The Easy Place

The Quest for Self Awareness One Moment at a Time

The Boss From Hell

I had one of those bosses.  She was the ultimate self-serving tyrant, like a character right out of the movies.  Her primary focus was the advancement of her career and when layoffs loomed at our company, she got even worse, driving her team like a pack of sorry mules in an unremitting effort to look good.  

So, how did I respond?

I despised her.  And how satisfying that was!  I could rant when she didn’t appreciate my efforts.  I could release my frustration in endless conversations with co-workers about how awful she was.   

But even as I squawked, in the back of my mind I knew who was ultimately responsible for my situation.  Me, of course.  I made the choice to come in to the office every day, she didn’t kidnap me and force me to come in. It was my decision to work for a woman who didn’t understand or respect me.  I’d managed to position myself as the perfect victim:  I stayed where I wasn’t valued, expected to be valued, and then got upset when I wasn’t. 

And where was my compassion? I knew what was driving her – it was the same thing that was driving me – fear.  We were both afraid of losing our jobs, of not being good enough. My boss was an imperfect person in an imperfect situation who was doing the best that she could.  Was her best good enough?  From my perspective, no.  Did her “best” do some damage to me?  Yes.  But the bottom line was that she didn’t have the tools to be the intelligent, perceptive and courageous boss I wanted her to be. 

Looking back, I feel sorry for both of us – her for being in over her head and me for the negative energy I expended hating her for it.  So often we ignore the fact that the people we defer to, the people who have some measure of authority over us, are mere humans like ourselves.  And when we launch into resentment, when we become angry because reality isn’t lining up with what we want, our lives come to a standstill.   We trade in our power and become a bit player in a drama that drains our energy and distracts us from taking the action needed to create the lives that we really want.

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9 responses to “The Boss From Hell

  1. Beth January 21, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Hi Melinda, As I read your post this morning I found myself hanging on the words “she did her best”. I am really questioning that these days both for myself and as I observe others. It seems to be a phrase we use a lot when we want to find a positive way of looking at a situation instead of accepting that we don’t always do our best. I don’t think that is true compassion. Sometimes we settle for less than our best and then fall into a habit of laying back and not trying to do better. We just tell ourselves this is best we can do and don’t even question if that is true. I think we need to be more honest with ourselves and admit that we didn’t do our best and accept that. We choose mediocrity because that is all the effort we want to make at the time. Does that mean we couldn’t have done better or found a different approach? Do we give up and then find a way to justify our actions? I don’t know. These are just thoughts that have arisen for me today. Thanks for ingniting the spark :)

    • Melinda January 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Beth, nice to hear from you!

      I have a friend who edits my posts before they’re published and her reaction was the same as yours. She’d also worked with this woman and felt that saying she’d “done her best” was a way of excusing bad behavior. And I totally understand how you both feel, I hated this woman and I haven’t hated a lot of people in my life.

      I’m with you when you talk about excusing our own less-than-best behavior – “I tried” isn’t enough. But where I disagree with you both is in applying our standards to others. I don’t think it’s my place to decide what this woman’s best is and judge her for not living up to it.

      I’d love to hear what you think!


      • Beth January 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

        Melinda – I agree with you. It is not about judging a person. It is about discerning what types of behaviour we are willing to accept in our lives. It is about setting boundaries and being clear about what we can to do encourage behaviour that empowers people — ourselves and others. It is about seeing the “forceful” behaviour and using discernment not judging it and then deciding what is the best response. Compassion is not always passive. It can be very active and powerful in its statement. Compassion names what is “bad behaviour” and models a different way with the intention to empower and connect. If we find ourselves in a situation where someone has power “over” us such as a boss then it is important to first look at the fear in ourselves that is giving them that power. Afraid of losing our job, fear of being hurt, humiliated, misunderstood…..whatever. That is where need to start and when we have wrestled those demons and feel grounded in ourselves then we can stand strong in the face of the “bully” and offer compassion by not shrinking back.

        • Melinda January 24, 2011 at 10:08 am

          Beth – I love your statement that “Compassion is not always passive.” I think that it’s rarely, if ever, passive. For me compassion often means staying open when someone’s behavior makes me want to shut down. It’s about realizing that there is more to every situation than meets the eye and that what I deem “bad” behavior is usually a reaction to the turmoil in their life. I found no compassion for this boss, even though she was obviously very fearful, and I wish I had. I put all my focus on her behavior, which I had no control over, and didn’t bother to look at my own behavior. I was as self-centered as I perceived her to be.


          • Beth January 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm

            Melinda – Well said. The observations you have made about yourself and your reactions are worth noting for all of us. None of us know what is going on in another person’s life, mind, heart. I heard it said that compassion is empty of ego. When we are able to look through that lense it changes what we see. Thanks for the discussion.

            • Melinda January 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm

              “Conmpassion is empty of ego” – I love it! That damn ego can really get in our way of being who we want to be :)

              Thank YOU for the discussion, love the new ideas you bring to the conversation.


  2. Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion January 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Well said Melinda. This was ‘real’, as I like to say. I’ve been there too. The boss from hell. It can be tough and frustrating. But I think if we truly focus on helping our boss without the hope of returns, and try to get to know our boss on a personal level, sometimes we can break through those walls of ice…and then other times, we can, as you mentioned, simply remove ourself from the situation.

    Thanks for such a nice message here Melinda.

    • Melinda January 23, 2011 at 10:19 am

      Hi Marcus :) I love the balance of your response! We’ve got reactions starting at one end with “don’t cut her any slack, she knows what she’s doing” then my kind of middle response of trying to find my compassion but really just stepping back, and then your lovely response of helping our boss from hell no matter what.

      Thanks for the much needed perspective in this conversation!


  3. Pingback: Surviving a Toxic Work Environment | The INFJ Coach

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