Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tragicomedy of Bad Bosses

Evidently there’s a movie out now about bad bosses. One of the actresses was on the Tonight Show last week, and I caught a couple of minutes of the show. One of Jay’s set-up questions to her was, “so, have you ever had a bad boss?” I missed her answer, as I had reached the end of my limited patience with Jay and turned off the TV.

I know a little bit about bad bosses, and the question left me considering the problem while the Sandman sprinkled stardust. In my over fifty jobs, I have had bosses good, bad and indifferent. An example of the bad was not hard to come up with.

I had a job one time with a company that produced essentially two things: one was a photographic product, and the other was a highly specialized product for the movie industry. So the place was a factory, and an electronics assembly area, with some office space at the front, all in one building in West Los Angeles. The photographic product had been very popular for many, many years, and it had single-handedly given the company many prosperous years. The thing was cost effective, solid as a rock, and it had superior performance, but it had been overtaken by technological advancements. This was the late Seventies, and the switch to video was in its last stages, no one wanted the photographic product anymore. The other product was growing in popularity with the movie industry, but it was a high ticket item in a limited market. Also, the production costs were huge and there was no way to achieve economy of scale. All things considered, the company was sinking quickly, if not sunk already and finally getting the picture. Those of us who remained divided our time on various tasks.

My job was split between two bosses, one for my production control duties and one for my duties expediting deliveries of sub-contracted parts. Two bosses, and what are the odds? Both weighed over 350 pounds in their stocking feet, with no exaggeration on my part. Beyond that wild coincidence, they were very different people. As different as night and day, perhaps? These two guys were much more different than that. Night and day both take place on earth, so how different can they be?

One of these bosses was a saint, and the other was a textbook example of a sinner. The saint had a pretty good excuse for being so giant, for one thing was actually was a giant, he stood six feet, nine inches tall in those size sixteen or so stocking feet of his. He missed a day’s work one time to go in for a check up. He came back the next day and I asked him, so how’d it go yesterday? He looked over the tops of his glasses at me. “Good,” he said, “the doctor said that I was as healthy as a horse,” he grinned, “and almost as big as one.” He was a mason, and although he never bragged about anything I got some clues as to the extent of his good works. He left me with a permanent, high opinion of masons.

The sinner was closer to five feet, eight or nine inches tall. He’d had to work much harder to build up such an impressive physique. He ate a lot, everything in sight except the furniture you might say, and without stopping, all day. He also smoked, we could all smoke at work back then. He smoked like he really meant it. He had an ashtray on his desk that was more than a foot across, and several inches deep. He smoked Winstons, a strong cigarette, and Kools, a strong menthol, and some kind of strong little cigars too. By close of business, the ash tray was loaded. He was a monument to poor impulse control. His wife worked in the area too. She, like he, was about fifty-five-years-old, but there was nothing wrong with her figure at all. She’d been a Vegas show-girl in her prime, and what was left of her prime was a sight to see, the shape of it at least. A poor diet and all of that second hand smoke, plus the cigarettes that she smoked herself, had ruined her skin and hair. Dumb as a rock, she was, dumb as a bag of rocks. Poor impulse control to marry her too.

The saint was a great boss, very well organized and considerate. The sinner was another story. He talked a good game, and he had somehow talked his way far into the good graces of the owners of the company, but he couldn’t deliver. As a boss, he had no idea how to do any of the things that he told you to do, had no idea how to do the things that he was supposed to do, had the impression that nothing took any time at all to do, and was absolutely convinced that he never made a mistake.

Since I have already greatly exceeded the word-limit for blog posts, I will attempt to wrap this up. The company was dying, that much was manifestly clear, and one day, after the saint was already gone, I spoke to the evil fat boss. I thanked him for my continued employment, but I asked him frankly if I could expect to be employed much longer. Should I be making other plans? He assured me in no uncertain terms that the company would be surviving in some form or another, and needed a core of good employees to carry on, and that I was needed long-term. “You’re the kind of guy we need around here,” he told me, “and we don’t want to lose you.”

I had my own parking space by that time, near the door too, with my name stenciled on the wall. Within a week of our talk, the evil boss had somebody meet me as I parked one morning. “Sorry to be the one,” he said, handing me some papers. “Don’t punch in, just take these to (insert name, the personnel officer).” That was it for me.

So yes, I know a little bit about bad bosses, and bad people in general, and bad luck, karma or whatever. But that’s life on earth, isn’t it? Bad, certainly, but like this pendant of bosses, if you’re lucky there’s some good to balance the scales.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered the possibility that a person with over 50 jobs on his resume might perhaps be a "bad employee"??

fred c said...

For most of my adult life I was, indeed, a nightmare employee. Temperamental, resentful. I do love my current job, though. I am very comfortable at it, I perform well, and I am grateful for this late, great opportunity.