What You Learn by Working for a Bully

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When it’s time to change jobs, any number of variables enter the decision. Key among the variables is the nature of the job, the brand of the organization, compensation, title, location, culture of the company, and the boss. That is, who is my supervisor and what is he or she like?

All of these factors combine to form a diagram of sorts that inform the decision – take the job or not? We are easily distracted by the glitz and often don’t pay enough attention to the boss question. I learned that the hard way. Early in my career, I made the mistake of ignoring red flags about a future boss, but it was a mistake that once committed, has helped me ever since.

It wasn’t that I missed it. As I was considering the new position, my due diligence about my prospective boss sent up some red flags. I learned he was a bully and prone to outbursts but if you were one of his favorites, you never saw that behavior. I learned he was dismissive and borderline abusive to executive assistants and the people who were on the lower ladders in the organization chart. I learned that he managed up well, with a smile and that the senior managers were blind to his behavior. I learned all of that, and I took the job anyway. I ignored my own due diligence because I was blinded by the promotion the new position represented and the glitzy brand of the new company. It was a mistake. Everything I learned was true. He was a bully and I, like others, suffered. BUT, within three months of my arrival he was walked out of the building, fired, for sexual harassment. I didn’t even know about that part of his persona.

I made the mistake of not paying attention to my diligence. I made the mistake of not following my instincts. I made the mistake of not recognizing the importance of my supervisor in the decision making process. So why was taking this job one of the best mistakes I ever made? Because I learned some valuable lessons that I still apply.

  1. When considering a job move, never underestimate the importance of your new boss. Your supervisor will have the biggest impact on whether or not you will like your job. It is among the most crucial variables in any career decision. Move past the recruitment dinner.
  2. Bullies don’t win. When one is around, everyone knows it and it’s only a matter of time before he or she will meet an unhappy end. However, never underestimate how miserable one can make you while waiting for the bully to be fired. (Unfortunately, there are exceptions to this rule.)
  3. You don’t need to tolerate bully behavior. Talk to those who can make changes.
  4. Don’t be a bully. It is possible to be an effective leader and get desired results without leaving wounded people along the way.

Maybe the last lesson is that workplace lessons come from all different directions and people. The lessons are not always from the paragons of success and leadership. The lessons can come from the dark side, too.

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