11/16/2010 10:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

When a Bad Boss Becomes a Creature Feature

I've long been befuddled by Jekyll and Hyde routines of people, especially at work. But my all-time worst experience was with a boss I had early in my career who made the Tasmanian devil look like a tame soul. She was pretty in a scary way, kind of like Elvira. She was also cunning, witty and mean. I, in the meantime, was confused. The fact that she didn't realize how she siphoned the life from the people who worked for her utterly escaped me.

2010-11-14-iStock_000014579177XSmall.jpgInitially I was her favorite, a position that brought with it special attention and favors like taking time to teach me the same things that she fired my coworkers for not knowing. Her behavior was blatantly contradictory, yet she considered herself fair. I should have seen through her bias and anticipated her about-face much like Dorothy heeded the warning from the Wicked Witch of the West who screeched, "Just you wait my pretty." Yup, you guessed it. She loved me one day and hated me the next.

My coworkers and I were mystified that no one seemed to notice or care that a crazy woman worked for the same company we did. So when the CEO shipped us off to some high-end commune in the Catskills for a sales meeting, we thought wishfully that someone had caught on.

It was late one Sunday evening when we boarded the kind of dark chartered bus that childhood field trips are made of. The next morning two consultants stood before us on either side of a flip chart; an upbeat school teacher with a strawberry blond bun secured at the nape of her neck, and an overly tanned, hairy-chested psychiatrist sporting a loud button-down shirt that, by the way, should have buttoned up, at least by one or two more.

We spent two days doing team building and problem solving exercises. We had ropes and mazes and bricks. Everyone seemed equally as effected and responded with the same enthusiasm I did. Even my barbarian boss seemed transformed. So naturally, we headed home expecting some sane and civilized behavior from our superiors once we were back in the trenches. But instead of going from good to better, things went from bad to worse. It took only about a week for my boss to turn inside out again in a fit of rage.

What happened? What could have gone so wrong? What had been the point to take us from our jobs and spend all that money? Was it not to make us a better team, more productive and profitable as a company?

Apparently not.

Later, when my boss asked me to write up a report while my father was in intensive care AND I was on vacation, stressing that neither of those would be acceptable reasons to say, "No can do," I quit. Remarkably, she insisted that she was not administering a multiple choice test and that quitting was not an option either.

I quickly realized that her tyranny was slightly more complicated than a mere matter of her being bonkers. But having that experience left me with the distinct conviction that a paycheck is neither synonymous with a license to bully people, nor should a title permit someone to exhibit a total lack of alignment between his or her words and actions.

That was many years ago. I often think about what I could have done differently as my mother's words ring true in my ears. "You can't rationalize with a crazy person." Now, I know I did all I could -- which was nothing.

Image: Istockphoto

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