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This Month's Guest Mystery
Our new anonymous Mystery Boss of the Months success reads like our own Fired and Inspired department in the OFF THE BOSS SURVIVAL MANUAL. At the moment, she is one of the top earning woman CEOs with a self-owned business in the country. She started working as a temp at a large manufacturing company, but after fifteen years hit the glass ceiling so hard she almost applied for Workmans Comp. Back at home, and taking care of several pre-teens, she began to see that many parents, herself included, worried about her children hanging out at the mall, or shopping on their own, but saw a great need to let them have a feeling of responsibility with their hard earned (or begged) money, when it came to buying things. Literally starting her business on her kitchen table, she created a glossy catalogue specifically aimed at the pre-teen, and teen market, selling everything from clothes, to software, to food items, to promotional items for popular Rock Bands, TV Shows and Motion Pictures. Realizing they wouldnt be willing to send in money orders, she invented a simple, but foolproof way of granting them credit so that they could buy things without sending checks or credit cards (which, of course they didnt have) with their orders. Her business quickly grew, and she added an 800 number, TV and print advertising, and an Internet Website. Her business now employees over 150 workers, her catalogue circulation is in the millions, and her profits far above that. She has recently made a tie-in deal with one of the most popular youth oriented TV Networks, which, it is estimated, should easily quadruple her profits. We applaud her for her ingenuity and success, and for her willingness to subject herself to having her brain tapped by us (and you!)."
So... Fire away!
Our latest question comes from "P." of New York...
Dear Mystery Boss:
I work for a
Manager who works hard, but has very little people skills. She
thrives on people disliking her, and the supervisor, who happens to be her
best friend, has said that she even admits this. I complete all
tasks for her quickly and with accuracy, and never hesitate to help out
with other duties when needed.
I have been
promoted twice this year already. The problem is that when even the
slightest thing goes wrong in the department, she skips over the
supervisor (who I work with on many of these projects) and goes off on me.
(again who is her best friend) seems to be cushioned and I take the brunt.
If I'm wrong or make a mistake, I will rightfully admit it, fix the
problem, and go on. But a lot of times, it is a problem that I
wasn't involved in, but gets dragged into when something goes wrong and
gets pounced on. (I'm male, but the other lead, supervisor, and
manager are all female. not sure if this matters, but wanted to let you
One day our new
lead got into a confrontation with an employee. She is new and has
changed quite a bit.(bad attitude) She seems to have a personality
conflict with everyone on the floor. ( She talks to them like they are
children), but she is a very hard worker.
confrontation escalated to the supervisor and then the manager. This
all happened before I started my shift. When I got to work the
employee called me over because he was really upset about this. I
had no idea that anything had happened, and as he was explaining to me,
the supervisor stormed out of her office and told this employee that she
would talk to him later and asked me to come into her office with the
other lead. I explained that he called me over and wanted to explain
what happened. Immediately she looked at me and said, "you
should not have stood there and listened to him but just walk away!
I got a little
miffed and said "I'm sorry, I just don't walk away when someone is
speaking to me.
Well, the manager
called us all into her office, and explained how we should treat employees
fairly. Now, I'm basically in charge of this whole group under the
supervisor and have always treated the employees with respect, never
talked down to them, and listen to them. They have always completed
any work I gave them and they treat me with respect. The new lead has been
talking to the employees with a demeaning attitude and the supervisor
seems to like this. (even though employs have complained to the supervisor
about this) Now I'm listening to the manager speak and all of a sudden she
looks at me and says " And you need to get more back bone with
them!!!" I seem to take the brunt of everything and the
supervisor and the manager want me to act more forcefully with the
employees. I stated, 'why Do I have to speak to an employee in a
demanding tone and or yell at them, when they already do everything I ask?
The manager had no answer for this and said nothing. Now I feel like
I'm one guy against three women. Now, for the most part the manager
never really stands over us and just wants everyone to do his or her job,
but likes to have that authoritative rule. I understand the working
part completely, but even when I think I'm working hard and skip breaks
and lunches and take on additional assignments daily, the manager
always seems to have this negative attitude with me. The supervisor
has noticed this too and doesn't think this is fair, but the kicker is
that both the supervisor and manager are best friends. I have an
opportunity to accept a supervisor position under this manager, but have
some reservations. (Do I want to be in this situation?)
It seems that at any level I've been at, I take the brunt of employee
issues and problems, even now when the supervisor is supposed to handle
certain tasks, the manager turns the situation around like it's my fault,
so I think why not accept the position.
I seem to be
losing my patients and am wondering what to do with this whole situation
and would like your opinion.
I think the key to your
very long and well-documented question is when you say: "It seems
that at any level I've been at, I take the brunt of employee issue and
problems…" I've learned from years of experience (and an enormous
amount of my own self-observation, that when something in your workplace
seems to happen again and again, you have to look first at YOU and not at
THEM. Not that you have done anything wrong, or have some self-destructive
issues. But repetition of undesirable elements in one's job is not by
In your case, as when
you say, "It seems that at any level I've been at, I take the brunt
of employee issue and problems…", you need to step back and see WHY
you take this "brunt"… why you become this "conduit"
if you will. Not that we shouldn't listen to other people (it's perhaps
one of the top five good things that any supervisor or boss needs to
do)… but we can find ourselves becoming much too entangled in other
people's lives, and in so doing making their problem YOUR problem as well.
The key part of what you said is "taking the brunt". Think back
at how you handle these situations. You'll find that perhaps being a very
sensitive and caring person you feel so much for the other employee's
problems that you become just as angry or hurt or frustrated as they do,
and you translate that to your superiors. If you have the chance to
advance in this new position take it IMMEDIATELY. And in so doing remember
to look back for a moment. Realize that there is something you are doing
to continue to create these little "storms" in your work place.
You may find that you somehow unconsciously attract people to come to you
with problems. Perhaps there's a need in you to be a father confessor.
Find a way to rechannel these needs so that they don't become such a
personal problem. Try to be just as helpful, but less personally involved.
And be selective as to which problems you take on. As they say, "you
can't take on the world… it's much too expensive".
Simply, try in the
future to watch yourself very carefully when you are in these situations.
Remember that just because you think you are right, (and most likely are),
it's how you come ACROSS TO OTHERS which is much more important than the
truth itself. Try to make changes in how your respond. You'll be
amazed at how it will change your life!
First off I'd like you to know that your problem is not at all that uncommon. In fact, it is becoming more and more common these days.
Our next question comes from "A. B.":
Dear Mystery Boss:
Dear "A. B.":
Now let me get this
straight. You were hired by this woman, and have been doing a great job.
You aren't trying to take her job, or step on her, or "stab her in
the back" in any way. What you are telling me, is that if you ask for
more training and advance yourself, you will end up getting more money
(not only for the training, but perhaps more after your training), and you
are worried that she will be upset by all that, since being in management
(and therefore not in a Union, as is the case with all management), her
benefits or "perks" aren't as good as yours, and that she may be
upset that you are making more money than she is? Furthermore, you seem to
be worried that she is going to look at this as some kind of
"insult" on her, or lack of loyalty.
First off, I must
commend you on feeling that somehow you are hurting or stepping on the
toes of the person who got you your job. Good for you for having a heart
and soul... a very rare commodity these days! However, I, for the life of
me, cannot see how you wanting to advance your own life is in any way an
insult on this woman! Are you to always subservient to her because she got
you your job? You're not taking her job from her... you are taking a
natural course in life... which is to continue to climb and succeed
through hard work, experience and intelligence.
I, myself have brought
in many people in very low end positions (including interns, mail room,
assistants, runners, etc.), who have all gone on to greater positions than
even I... many of them now running their own businesses, and yes, making
much more money that I have (several saw the "Internet"
explosion happening long before the "fuse" was lit, and got in
the ground floor). I could not be more proud of these people. The fact
that I chose them initially. The fact that I had the common sense and
intuition to realize their potential, and try at ever turn to give them a
leg up... or to help them climb the "ladder", make me feel good
about myself. I am forever receiving calls, and letters, and gifts at
appropriate holidays from these people... always remembering me, and
thanking me for being the one to help. My Lord... we all need people like
that in our lives! I could never forgive myself if I was to feel that I
had made any of these workers feel that they had to stay in their position
for the rest of their lives, otherwise they would somehow
"insulted" me by naturally advancing!
Of course, this also
says a lot about the wonderful glory of Unions! Hey, management... that's
why we have unions! If we didn't, then mean, grubby, greedy 'ol bosses
like me would keep you "down on the farm" making potato wages
When I read your
question, I kept thinking of that wonderful scene in the Beatles' "A
Hard Day's Night". If you ever saw it, there was an actor who played
Paul's Grandfather, who seemed to always love making trouble, and getting
people to argue with each other. At one point Paul goes into a room, and
two of his agents, I believe named Derek and Berk are yelling at each
other. Paul doesn't understand it, since they've been the best of friends
for years and years. Paul asks them what's wrong... and one of the agents
says to him: "Your Grandfather told me that Berk is taller than me on
I felt the same kind of
logic coming from you. Is your boss and mentor going to say: "She's
trying to get more training, and make more money just to spite me?"
Do you see how silly that all is? And as I said, what is the alternative.
You must stay "shorter" than her for the rest of your life? And
what about her? If she's so unhappy... there's a major dearth of good
people out there... and jobs all over the place... why doesn't SHE stop
complaining, and go to another company where SHE can make more money...
even as management?!
Anyway, what I suggest is that you take her to lunch. You tell her all she means to you, all she's done for you. And tell her that obviously you want to continue to advance yourself as any normal human being does in life... and that you would like her blessing. Believe me, I'm sure she will give it to you... and if she doesn't... then really... you may have to rethink HER ulterior motives...
Our next question comes from Dorothy A....
Dear Mystery Boss:With three workers I always seem to be the one singled out to say horrible things to. Even if my the other workers are at fault too. I feel very picked on. What should I do? I try to do my best and it always isn't good enough. The other two workers are black, and so is the boss. I am not black! I need to keep my sanity. I can not quit this job, because I am under contract. What things should I be saying to this boss? I am very tired of this treatment and feel it very unfair!!!
Dear Dorothy:First off I'd like you to know that your problem is not at all that uncommon. In fact, it is becoming more and more common these days. It goes through many racial and sexual (in terms of male/female) lines. In other words I receive many complaints from African American's who are in the minority on a job and feel that they are being targeted, and I also get many white employees who are in the minority and have bosses who are off all different races, from Middle-Eastern, South American, Asian, etc., who also feel uncomfortable and targeted. I think a lot of this has to do with a society now where everyone seems to be walking on eggs, and is hyper sensitive. I'm not saying that when one race is in the minority in a job situation that favoritism doesn't take place... but whereas before I think we weren't "looking" for it under a microscope as we are now. In other words, it has less to do with race, and more to do with the normal fears and paranoia's that are part of the working "family". I am by no means telling you that your situation is all in your head... just that, as with many of the complaints I get, I feel it is at least a small bit of comfort to know that (a) you are not crazy or paranoid, and most important (b) you are not alone in this situation.
Okay, so what do we do for you so that you can have a decent job experience? Let's say, for argument sake that there is real malice invoked here, in that your superiors, and fellow employees are, for whatever reason making your daily grind a daily grudge. This reminds me of a situation that is happening with a good friend of mine who is building a house. She worked hard to pay for the property, and for the loan to build. Her mother, who had recently became widowed and came into a large sum of money offered to give her some money to finish the house. And her daughter, who really had way too much time on her hands offered to help supervise the building of the house. Well, it has become a nightmare. The Mother is constantly taking over and berating this friend, and her daughter is already "moving in", and in fact, while my friend was away on business, the daughter had the contractor build her a separate "guest cottage" on the property (which of course messed up all the permits)!
My friend, who we will call "Annie" was beside herself, since every day that she'd go to the property to work with the contractors and the builders she had to deal with the wrath of her Mother and Daughter. Okay, so why were they coming down so hard on my friend? Well, when you have situations like this, you need to pull back... put your fists down, stop putting all your energy into "defending" yourself, or wondering what's going on... and ANALYZE THE SITUATION. People don't just mess with you for the fun of it. There has to be some kind of agenda. Well, in looking at my friend's situation, I found that her mother was having massive bouts of depression since her husband died, and felt useless in her life. She also had recently be diagnosed with a heart condition, and had a minor stroke that had scared her to death. She was feeling out of control with her life, and needed a way to get that control back. It became obvious that the reason she was saying terrible things to Annie had nothing to do with her having actually done terrible things... but by putting her down, her mother was made to feel "useful", and "in control". The very reason that she gave Annie money had nothing really to do with love for her, but was, in fact a way to "buy" a life. Now she could come to the site and boss everyone around as she used to do when she was a teacher (she is retired). As for the daughter, she had just been fired from her job as a flight attendant, and had been kicked out of her boyfriend's house. She was almost thirty and terrified of where her own life was going. Again, by spending her time putting her own mother down, and trying to literally "nest" into her mother's new home, she was giving herself some kind of foundation, and also a sense of purpose. I then discovered that all this really started to heat up when Annie told her mother and daughter that she intended to sell the house when it was finished. At that point the mother really turned up the heat on her because she realized that once the house was finished, she would have nothing more to do, and would be "out of control" once again. And of course, the daughter was terrified that she was going to be "homeless".
The point being that Annie was getting all these awful negative comments from her mother and her own daughter and took them personally. She didn't see that what they said had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with her "attackers" own insecurities.
You two have something very much in common. For Annie, I had to remind her that she had bought her home herself, and held exclusive title to it... so that her mother and daughter could never, ever take it away from her. If she wanted to live in the house and tell her daughter to get a job and find her own apartment... she could do that... if she wanted to sell the house, her mother couldn't do a thing, since the money she gave her was a gift... and she had no lean on the house. In other words, the person really in control in that situation was Annie! Once she realized that, and also realized the reason for the attacks, she calmed down. When they would attack her, she would just smile and go about her business...
Now you have a similar situation. You tell me that you have a contract, and you see that as a bad thing, since it keeps you there... well actually that is your "foundation"... that is your title to your house. In other words... they cannot fire you! You hold all the cards. If they are indeed saying bad things about you... so what? What you need to do is put out their fire. When my friend's mother and daughter started to "rag" on her, she would listen, and smile, and go about her business. It drove them crazy because they didn't get a rise out of her which is what they wanted. They ended up getting bored with the "ragging", and shut up.
I would suggest the same in your situation. Unless you are being physically harmed by these people, then who cares? I'm sure you do an excellent job. You have job security... and while you're working there, you can go out and perhaps start looking for other jobs, that you can go to when your contract is up. Remember we live in an EMPLOYEE MARKET these days. Employers are desperate to find good competent help... and would have no problem getting another job.
So relax with it. Get a different perspective. Remember that if your are genuinely being verbally attacked it's because of their own insecurities and unhappiness. When they say things look at them, not as the enemy, not as someone in power, but as poor silly sad children... as if they have fallen on the floor kicking and screaming in a tantrum... as if you just told them you will not take them to Disney World this weekend. They have the problem... not you.
Most important... remember that every time they "attack" you they are actually complimenting you. "Huh?", you say. Well think about it. Insecure people only attack those that they feel are better than they are, people that they know are doing a good if not better job than they are. It's no fun to attack someone below you. It gives you no power. In the workplace I have discovered that people almost always go after the most talented and powerful... since in a strange way, they feel it gives them the power. The people who do this are of all races, sexes, creeds... it is a human trait, not a racial one. So just smile if they say these things and go about your business. I promise you that they will cool off, and you will feel much better about yourself. A philosopher once said: "A person who is always at war with the world is never at peace with themselves".
Our 4th question comes from Lisa L...
Dear Mystery Boss:
Our 5th question comes from Tim K. of Sarasota, FL.
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
Hey, just like to pass this one along, I read
it in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
First off, on the story you read. That is what they
call an "Urban Legend," which is a story that is made up, then attributed to
someone specific, and crops up all over the world. I've hear that story supposedly take
For example, when I was working in the entertainment industry, I remember hearing stories about Steven Speilberg, who is the single most powerful and successful director in the history of movies. He can do anything he wants, makes zillions of dollars, and has one hit after another. But for YEARS AND YEARS he was totally unhappy because he didn't have an Oscar!
It didn't matter how much money he made, or how successful he was, he was a total wreck, because "everyone else was getting Oscars" but him. Such a dubious thing to want, since the Oscars are about as important in life as a blue ribbon at a PTA bake sale ... however he wouldn't rest until he got one. Even after they gave him an honorary Oscar, he still was unhappy. He wanted HIS Oscar to come from something he had done, not from a body of work. Finally he did receive one, and for a moment he was happy. However, now he wants TWO Oscars, because he says: "There are people out there who have received more than one Oscar!" it will never stop with him, and I wonder if he will ever be at peace, or really enjoy what he has! My point is, anyone can look over their shoulder at their fellow worker, or their neighbor, or family member and complain about what they think the other has. It will never stop.
This fellow worker of yours isn't infringing on your workspace, they aren't taking anything away from you.
Perhaps they are lazy, or getting away with something. So what.
Put your energies into your own life and your own work. Revenge, is after all, a good life. And what's a good life? Being a peace with yourself. And the only way you can achieve that is to stop worrying about the fact that someone has two Oscars and you only have one!
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
OK, I work for a financial company. I work in collections. My direct supervisor is not that high up on the totem pole of this company (which is a well known nationwide company). He is the worst boss. He is rude, petty insulting and mean and many other adjectives. Three people have quit the company and cited him as the reason. Several people have filed formal complaints. Nothing was done as a result of their complaints, except that each employee who complained was then written up for an infraction by him within a week of complaining.
Why does this go on? Why would a company protect such an inept supervisor? None of the complaints against him were sexual harassment, just harassment. Had it been sexual harassment the company would have moved fast and terminated him. I went as far as to contact a lawyer, and was told that there is no law against a supervisor or boss being a jerk, yelling at you, treating you badly, etc. Why would a company keep such a manager? I am at the point now, where I am on a LOA for illness because of this, and would rather quit a job I loved, then go back and work under him. By the way, in production numbers, I am in the top ten percentage of the country for what I do for the company, and have been given bonuses for such. Yet this same boss' evaluations of me have been low. My main question, beyond venting, is why do companies move too quickly to look into a sexual harassment case, yet if it is just well documented plain harassment, nothing is done though it hurts the people and the company?
First of all, my very deepest heart goes out to you. I know there isn't joy in knowing you're not alone ... but I must tell you that your complaint, which is a very good one ... is also the most common complain we get! The very reason that OFF THE BOSS was created Ive been told, started from the very problems that you are facing. The two authors of the book and the website heard literally hundreds of complaints about bosss being jerks, of treating extremely hard-working employees like dirt, and then giving them very low JPRs! Its interesting that their manual sells so well on the website, and then people come back, and purchase the ancillary stuff... you know T-shirts and sweatshirts and caps and the like. The reason? Once they read the manual and discovered that they had control over their lives they wanted to wear a badge of honor to show their boss that they cant upset them any longer.
The point of all this is that, as Ive said over and over again, bosss are terrified of anyone who is better than them! Now, not all bosss. I mean... Im a boss and I believe Im VERY careful to hire and retain only the best employees, and to continually reward them for their great work! I mean, Im a single mother, besides being a boss, and I just love the idea of delegating authority, and having the time for two soccer games a week, a ballet recital, teacher-parent conferencing, and weekend trips. But perhaps (and I know Im being biased here), thats the advantage of being a woman boss, in that I appreciate what its like having great employees.
From reading your question, I guarantee you that your boss has no life outside of their job. They are either in a horrible relationship, or worse, in no relationship. (As a woman I can say this, but I cant tell you how many times Ive wanted to advise people who tell me horror stories about their bosses: It could all be solved if your boss would just get laid now and then!) Understand, that in a very strange way, your bosss attacks and low-reporting of you is a compliment. You are a threat to him. Youre too good, and hes terrified that by being that good, his job, is, in some way in jeopardy. I have seen this phenomena (and have mentioned it in other answers here on Mystery Boss) over and over again. That is why there is such problems in business, and such mediocrity all around. In many cases, bosses will hire people who they know are substandard, since they also know these people wont show them up.
What they dont understand is that sooner or later all these substandard people will come back to haunt the boss in their division, by doing so badly that it will reflect on the boss. But very few bosses have anything resembling far-sightedness. They are just covering their backside for the short term, since most believe they will be fired in a downsizing sooner or later. They show even less loyalty to their company as a whole as they do to their fellow employees. Knowing all that, you should be able to get back to work, and not take them so seriously. Im not trying to sell manuals here (I do all this voluntarily, and dont get a penny for it... I just love this website, and what they are doing!)... but I would suggest you look at the OFF THE BOSS Survival Manual. What I read into your words is someone who has let their boss and their job take control of their life. Also, you state that you are a top person, and are doing very well. Just like the manual teaches us... it seems to be the obvious recourse is to start finding other work with another company, or with the same company somewhere else. Right here on the website you can click onto The Inner Boss, and read the story of that woman Nikki who had a similar situation as you did, and see how she handled it. I applaud her, not only because she was a woman who took control of her life... but because she never panicked, or let her boss get the better of her.
We tend to believe that we can only live one way, at one job, in one location. We close ourselves off from the big blue-green ball known as Earth. Its a big world out there, and if you really have the right stuff, youll be amazed what you can accomplish. Dont be afraid of widening your horizons, and looking at other options. I know, youll say, but Ive tried and its scary out there and all. But Ive seen it again and again.
People who do change their life ALWAYS come out better for it. Always. Trust me on that. Keep your job while you start looking for other options. Youll be amazed how just by going out and trying to find a different life, you will feel better... like walking outside for a breath of fresh air. The act itself of trying to change your life will free you of your stress and chains, and make your boss feel that much more insignificant. Ive told many of my employees who are having trouble with their personal relationships to go out and see the real world... get involved with other people. What happens is that you begin to see that there are billions (with a B) of fish in the sea, also how silly it is to put all your energy and emotion into one person... especially if that person is making your life a living hell!
As for the harassment question. Well, we live in very strange times. As a woman, and a feminist, in the beginning I was very much for all the checks and balances that we obtained for harassment cases. But, as Ive said in other answers here... its really gone too far.
In fact, there are a group of supermarket cashiers who want to sue their company, because the company has just made a policy that they should make eye contact and smile and say hello to each customer that comes into their line. These misguided woman claim that by being forced to be friendly, they will encourage sexual advances! Now come on... whats the alternative here, people! Workers... especially in a service company like cashiers at a supermarket... a place you frequent almost every day of your life, and becomes like a second home... should frown, look the other way and growl at their customers? Isnt service with a smile the watershed of a good company!
This kind of tom-foolery destroys any real problems that come up. You see it obviously in politics now. Just whisper sexual harassment, and everyone runs for cover. Then, in the real cases where there really are some horrible things going on... nobody listens. Its the boy who cried wolf syndrome. But, it has caused such terror in the workplace, that the big shots put all their energy into the words sexual harassment (though these days I have no idea just what that constitutes... especially when 7 year old boys are slapped with sexual harassment charges at grammar school for kissing their female classmates on the cheek!).
You are absolutely right that there are all kinds of forms of harassment, and that most are ironically much more concrete, and much easier to prove... but as I said, we live in a world now where the SH is the only thing that anyone cares about. It reminds me very much of the McCarthy witch hunts in the 1950s when everyone was calling everyone else a commie. However, history shows that nothing stands still, and the pendulum will swing back away away from this obsession, perhaps sooner than you think (just look at how little the American public cares about the Monica and Bill Story, even though his enemies continue to try and jam it down your throats). When the smoke clears, then saner minds will listen to the real problems around us.
Sexual harassment aside, your lawyer does make a good point. A jerk of a boss isn't really grounds for a suit. If that were the case, every boss in the world would be in court at this very moment. As I said before, your best recourse is to take control back of your life, and take it away from your boss. You sound like a very intelligent individual, and I know that once you break away from your bosss strangle-hold on your happiness, you will be able to rise above him, and the situation, and come out a winner. Write back in a few months and let me know how youre doing!
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
When put in the position of being a boss ourselves.... when the "inner boss" becomes reality, how do we prevent becoming the very people we so dislike? Yes, I know that common sense and a clear grip on reality is key.....but does one need more than that?
Thank you for you question. It seems to be one of the most obvious of questions, and yet no one has asked me that before. We all were "employees" at one time, so how DO we not turn into everything we hate when we are a boss. I think the big answer to that is something that you may already have, since you are asking that question, or are even concerned about it, at this point in your career... BEFORE, you too become "one of us."
Many of us treat our life as it were like going on a ride at Disneyland. We wait forever in line and when we finally do get on the ride, we really don't appreciate it, because we keep thinking about how short a ride it is, and how long a wait we had ... and we never really appreciate the ride itself!
In other words ... we never take stock at what we have. When we have it. One of the best ways to keep ourselves from becoming everything we hate when we become a "boss," is to give that concept an enormous amount of thought ... before we are a boss.
I'm sort of a self-made boss, but I went through hell to get to this point. I remember many times when my company was literally spread out on my kitchen table ... how I would imagine myself dealing with other people who would one day work for me. I was able to really stop and smell the sulfur ... as it were, that is, stop and remember just how I felt being yelled at, being out of control, feeling that I was under appreciated, or not appreciated at all... I really let those feelings sink in and make an indelible mark on my psyche. In acting, they call it "sense memory"... I bookmark that feeling, so that I would never lose it. Then, when I was a boss, and was working with other people, and found myself at times being frustrated ... or worse with them, that "sulfur smell" ... that memory would come back, and I would stop myself, and remember that I had promised myself I would never, ever become like that. It really works.
The problem however with most people ... going back to that ride at Disneyland analogy, is that they spend all their pre-boss days standing in line, just angry and impatient to "get on the ride," and when they finally get on the ride ... they forget what it was like, and simply turn into their worst enemy -- their boss -- without even thinking about it.
I remember when I had my first daughter how I felt that day I said to myself (as virtually every woman does at one time in their life), "My God... I've become my mother!" Now understand, I love and respect my mother, and owe her everything ... but ... well, as a woman, you'll understand that even if you love your mother more than anything ... there are things about her that we do not want to become! Why do we do that? It's habit. I t's very hard not to "knee-jerk" a certain attitude, when we were brought up with it. So, when given the same circumstance when we become mothers ... we suddenly, as a reflex, act as our mothers did. It's only natural. The good part is being able to stop yourself and say ... hold on ... this is wrong ... and correcting it.
The same is true in the workplace. You've seen your boss in action again and again, doing really dumb things, and it's imbedded in your brain, whether you are aware of it or not ... so that when you become a boss, and someone does something that gets the hair on your neck to stand straight up, the first emotional response, without even thinking about it ... is to do what your boss always did. THAT'S when you have to stop yourself, recognize the "knee-jerk reaction," and take a breath ... smile, even laugh, and treat the situation differently.
I check myself almost every day, and after a while, what will happen is that the "knee-jerk" reaction will be the GOOD reaction, the new reaction that you've re-taught yourself, rather than the old one you saw your boss do over and over again.
Another, more unorthodox approach is to do what my dear friend and mentor, who now is the CEO of a world famous candy company. When he was starting out, it was as a stock boy at the same company. He was already married with one child and another on the way, and was flat broke. So broke, in fact that he couldn't even afford the ten dollar a week parking pass. The company at the time was so cheap that all employees had to pay for parking in their own lot. It was a huge factory, and was situated in an area he liked to call "early Beirut." Since he had to pick up supplies from another location a few miles away, he HAD to have a car. To park outside the lot would not only be dangerous, but near impossible to walk all that way, carrying heavy boxes, which, in that neighborhood would be like wearing a sandwich board reading: "mug me!". So there was no choice, he had to have a parking pass. Every Monday, a new pass was issued. It had the same stamp on it, but was a different color and had the number of the week on it.
My friend used to get up real early, look to see what color the new week's pass was ... then find paper the same color in either the bins, or the stock room, painstakingly redo the number by hand, then go to a 24 hour Kinko's and make a Xerox of it, using the colored paper. It cost him five cents, rather than ten dollars. He did this every week for almost a year, until they changed the permits to a more elaborate pass that he couldn't copy.
For a week he braved the mean streets, and luckily was finally promoted. He had kept every one of his faked passes, thinking one day, he will frame them, when he was the head of the company. Sure enough, when he was made CEO, the very first thing he did was frame his fake passes. (The company had long since made parking free for employees!). He tells me that whenever he start to think like a "jerk boss," he looks up at his handiwork ... those painstakingly perfect parking passes of so many years ago. He tells me it works every time.
So ... may I suggest you find something in your life now, that represents just what it is like to be the "lowly employee" rather than the "king of the world." Put it on your desk, or frame it over your desk, and use it as a daily reminder of where you were, where you are, and where you could be again if you make a mistake! Hope this all helps ... and good luck to you!
Our next Question is asked by Jerry B. from Seattle, WA...
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
I've read your well intentioned advice to others and am writing to you about what may or may not be a unique problem in America today. For nearly ten years, I've worked as a courier in a major metropolitan city and have never had an accident in driving the company car that was my fault. I've always been dependable and havent missed 10 days due to illness or any other excuse in those years. Now the new owners from New Zealand inform me I must work for that I must work for a commission and give up overtime pay, paid holidays and vacations and have about $500 a month deducted from my check for leasing the company car from them )or use or lease my own), and included in this is rental of a two-way radio, page, pay the gas and oil changes and tune-ups and repairs up to $50 each, and this includes insurance.
Because the rates are so low that they charge I will be working for maybe $5 an hour for 45-50 hours a week. I am also responsible for all packages to be picked up and if the business close, I am to pick them up and see that they are delivered the next day. If another driver in the area next to mine is not at work, I am responsible to pick his up also. Dispatchers on the radio are not responsible to help me by asking other drivers to help, I must do that, drive and even risk being attacked by wild dogs that some people keep at their businesses and homes. Am I naive or is there something wrong here?
I know that is very, very obvious... but its amazing how many times I think that when reading these questions. Years ago, before I founded my own business, I volunteered my time at an abuse clinic for woman. I have unfortunately found almost identical frustration when I worked with these battered woman as I find with people with problems in the workplace. The women would tell me how their boyfriends or husbands are losers, steal their money, abuse them and their children, take drugs, are never home, sleep around on them, having nothing going for them, are physically and emotionally unattractive, have horrible hygiene, and really dont love them! And, naive as I was back then I would yell: Then what the hell are you doing with this idiot! But, then, I had to learn that these abusive relationships were much more complicated, and that reason had nothing to do with their problems.
I had to learn that these woman themselves had such low self-esteem that they had convinced themselves (even more than had their mates) that they could not find anyone else, that this was the best they can do... or worse, that this was all they deserved. I remember one woman, right in front of me, talking to this wonderful man who wanted to take her away from an abusive relationship. He was truly a rare and special man, who had known her since high school, and was always in love with her. I watched in a group therapy session as she said to him: You are everything Ive every prayed for in a man, which is why I can not have anything to do with you! I thought I wasnt hearing right, but then I realized what she was saying.
She knew what she really wanted deep down in her soul, but she didnt believe she DESERVED it.
Okay, so what does this have to do with your messenger service? Well, you tell me youve worked for this firm for over ten years, and then you list all the horrendous demands they place on you, how little you are being paid, how little they respect you, how little youve advanced in all these years. My friend, look at me, and listen carefully.,,
You are in a totally dead-end job! And its only going to get worse.
Now, perhaps you like the freedom of being a messenger. There is nothing wrong with that. However, you cant tell me that this is the only messenger service in your entire city, or state! You cant tell me that all those years of service couldnt get you another job somewhere else? We use messengers all the time in my company, and the attrition rate is over 90%. Its very rare to find someone who stays with this job for very long. And since we put enormous trust in your ability to pick up and drop off very important packages, someone with your stability is a huge asset.
But if I may pry even further. Messenger service work is something someone should do while looking for something else in their life. Its a great interim job while youre trying to get back on your feet, or are between jobs, or are studying to get a degree or a license in a trade. Though I said earlier that there is nothing wrong with being a messenger, and I mean it... if you are not satisfied with the work, why arent you trying to find something else.
My point is... and I must be very blunt here... most of the horror stories you tell me about how your are treated at your company will be similar at other messenger companies. Sure I said you could find another company to work for, and it may make things a bit easier for the short term, but frankly the nature of the messenger business is such that it lends itself to exploiting its' workers. Like the woman I used to see who stayed in an abusive relationship because they didnt think there was anything better out there, or were afraid of being alone... I feel you are doing somewhat of the same thing.
One great woman psychologist I worked with at the abuse clinic had a philosophy which bordered virtually on the simple: give these woman a good kick in the ass, and force them out of their homes and into their own lives... they need to be jump-started! and you know what? It worked almost every time! Once they were pulled from the relationship they learned to love themselves, to not be afraid of being alone, and that their world was filled with so many opportunities and people to love and be loved.
The same is true in the work environment. Frankly, as a healthy, competent man, you have very little right to complain about your job at the messenger service, since opportunities abound all around you. I have a feeling you have found a safe-rut in your job, and that you dont really want to leave. If thats the case, then stop complaining, and just enjoy the freedom and solitude that you seem to crave. However if its driving you crazy, and you want something better, then simply go out and change it. Hey, it cant be much worse than what you already have. Groucho Marx once had a great line. Someone asked him: What is your advice to struggling actors? And you know what he said? Tell them to stop struggling!
The next question comes from D. Dradugio of San Jose, CA...
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
We have a policy at our office that dating other employees is grounds for dismissal. I find this to be totally crazy. I mean, I'm at my job more than I am home, and on weekends, I have all those chores to do that I can't do during the week, and frankly, I also like the idea of just vegging out and catching up on some much needed rest. Therefore, I don't have any time to find anyone special. If I can't find them in the workplace ... then where am I going to find them?
It goes on anyway, but just has the added stress of being "found out." I would think working with someone you are dating would make for a better environment, and frankly, if both of us were, shall I say ... have a social life ... we would be MUCH less irritable to work with!
There is a down side, however to this whole dating on the job thing. You know as well as I, that in most cases, the person you are going to date today is NOT going to be the same person you are going to be dating tomorrow. The whole process of dating is a selection process ... and it takes lots of bad choices and "dates-from-hell" to get to a place where you find what you are looking for. In fact, the more you date, actually, the more you discover just what it is you are looking for. What you like and what you don't like. I have a love for fine wines ... and the way I learned to know what I like, is that my husband, who was born in the Bay Area of California, used to take me back to his home turf, and to all the wineries. The more I tasted, and the more I discovered good wines from bad wines to exceptional wines, the more my tongue recognized the difference. I was one of those, "pick up the bottle at the supermarket with the prettiest label, or the one on special" kind of wine person before.
But now... I know the difference. The same with dating. Anyway, you bring up a very good point about the fact that the only real place you are going to meet anyone is at the workplace, which, in most cases is the only place on earth where you can actually be punished for asking someone out on a date, or having lunch or dinner with them! However, the main reason this has become such a hot issue is the prevalence of sexual harassment lawsuits. It has become almost a cancer of the workplace. I, as a woman am especially upset about what has been going on, because there are, every day REAL cases of harassment.
However, nowadays everyone, women and men, are screaming harassment at each smile or wink or statement (like "that's a nice dress you're wearing), hoping to get some settlement money, and therefore, like the boy who cries wolf, the real cases are becoming ignored, or thrown to the back of the bus, since it's so crowded. Of all the issues today, I think that upsets me the most.
I had a dear friend who I grew up with. We both grew up in the South, and he was the true "southern gentleman." He had a job he loved for ten years and had raise up the ranks to a high level management job. He was loved by his employees, and did an excellent job. However, one day, in the lunch room, a new female employee sat down across from him. They began to make small talk, and he immediately noticed her southern accent. He asked her where she was from, and found that they were both from the same county. So they talked some more. At the end of lunchtime, he got up and shook her hand and said: "Thank you, it has been a delight to talk to a southern woman again. You remind me very much of Dolly Parton." He then left. Next thing you know he was up on a sexual harassment charge!
It turns out the woman claimed that he implied that she had big breasts because he eluded the fact that she looked like Dolly Parton! What this imbecile didn't realize is the my friend had grown up in the same county as Dolly. In our next of the woods Ms. Parton is considered a hero. She came up from nothing, and has a reputation as being a wonderful, giving woman, a great business woman, and someone who has never let her fame and fortune go to her head. She is still "country" through and through, and is wonderful to her old friends and to all her fans. We use her as a role model all the time, and to tell someone they remind you of her is a compliment, meaning to a woman, that you too are an independent, free thinking person, who doesn't listen to everyone else, but only to your own heart and soul. But to this woman, all she could think of is: "he said I have big breasts"! My friend was fired, and "coincidentally" enough, a few weeks later this woman got his job. And, in my opinion, set back the woman's movement two hundred years.
Anyway, it is in this environment, where any word, smile, wink or nod you make could be your job, that we are terrified of making things worse by letting people date. Think yourself of the dates you have had, and how many of them have become disasters at the end of the evening. Frankly put, after a few dates, the question of "being physical" takes over, and this could cause all kinds of problems. First off, an advance could lead to a rejection, or the advance could lead to some "heavy petting," which leads to some more rejection when it doesn't go far enough ... or the advance could lead to totally intimacy, which could lead to an even greater awkwardness, and embarrassment the next morning. Now in most cases these problems as be solved by phone calls, or e-mails, or letters (or flowers), in the next few days, or in the case when it got too ugly ... just simply not since person again. But if you have to see them at the workplace ... it can be very messing.
Frankly, we boss's aren't as stupid as we look! We know this kind of thing goes on, no matter what policy we put out there. There's no way you can't see when there's friction between two employee's ... which has obviously been caused by some personal involvement. However, by making a public policy, one that most employee's have to sign, saying, you date, you're out of here ... we protect ourselves. There is a solution, which may or may not work, and a lot of employees find insulting ... but it could be the answer. I am thinking of trying it at my company, in fact. That is ... to have all employees sign a statement, that says, that if they get involved with someone in their same company on a personal basis, they wave all rights or claims to any kind of harassment, or any other type claims against the fellow employees, other employees (employees love to gossip), and most important, against the company itself. In this way, everyone is protect, and the employees can do what they are doing anyway. A lot of companies think this will encourage ramped dating practices ... but please ... look around you ... how many of your fellow worker do you really want to talk to more than you have to ... let alone go out and have dinner, or whatever! But taking the pressure off, and also the allure of doing something against the company (it sometimes becomes sexier to date when you're not supposed to), I feel, defuses this issue.
Our Final Question is from C. Lockington of Trenton, NJ...
DEAR MYSTERY BOSS:
Okay, so I know this may sound a little petty, or even paranoid... but since the whole idea of this Tap A Bosss Brain, is asking the enemy whats really on our mind... Im going to ask it anyway!
I work at a large discount Mart (yeah, youd know the name as soon as I gave you the letter). Im not on the floor, but in management at the main administration offices. As with all companies (at least thats what Ive been led to believe), there are many people in power who dont have a clue as to what they are doing, but WORSE, they seem to hire people to work under them who know even less. It may seem crazy... but Ive seen so many outrageous decisions in hiring here lately that Im beginning to believe that this entire company is run by space aliens who have no idea what they are doing!
One thing that attracted me to the OFF THE BOSS Website and the manual, and prompted me to volunteer my time is to answer questions is the constant mention that as Bosss we are not God, nor always brilliant, and in most cases dont really know what were doing.
You must understand that just as you have fears and concerns and insecurities about your job, and your personal life... so do we (though the OFF THE BOSS Manual would have you believe that our heart is out of service, our brains are the size of a pea, and our spines are made of Tapioca Pudding!).
However, our concerns are compounded ten fold. Since we are so far up the ladder we have further to fall... and it hurts when we hit ground! Therefore for many CEOs, or just plain bosses, our own survival manual is based on one Golden rule: COA... which stands for Cover Our Ass. We are constantly trying to draw the line in the sand between whats right for the company, and whats going to keep us paying our mortgagees and country club dues. Unfortunately, the politics of our jobs create so much hot air, that most of the time the line is obliterate like a desert wind storm, and we cant find that line anymore.
Though you read in the papers all the time about the multi-million dollar golden parachutes that all us bosss enjoy when were sacked... the truth is, that is a bit like hearing about the blue-haired ladies winning the slot machines in Las Vegas, and thinking that EVERY blue-haired lady that goes to Las Vegas wins. There is a whole junk yard full of ex-bosss who lost their jobs, and are now sitting around in a haze trying to figure out what happened and how they are going to pay their light bill! Sure, salaries are higher for the boss, but so is the nut, the monthly amount of money it takes to pay just the essentials of life. If someone was to give you a hundred thousand dollars a year in salary, but you had a hundred and ten thousand in expenses (not at all an usual case with my colleagues), then actually, you are in the hole by ten thousand every year! My point is... the life style becomes as addictive as free basing, and just as expense, and dangerous, and a boss will do ANYTHING to make sure they dont lose their daily fix. That is where the fear factor and the COA rule come into play.
For most bosss, by not making waves, by not making any real decisions whatsoever, by not bringing in great talent to show them up... they can keep their fix going for years and years. Therefore, by promoting those around them that have less on the ball than the boss, who think Overtime is the music played before the show stars, and seem to have spent their youth running through the idiot forest and hitting all the trees... the boss will always look better, smarter and most important, seem more needed. Bringing in someone who really knows what they are doing... and a boss with a COA mentality will soon be selling pre-owned Buicks out of a trailer in Fresno.
Now you would think that wouldnt make much sense, since a badly run organization, peppered with imbeciles would effect the productive output of the company, and thus such indicators as profits and stock prices... but the hard cold fact is, we can come up with a thousand reasons that profits and stock prices are off, without ever pointing a figure at our COA hiring practices. (Recently, for example, El Nińo has been a favorite finger pointer!)
I dont condone this practice at all, but I must say that in some cases I understand why it is done. Case in point... just down the road from me was a large factory that produced a very popular candy bar. The boss was an exceptionally bright man, who turned the company around, hired excellent workers, promoted people who showed promise, and worked to create a team spirit. So good was his work, that in one quarter the company showed a profit of over twenty million dollars! His reward? The main office, flushed with higher profits and higher stock prices, decided to shut down the factory and move it to Mexico, where they could make the candy even cheaper and thus make an ever BIGGER profit! When this boss confronted the main office he asked them point blank: are you telling me that if I had continue to run this factory at a loss, Id still have a job, and my workers would still be here? Without missing a beat, they all said: Absolutely! Now Im sure this boss will find work elsewhere (in fact, Im trying to hire him at this moment), but if he doesnt find a friendly home, I could see him backing away from high productivity and creative promotion practices and embarrassing COA with open arms.
One of the most well known cases of this has to do with a writer-producer of one of the most popular TV series of all time. Though a mega- millionaire, he continues to hire the most incompetent writers he can find to work under him, just so that he will get horrible scripts that he can come in and save. Forget the fact that it means huge production delays as he saves the day, and forget the fact that he himself is a horrid writer to begin with... affecting the quality of the show... this practice has made him indispensable to the entire series. I know for a fact, from the creative people who work in our advertising department that this individual when confronted with someone with talent... or who has made the carnal sin of writing a good script is banned forever from working for the company!
Now of course I personally dont work on that philosophy, and I can actually count on the fingers of both of my hands other bosss who actually look at performance and ability as watermarks to hiring and promoting... but that is because I and many others actually take pride in our companys, and realize that in actual fact, if my workers do good, then I look good! But, without tooting my own horn... Id say that I and these other hero bosss are rare.
Okay, so what can you do about it? I guess you must ask yourself what you really want out of life. A bright worker can learn to, as you say, give themselves an IQ Reduction, and walk around like Jack Nicolson at the end of One Flew Over the Cocos Nest. However, you have to seriously ask yourself: is that the kind of life you want to lead? Furthermore, just like when your mother used to tell you Dont make that face, it can get stuck like that permanently!, the longer you let your mind turn into cheese food, the harder it will be to turn it back to actual brain matter. You sound like you are working in a place wherein the Boss holds COA to a high art form. If you are as good as you say... start looking elsewhere. I must tell you that there really are many companies that are desperate for competent help! Really! There are headhunters who make huge commissions... to actually track them down. From my own experience I must tell you that it is next to impossible to find competent people... people who can think for themselves, are problem solvers, and work hard. However, if you have a lot of tenure at your job and dont want to leave... the second bit of advise I can give you is... patience. The one thing that the followers of COA dont realize is that, like a body builder using steroids... the short cut to success approach has its very strong side-effects. And for these bosss it almost always is... self-destruction. You can only sit on your duff not making waves, and hiring underlings with the IQ of room temperature for so long until finally you are found out. And when they leave... since they have surrounded themselves with amoebas sycophants... there is a giant sucking sound as many heads roll, and suddenly there is a need to find many people to fill the void. In most cases I have observed, out of desperation, and maybe a little bit of learned insight, that these companies almost always hire from within the family... and thats when someone like you can step in.
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