The bully – approaching retirement

May 30, 2007, 8:11 PM UTC
Fortune

A reader from Honolulu writes:

My boss is a bully and I’m hanging in there hoping for her early retirement to come soon! She has purchased property thousands of miles away and is having a house built. I am so tempted to call the builders and offer them a bonus to finish ahead of schedule!

Some of my boss’s endearing characteristics:

1) She hires a new “pet” and talks in glowing terms about them in meetings for their first few months of employment. “Oh, Joe is just going to do a FAAAA-bulous job cleaning up our Finance Department. He’s so well-qualified and we’re lucky to have him!” After a few months of working with Joe, she doesn’t like him if he doesn’t kiss her feet enough so she disparages him in meetings with others every chance she gets. “Can you believe this?” She plops a file on the desk with a thud. “Joe from Finance turned this in and it’s all disorganized! I tell you, some managers just aren’t going to make it around here.” *Note: If she isn’t talking to you in meetings about somebody else behind their back, odds are very good that you are her current object of back-stabbing conversation in other meetings.

2) She blames everyone else when the company blows a deadline because of decision-making that has been sitting on her desk for months. Her subordinates (and their subordinates) regularly forward items for decisions (because she micromanages everyone) which she allows to pile up and pile up on her desk. Managers create weekly reports they e-mail her and print hard copy and route through her administrative assistant to show her all the items on which they need her to render a decision. They turn in their portions weeks ahead of deadline to give her plenty of time to respond. Sometimes they send daily e-mails. When they leave a voice mail message, she will occasionally call them and hiss, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have that report here on my desk. And why are you asking me about it at the last minute?” She tells her subordinates that if they want something, they need to come right in her office and tell her what needs to be done. When they do that, she looks up and responds, “I don’t have time for you right now,” or extends her hand to receive the latest report which gets thrown surreptitiously into the ever-growing piles.

3) She “works from home” but only maybe half of the time does anyone get an e-mail or feedback from her during those times. She “works from home” through plastic surgeries, divorces, sale of her home, renovations, care for her horse, or whatever else is more pressing than the mounds of work on her desk. She doesn’t even tell HR when she isn’t coming in so no one ever really knows if she is there or not. (She has her mole *cough, cough* administrative assistant open her office door, turn on the lights, and push her chair up by the computer to make it look like she is there.)

4) No one else gets to work from home, even if they’re battling avian flu.

5) She hires new staff to help her “catch up” and get her workload “under control.” She offers them no training and heaps large scale projects on them that are already a year behind. She requires them to report weekly on their status getting the projects caught up, even though the new hires don’t even know enough about the company or project yet to get it moving forward. When they ask her questions, she tells others in meeting, “I might as well be doing it myself. Do I have to do everything for them?” If they spend countless hours researching and getting up to speed so they can move the project forward, she indicates they would be employing better time management skills if they would ask her because “they can benefit from my wealth of knowledge and experience.” If they are exceptionally bright and get the ball rolling better than she expects, she demands they tell her who gave them approval to do anything. When they stammer that they thought she wanted them to handle it independently she glowers over them with, “You have no authority to move forward on that without senior management approval,” and grins like the Grinch. One newbie told me that she asked him how she might help him. He replied that her input would be greatly appreciated since he had never worked on a project like the one at hand before and he knew she took the company through it the first time a few years earlier. Her response? “I did it all by myself the first time with no trouble.” And then silence. No offer to meet to provide guidance or tips or any support at all.

6) She receives e-mails from outside organizations regarding deadlines and doesn’t forward them to the managers who need them in order to create reports and/or formulate a response in a timely fashion. I was once on vacation when such an e-mail arrived. She quietly filed a hard copy away in a binder in her office but never forwarded it to me. Over a month later, we were two weeks away from a major deadline when I found out about it. I begged the organization for an extension of the deadline and spent the next 6 weeks at the office, even on weekends, barely going home to nap, shower, change and start all over. I had the evidence that she had never shared the e-mail with me but sat on it, because I know the CEO and president have taken her side before when evidence of her incompetence has surfaced. I struggled with my sanity, trying to save the company and get done what should have been done long ago. Her report to the CEO and president while I was in the midst of this drama was that my “managerial skills are weak but (I am) showing signs of improvement.”

7) She inserts notes into company reports to make it appear that phone calls and meetings happened that never occurred. She altered my notes in a company log to make it look as though I were accusing a colleague of a problem that she had created. She altered the notes of my subordinate to make it look like he was involved in something he had nothing to do with.

8) She spends her time each day reviewing blueprints for her new house and bidding on jewelry auctions online.

9) She throws documents in the regular trash instead of the shredder in violation of privacy policies and procedures.

10) She demands that everyone in the company review and update P&Ps, job descriptions, documents, etc. on an annual basis but she hasn’t done it in years.

11) She takes low level employees “under her wing” and offers them “training” because she claims the managers aren’t doing it. She lets underlings at the lowest rung of the totem pole walk in her office unannounced (which she never allows managers to do) to ask simple questions. She suggests to them that they are management material and deserving of raises. She talks in negative terms to them about their bosses. She creates disloyalty within departments. Managers are not allowed to take disciplinary action against employees without her approval. She disallows remedial training, instructive, or disciplinary meetings with her “pets” but permits discipline against those who won’t be her moles.

12) She limits everyone’s contact with the CEO. She is the only one with the CEO’s fax number and no one else is allowed to e-mail or speak with him without her prior consent and approval. Not even the CFO gets direct contact with the CEO. (The CEO doesn’t even live in the state.)

13) She micromanages more and more but does less and less actual work and then complains that other people should be doing the work that is on her desk. She invents new logs and reports that need to be created. She spends countless time in meetings berating managers for what she perceives as inaccurate data or formatting she doesn’t like. When they finally get it the way she wants it, she never pays attention to it again. At the end of the day, piles of these reports are in the trash outside her door. If she was actually reading them, she would know what the needs of the managers are instead of them having to e-mail, call, and vulture outside her door for a moment with her to tell her that she has forced us to blow another deadline.

14) A major accreditation process that occurs every two years had previously been handled by her directly. I was hired last April. She was out for surgery most of April and then took two weeks of vacation in June. In July, another manager and I scheduled to meet with her to begin to prepare for the reports this process would entail. She delayed our meeting twice and eventually cancelled it. I asked her about it weekly in my status report meeting with her. She would respond, “Oh yeah, I guess we should get to that soon, right? I’ll schedule a meeting for us to go over it and get the ball rolling.” By December, she was telling the Board of Directors that we had a game plan in place for the accreditation though she wouldn’t even meet with me. By January, we were in deep doo doo and sorely behind on organizing the accreditation review. She tasked me with rewriting P&Ps instead. In February, I started working on the project myself. In March, she screamed at me for working on the project myself. Later in March, she asked how she could help and I gave her a list of documents I needed from her. In early April, we met again and I gave her my timeline. I still had none of the information I needed from her. In mid-April, she responded by reviewing 10 of the 73 sections and giving me feedback/tweaks she wanted made. By the end of April, I had created an entirely new internal process, started a committee with three of our outside consultants, trained a department on entirely new procedures that I had drafted myself, and created confidentiality statements for consultants/employees to sign. She added to her job description that she was in charge of the committee, even though she had little to know knowledge of what they were required to do.

By early May, she asked me for a new timeline of my work on the project. She had told the accreditation organization that it was their fault that we weren’t able to meet our deadline (she had it extended 4 times) and set the drop dead deadline of May 21. On Tuesday, May 15, she told me that on the 25% of the material that I created from scratch her “back is against the wall.” She wanted me to go ahead and submit it without her review because, “(She) looked at it and it looks great!” She said she had feedback for the remaining 75% of the application but it was all handwritten and she wanted time to e-mail it to me so it was neat and orderly. Realizing there was no time left, I asked her to give me the notes and I could work from those. She refused. Friday, May 18,she “worked from home.” I received no feedback from her until 3:00 in the afternoon (our office closes at 3:30) when she sent 5 e-mails pertaining to different chunks of the application. Each one merely said, “OK.” After her approval, the finalization of the application documents would take, I had estimated, 11 business days. Good thing I started working on it ahead without her go-ahead. The application is due 26 hours from this moment. I am now on the downslope of getting it prepared for submission but will probably be up all night to do it.

I realize I just burned 30 minutes typing my frustrations, but it is well worth the Red Bull I will be guzzling at 3:00 a.m. trying to upload all of the data to the accreditation organization. The absolute only reason I’m still working there is because the wench’s retirement mansion should be completed in less than a year and she will hopefully move on soon thereafter. I can’t imagine it is possible they will replace her with someone as horrible and inept as she is, so I’m waiting to see what the new blood looks like. I’ve been around long enough to learn that moving on to another organization doesn’t ever seem to solve anything because there are crazy bosses in other places, too. We have no non-compete agreement that keeps me from going to one of our competitors. There is always the possibility that she’ll fire me before she goes (I know an awful lot of dirt about her in my time working there), but I have begun to feel like my ultimate success or failure in my position is not in my control at all. I have seen people who have kissed her arse go down in flames at her whim. Last week she promoted someone she nearly fired last year. I try to do my very best but I know that how hard I work or how well I do ultimately doesn’t matter to her. She’s bipolar to the Nth degree.

I’m just going to ramble a little further. I’m an attorney. I came on board to do in-house work because I don’t like to wear a suit every day and I like working at companies rather than firms. I have never prior to this worked for anyone who wasn’t thrilled with my work. I’m a perfectionist with reports, I manage my time well, I supervise others well, and I’m very creative and driven. This is the first time I have worked for someone who acts like I’m some kind of problem child who doesn’t take initiative or strive for high quality. I always expected everyone to keep up with their own work and the support staff to help them keep organized so it happens. I have never seen managers who have to regularly beg and prod for someone in senior management to do something. Her office is a black hole where nothing ever returns unless it can be used to get someone in trouble. I’m not after her job but the other managers and I aren’t her damned mommies to push her procrastinating a** to do her job like the rest of us have to wake up and do every day. It’s a shame that an entire company works around one person in order to attempt to be effective. I have no idea how she justifies her $150K+ salary at our tiny organization. It is evidence to me that the CEO and president are complete idiots (oh yeah, we are bleeding $$$). There is mounting evidence that they too might be looking at early retirement and a sale of our company might be imminent. I would count it as a huge blessing for the place to be run by a bigger company that has a better clue what it’s doing.

What do you think? Is this boss crazy?