The Big Boss from hell
It seems virtually inevitable that the employer-employee dynamic will always have some glitches. And to be fair, bosses usually have their own bosses to deal with. What often happens, then, is a kind of trickle down tyranny. Your boss has to kiss his boss's ass, while being responsible for his/her employee's fuck ups as well, which reflect badly on him/her. So s/he gives his employees holy hell. Then, as the old joke goes, the employee goes home and yells at his wife, who yells at their kid, who kicks the dog.
Conversely, any good boss who has ever had a staff working for them knows the importance of mutual respect and trust building, as well as judicious delegation skills in order to make any working endeavor or team run smoothly.
I've had a variety of different supervisors. One was a very pleasant, unassuming type--liked by all. There was no yelling or screaming from this boss, but if I had to describe him, I'd say his style was passive agressive.
He had worked as an art director for many years at the university where I was employed. At some point, he got kicked upstairs and became the director of the department. Everyone thought he was a great guy, but all agreed that he was a terrible manager.
He used to have a sign on his door with the circle and the line through it that said "no whining." He avoided establishing regular staff meetings, preferring to have those only when necessary to put out fires. For the most part, he liked to stay in his office with the walkman plugged in and do the type of work he'd done all along--basically laying out long documents on the computer and making typographcial corrections. He was good at this, but it was the type of work that was much more appropriate to those at a much lower level, getting paid a much more meager salary.
He had little clout with his superiors, and could not effectively fight for raises and promotions for his hard-working staff, who often worked late nights and even weekends for no extra pay in order to keep the operation running smoothly. Meanwhile, he was a strictly nine to five guy.
When he was finally let go, a sociopathic woman was hired to replace him. Her resume looked impressive, but she was a fraud through and through. In the time she was there, she managed to do some major damage before she, too, was fired. A record number of people quit during that period. She hired equally ineffectual staff, and tried to get rid of anyone who knew their shit and could help her. After making a shambles of a once close knit office, and reducing the morale to record lows, she was summarily let go.
Then there was the supervisor who was hired and at first was gung ho about making radical changes. He had no experience in advertising for higher education, and did not understand the culture. Everyone in the office knew if he got his hand in a project, it would be irreparably messed up, so they avoiding letting him in on the status of anything or any problems they had. After awhile, when he realized his aggressive and ill-informed approach wasn't working, he would up with virtually nothing to do. He'd leave his jacket on the back of his chair to make it look like he'd be coming back shortly, and would go out and smoke a doob on his lunch hour. On the occasions where I'd come to see him, he often hastily tried to hide the book he had been reading when I came in. under his desk After years of this farce, he too was let go.
But the boss I still have nightmares about was my first "real" boss. When I was accepted for a master's program in English from a major private NYC university, part of my financial aid package included tuition remission and a part-time, 20 hour a week gig with the director of this small publications department.
My boss was brilliant and hard working, but was wound very tight. He had a fierce work ethic, and expected nothing less from everyone else, which in and of itself was cool. But his mercurial moods made the working environment needlessly stressful.
I admired my boss, but also feared him. He treated his staff as friends, and loved to joke and regale us with stories, and give us the latest scoop on his weekend excursions to THE gay after hours dance club at the time, the Paradise Garage. He was about 10 years my senior--I was in my early 20s when I started--but he'd just recently started to smoke pot, and would often light up after five pm while he continued to work.
But the pressures of his job, both self-imposed and external, produced untold anxiety for all involved. I was eager to please, but constantly had to endure his mercurial mood swings. When he was angry--usually because a project he was working on was giving him trouble--he would curse and yell and carry on and hurl the occasional stapler across the room for good measure.
I never knew from day to day or hour to hour if it was safe to approach him with a question. I was young and very sensitive and lived for his approval, so if I said goodnight and he didn't answer or acted cold and distant it would put me in a state of anxiety for the rest of the night. What had I done wrong?
Like a number of his colleagues, he passed away from AIDS many years ago, before life-saving drug cocktails emerged on the scene. Nevertheless, he lives on still in the frequent nightmares I have about him.
In my case, my boss was a big fish in a small pond. The publications office he ran simply provided advertising and promotional services for the university. Although stresses abounded, the worst thing that ever happened was when a disgruntled typesetter inserted the words "Oh shit!!!!" into a paragaph of a college bulletin. The dean called up the day it was printed, having found the error. I thought the world was coming to an end, but the typesetter simply took back the thousands of bulletins, slapped on a label with a corrected paragraph printed on it, and all was well.
But imagine what it would be like to work for a difficult boss whom you were afraid to approach in times of great crisis. What if this boss was responsible for decisions that affected not just his staff or his office or his firm, but the entire country and even the world?
In essence, our President appears to be such a man.
Many of us work for bosses who are able to present a diferent face to their superiors, clients, and the public than the face they present to their often beleagured staff. There's the boss who refuses to take calls when clients are frantically trying to reach him/her, leaving his underlings holding the bag and covering his ass. There's the boss who has temper tantrums within the inner sanctum of his office, but always appears calm and smiling in meetings with those outside his inner circle, his cowed employees at his side to back up this illusion.
One of the most stressful situations of all is the boss who insists on signing off on every decision, but makes himself unavailable to do so. Thus crises erupt which his staff has not been given the authority to deal with without his say so.
But in the case of the President, the nature of the media means that despite the administration's best efforts, some of the behind the scenes machinations and gaffes will be brought to public light.
Here is a small excerpt from the Center for Cooperative Research's thoroughly documented and detailed report on Bush's actions after hearing of the World Trade Center attacks while paying a visit to Booker Elementary Shool.
'After Card told Bush about the second plane and quickly left, the classroom was silent for about 30 seconds or so. [Tampa Tribune, 9/1/02] The children were about to take turns reading from a story called The Pet Goat. [AFP, 9/7/02] Bush picked up the book and began to read with the children. [Tampa Tribune, 9/1/02] In unison, the children read out loud, "The - Pet - Goat. A - girl - got - a - pet - goat. But - the - goat - did - some - things - that - made - the - girl's - dad - mad." Bush mostly listened, but occasionally asked the children a few questions to encourage them. [Washington Times, 10/7/02] At one point he said, "Really good readers, whew! ... These must be sixth-graders!" [Time, 9/12/01]"
Say what you will about Michael Moore--Fahrenheit 911 made a significant impact on me and millions of others, in part because videotape doesn't lie. Although the Booker Elementary School footage is one of the most appalling and dismaying to me, the film is also chock-full of the kinds of revelations that throughly convinced me that we would all be in deep shit if Bush was elected to a second term.
To see a thorough factual backup covering each segment of Fahrenheit 911, click HERE and judge for yourself.
To see the videotape of Bush's visit to Booker Elementary School (a clip that is rapidly becoming less and less available) click HERE.
Now, once again, we face a situation where Bush is turning to rhetoric in the wake of a disastrously inept and I daresay well-nigh-indifferent initial response to the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Maureen Dowd's op ed piece , written the day before his speech to the nation yesterday, chilled me to the bone. In part, she wrote:
'Even though we know W. likes to be in his bubble with his feather pillow, the stories this week are breathtaking about the lengths the White House staff had to go to in order to capture Incurious George's attention.
Newsweek reported that the reality of Katrina did not sink in for the president until days after the levees broke, turning New Orleans into a watery grave. It took a virtual intervention of his top aides to make W. watch the news about the worst natural disaster in a century. Dan Bartlett made a DVD of newscasts on the hurricane to show the president on Friday morning as he flew down to the Gulf Coast.
The aides were scared to tell the isolated president that he should cut short his vacation by a couple of days, Newsweek said, because he can be "cold and snappish in private." Mike Allen wrote in Time about one "youngish aide" who was so terrified about telling Mr. Bush he was wrong about something during the first term, he "had dry heaves" afterward.....
W. has said he prefers to get his information straight up from aides, rather than filtered through newspapers or newscasts. But he surrounds himself with weak sisters who don't have the nerve to break bad news to him, or ideologues with agendas that require warping reality or chuckleheaded cronies like Brownie."
Bush's "comforting" speech yesterday did not reassure me. Although he has now taken "responsibilty" for any federal flubs regarding this disaster, it seems unlikely that an analysis of what went wrong will be conducted by an independent, outside panel.
On a visceral level, I have always seen Bush as a befuddled simian like creature. He looks none too bright, and although he wraps himself in the patriotic rhetoric that endears him to his Republican supporters, he can't think on his feet or handle an unscripted moment.
I welcome your thoughts, as always.
Have a great weekend.