that ad agencies in Kansas City have the highest percentage of female copywriters in the country. I wonder why that is?” Then, sit back and relax as Socrates gives you his opinion based on geology, meteorology, and estrogen levels. As soon as Socrates starts talking, everyone in the room goes to their “happy place.”

The Alicia Silverstone. Totally clueless. Everyone in the company knows they’re an idiot, but somehow they keep their jobs AND make twice as much as you do. Do they have compromising pictures of someone? Are they such effective butt kissers that someone high up values their bobble-head-doll imitations? I worked for an Alicia once who I swear had severe mental problems. They were so afraid to get rid of her that they kept promoting her. Who has the mental problem here?

What do you do if you work for one of these people? Here are some suggestions:

  • Anonymously run off copies of this article, circle the paragraph that fits, and leave it on the offender’s desk. Write a note in the margin that says, “Jim asked me to leave this for you,” with an indistinguishable signature. It should drive them nuts.

  • If the boss looks entrenched, get a new job. I worked for one woman who was the inspiration for most of this list rolled into one mass of psychosis. I had to get out of there. She followed shortly thereafter.

If you recognize yourself in one of these descriptions, it’s not too late. Go to Human Resources and tell them that you need a coach to improve your behavior. If you’re a Frankenstein, eventually the peasants will show up at your door with torches.

If you have tales of woe from former bosses, give them a catchy name, and send them to me at peter@stickyideas.com.

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