Cowardly Leadership Behavior
“Bosses shape how people spend their days and whether they experience joy or despair, perform well or badly or are healthy or sick. Unfortunately, there are hordes of mediocre and downright rotten bosses out there, and big gaps between the best and the worst. “ — Robert L. Sutton, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst
During my career, I have worked for some horrific bosses. Sometimes I handled the protecting my team well, other times I did not. No excuses.
I was a new purchasing manager working for a toxic boss, I’ll call him Abraham — I lead the teams that bought parts and supplies for a manufacturing factory. My boss was an HR problem. He was a bully. He also owned a large portion of the companies stock.
A toxic boss affects every employee. People working for this person do not want to work for him. It damages employees personally if they work for a bad boss too long.
We were introducing a new casting engineer to the team. Casting engineering involves determining how to design and fabricate molds for making parts out of liquid metal. This method of fabricating metal parts is a magic trick known to few people.
It took more than a year to fill the position. The casting engineer was doing a fantastic job. We had gone from having significant problems with our castings to almost no issues.
We were at our staff meeting. The casting engineer worked for Abraham since he was a senior technical specialist. Few team members knew him as he was both new and out of the plant most of the time traveling to casting suppliers. He was sitting in his seat when Abraham walked over, balled up a piece of paper in his hand and threw it at him. The engineer caught the ball of paper.
Abraham said, “That’s part of your expense report. You’re missing a receipt for the gas used on your supplier. visit.”
The engineer looked at him and said, “Okay, I’ll add it.”
Abraham balled up another piece of paper and threw it at him.
He said, “These are the receipts you gave me. If I can’t have them all at once, I want none of them.”
Abraham continued to stand there and ball up individual pieces of paper to throw at the casting engineer.
The rest of us sat there in shock.
After five minutes, balled up pieces of paper, that were formerly the engineer’s expense report, had been thrown at him. Abraham was clearly enjoying the man’s discomfort.
Once he had thrown all the paper, Abraham moved on to the next subject. The casting engineer sat in his seat, surrounded by paper. I never saw him pick the pieces of his expense report. I don’t know if he did, because as soon as the meeting was over, I beat it out of there as quickly as I could.
Within two weeks, the casting engineer quit. He gave notice and left the company.
Once he left, we never found another casting engineer. The plethora of problems we had been having with castings reemerged. Six months after he left, I heard someone say, “I sure wish we had kept that casting engineer.”
I had handled this incident badly, never speaking up or interceding. I did not speak to my boss in private regarding our need to retain this employee to make my team’s job easier. Instead, I ran away as fast as I could. Not a good look for a leader.
We had a transsexual person in our department — a man who was transitioning into a woman.
During her change, she wanted to stop using the men’s restroom and to start using the women’s restroom. We had no policy to address this situation, so Abraham wrote one. He took his policy draft to Human Resources (HR). After reading his draft, HR sent Abraham home for two days.
HR asked me to write the policy since I was second in command. I asked and got permission to discuss the situation with our transitioning employee. She spoke with me regarding her situation. I listened to understand what she needed. She had suggestions for the policy, some of which I used. I wrote the policy with both her and other employees need for respect in mind.
I turned my draft into HR. When Abraham returned to work and read my draft, he became furious that they had not allowed him to revise his policy. He yelled and berated me. He said my policy was too liberal.
Abraham demanded that I change the transgender policy draft. I would not. He marched me straight to HR to address my insubordination yelling at me all the way through the plant.
Once again, HR promptly sent him home.
When Abraham returned to work, it was as if our discussion regarding the transition policy never existed. He did not bring it up.
HR slightly revised the policy I had written after speaking with our legal representation and released the policy corporate-wide.
I can’t even imagine what Abraham’s policy said. I had no idea, and I never asked. If the toxic boss did not wish to bring it up, neither did I.
We had another monthly staff meeting. This time, Abraham had chosen one of my associates — an independent, quiet person — as his target.
Abraham made him cry. We’re not talking silent tears rolling down his cheeks either — we’re talking loud, audible sobbing. Abraham criticized him viciously because he had been assigned to buy unique parts at reduced cost. He could not do so because the parts were custom made.
Abraham compared current costs to desired costs. He relished everywhere the reductions were not met.
The only person who interrupted Abraham during his tirade was me. I pointed out repeatedly that several parts had never met the desired costs in the history of my employment at the company. If we wanted to meet these cost targets, I strongly suggested, that I put together a focused cost reduction team.
I knew I would pay for those interruptions later, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t sit idle again and allow the abuse of my employee to continue with no opposition.
Working for ugliness affects a person. It took until the second staff meeting to speak up. The toxicity in the first meeting affected me, and I froze.
The very air you breathe turns poisonous working for a bad boss. There is a way to keep your integrity intact. As long as I did whatever I could to contain Abraham’s bad leadership, I stayed on track for my success.
I could not allow the poison of Abraham’s Leadership style to affect my actions. My career was based on my values. Not my reaction to his viciousness.
Once again, serendipity was on my side. A production manager job opened unexpectedly. I was promoted to the production floor by the President. There was no way the production floor could operate without leadership so I was transferred to Operations but Abraham could cover my job with the rest of his team.
Being transferred to a different job was good. Being able to breathe again was better. Keeping my integrity intact while I worked for a toxic boss was the best.
Another Leadership Read: Thriving Under Brutal Management
Toni can be reached at https://www.tonicrowewriter.com/