Worst Boss, First Boss

Categories Blog, Business and Leadership
Terrible bosses spy on their employees

The Quickest Way to Destroy Your Business

Good bosses can lead your team to achieve so much. But bad bosses… wow. How bad? Here’s a cautionary tale from my own career.

My first job out of college sixteen years ago (technically I started working in 1991, but still) was with a startup in Tucson, Arizona. This fledgling company attempted to compete with the Sysco’s of the world, breaking up the near-monopoly in foodservice distribution. It failed – a story for another time. My role at the time was lead a team of designers and developers, including an outside partner, to launch our eCommerce website.

In my job as a team leader, I had very frequent interaction with my boss, Gerhard (not his real name). A retired German paratrooper, he was tall and quite strong, with a thick accent even after decades of living in the U.S. When upset, he had a habit of running into the office exclaiming “dees ees unacceptable!” I’ll never forget it.

Gerhard was not meant to be our boss – he hadn’t been who hired me, but shortly after I arrived he conspired to kick the founder of the company out and took over.

Anyway, our relationship started off positively. Gerhard could be quite charming when he wanted to be, and I felt like he was supportive of our team’s best interest.

Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty fast. As the company found itself under more and more pressure to perform by the parent organization who was footing the bill, Gerhard got stressed. It showed. His behavior changed drastically.

What’s the Boss Using His Time On?

Confusing things started to happen. I would send emails to other departments, and would be called into Gerhard’s office less than five minutes later with an answer to my question. Odd… how would he have already been in the loop?

After a few weeks of this, I came around to Gerhard’s side of the desk and saw the answer on his computer screen. He was being copied on every single email being sent or received throughout the company.

So if this was what our boss spent his time on, what happened to his capacity to lead, or just manage? It disappeared.

Between “managing by walking around” (mainly to stare at our screens behind our backs to make sure we were working) and reading all of our email, I’m not sure Gerhard was up to much else.

Surprisingly, he was.

Around the same time, we were working to expand our office space into its adjacent warehouse for more space to expand. Plans were drawn up and revised almost weekly, in conjunction with our office manager and contractors.

Your Plans Include What?

On one particular evening after most of the staff had gone home, our office manager pulled me aside with an urgent concern. While I knew my team was moving into another space in the revised office, what I was shown shocked me.

The updated office plans included a one-way mirror from Gerhard’s office directly into our team’s office. Yes, seriously.

When I shared this information with the rest of the team, they were understandably angry. We gave Gerhard an ultimatum: either the window goes, or none of us will be there to work in that office.

He backed down, but for me this stunt was the last straw. I left shortly after and moved to Austin, vowing to never again let a terrible boss ruin my workplace.

What’s Your Bad Boss Story?

What did your worst boss do that drove you up the wall? Share your story with me here or on Twitter.

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