Have you ever worked for a real life Voldemort? If not, you’re both lucky and in the minority. A number of years back and fresh into my first job as a behavior therapist, I worked for the quintessential boss from hell. Like many of his ilk, at the start he was charming and all sunshine. I recall not believing my good fortune. I had found the job of my dreams. I couldn’t figure out though, why the other therapists on the team seemed so wary of him. Well, to make a long story short, I soon learned. Once I began showing hesitation to follow his dictates, however tactfully, his head swiveled 360 degrees. I quickly found myself the enemy…and I learned some of the best lessons of my life.
The next few years I endured harassment that knew few bounds. He seemed to have a limitless bag of nastiness from which to suck the joy from life. Like all good and proper bullies, he was constantly playing team members against one another, creating a deep sense of mistrust amongst us. I felt both alone and trapped. The job was very specialized and few, if any, other similar opportunities existed in the region. As a young professional, fresh out of school, I was deep in debt with student loans and simply had to make money. I toughed it out until the opportunity came for me to make the escape from satan’s den. I also learned much about myself and how to handle extreme bullies.
Resilience was my key personal learning. I learned much about my inner strength. Pushed well beyond the bounds of what I previously imagined I could cope with, I learned that I indeed had the mettle to deal with whatever life flung my way. Whenever. Whatever. I’m glad that I learned this early on. It is something that continues to serve me both personally and professionally.
Bully Boss From Hell (BBFH) Survival Tips
Here are some of the key survival strategies that I used to survive my BBFH and that have served many of my clients well:
- Do a Good Job. Despite all efforts of the BBFH to throw you off course, and hence provide their rationale for dismissing you, do stellar work. Commit to this with everything you have. It’ll be good for both you, your resume and how other’s view your work. My personal motto going through my time in hell was knowing that the best revenge was to simply do a great job.
- Talk it Out. Even though this is often a losing situation with a true BBFH, have a private and calm conversation about how you best react to feedback and the best way you receive directions. Remain positive and polite. Focus on how it is that you can do your best work. Again, while this may not work, it is always a good first step.
- Never. Ever. Lose. Your. Cool. This is exactly what the BBFH wants you to do. They’ll often bait you hoping that you’ll lose it. Again, this will only give them cause to discipline you.
- Never Openly Challenge a BBFH. They don’t like being challenged. Know too that they have a bottomless pit of fresh misery that they’ll fling if pushed. It’ll never ever end good for you.
- Never Complain Up. Remember, the BBFH has almost for certain hoodwinked the higher-ups into believing he’s the second coming. As a consultant, I’ve worked with a few CEO’s who show up with me as absolute sweetness and light, yet to their direct reports they are whirling dervishes of grief.
- You Do Not Possess Magic. No matter how much you wish it were the case, you cannot change a BBFH. They were likely born evil. It’s in their DNA.
- Talk to Someone on the Outside. You’ll need someone to talk to. It really helps. Just make sure they are a trusted person outside of your job. For me, I was very fortunate that I had my grad psychology counseling lab partners that I could have a weekly download with. Their complete and utter horror at my BBFH’s behaviour somehow helped me feel better.
- Meditate. Exercise. Do Something. One of the most important things that you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself. Meditation or exercise will increase your ability to cope with the brown splats that hit the fan daily.
- Do Not Internalize. I repeat, do not internalize the vitriol that the BBFH is shoveling. I know this is hard, but know that it is NOT ABOUT YOU. While this is what they want you to think, you need to reaffirm with yourself on a daily, if not hourly basis, your talents and accomplishments. Write them down daily. Review them often.
- Run. Don’t Walk. If it comes down to not being able to take another day of the BBFH’s antics, get the heck out of Dodge. If you feel your sanity or dignity being compromised after all your hard effort, it may be time to move on. While it’s always preferable to have a new job to go to, it’s simply not worth the pain of hanging on if it means having your soul sucked out of you.
Looking back, my time with a BBFH was a difficult but profound learning experience. While I don’t wish a BBFH on anyone, I can now sniff out evil doers in a millisecond, and even better, help my clients to either deal with or avoid them entirely.
Let me know if you’ve survived a BBFH. Your advice could help someone who’s in the trenches as we speak.
Great article Doug!
Yes I too have survived a couple of BBFHs – and like you they served me very well indeed. I am masterful at handling them now and therefore in a position to help others do the same.
My survival strategies are similar to yours. Also fortunately they were small teams so we made a solidarity pact that would not allow the divide and rule tactics to take hold. We covered our asses in every area with a paper trail, so he couldn’t gain traction there and we sent the ball straight back into his court every time he tried to shift the blame. We used humor and hypnotic “break states” to great effect. We fostered fearlessness (as long as we couldn’t be faulted). It took a few years and he still tried – but half heartedly. Our “training” definitely worked :-)I was determined to move on only when I was ready – not when he made life so unpleasant I had no option. And that, indeed is what happened. You do have to have rock solid self esteem though, because as you say, you cannot afford to take things personally.
Ha! Thanks Pamina. Yes, CYA becomes the name of the game when working with a BBFH. I’m so impressed that you were able to work as a team with this type of a person ruling the roost. Often teams are fragmented and harbor a deep mistrust of one another under this type of divide and conquer leadership. Very inspiring to see how a team can work together to alter the behavior of a BBFH…and as you mention, having rock solid self esteem is paramount.