Bosses From Hell.And What You Can Learn From Them

You may hate your old bosses like Lucifer, but you can learn from them. Just don't join their minions.

Cam Marston didn't want to look at the face across the desk. He didn't like his latest assignment, but what could he do? His boss had ordered him to fire this employee, a nice guy who may not have been a brilliant worker but was coming along. However, the company was pretty successful: "I figured my boss knew what he was doing," explains Marston. And so if this had been a movie western instead of an average day in 1996, here's the part where the then-26-year-old Marston would have cocked his pistol-and fired.

The employee went down, pale and frightened. And then he pleaded, "But why . . . ?"
"It's just a management decision, based on the way you fit in here," said Marston, who actually had no clue why this poor schmuck was getting the ax. "I thought this was going to be the one," the employee gasped, shell-shocked, rubbing his hands through his hair. "I really like it here. I liked the product." Then he started to cry.
"I'm sorry," Marston wheezed. "I'm really sorry." Eyes red, hair a mess, the employee slunk back to his desk and gathered his photos of his wife and children. He clutched his coffee cup and some pencils, and he started the long, miserable trek out of the office. His shoulders were stooped, and though tall, he looked very small. But just before he reached the exit, Marston's boss emerged. He was, Marston swears, a beady-eyed man with veins popping out of his neck. "Wait a minute," the boss said. "Cam just fired you, right?"
"Y-y-yes. What's going on?"
"Well, you're not let go," the boss announced cheerfully. "I just wanted to see if Cam was able to fire you. I didn't think he had the strength to do that. You're not fired; get back on the phones. Cam, good job! Come into my office."

The Boss From Hell. Most of us have worked for one. He or she is the employer who, no doubt about it, was sent from Satan below to make our lives miserable. The one who wields power like a Third World dictator with a nuclear bomb. The one who may be the big cheese, and this cheese is rancid. And you, with your meager benefits and opportunities, stayed with that molding cheese, like a starving mouse with nowhere else to go. Until you finally made your escape. So it's a good chance to ask yourself: What did I learn from my boss from hell? Am I a better boss for having worked for somebody who made Jack the Ripper seem like a stand-up guy? Or, like your dad and his inexplicable love for polka music and your surprising appreciation for the genre, does the apple fall not far from the tree?

Geoff Williams once had a boss from hell, or at least heck. She would frown at him as he was leaving work on a Friday, and he would worry about it until Monday morning, when he could then gauge whether she had actually been angry at him or had just been constipated.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bosses From Hell.And What You Can Learn From Them.

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