My boss wanted to publicly humiliate me. He came into my office with a bunch of my colleagues. I was very busy playing chess online but I could see he was serious so I clicked away that window and stood up.
“Did you release the newest version product to the client last night?” he asked.
The client was Pfizer. The product was software that automatically translated Pfizer technical manuals from English to about five other languages. I wrote the code.
“Yeah,” I said, “like you said I had to or we would be late on our delivery.”
“Well, the client called,” he said, “and they found a bug.”
My colleagues were nodding their heads.
One of them must have been called by the client who then proceeded to take out his life’s troubles on her by screaming at her on the phone so she then complained to my boss who was about to take out the fact that he really wanted to beat his wife but I was a convenient second place.
“Ok,” I said.
“So you released a product to the client that had a bug in it,” he said.
“Uhh, yeah, I guess,” I said.
“Let get this straight. You mean to tell me you released this without triple-checking every possibility?” he said.
“Well, I double-checked but I did not triple-check,” I said.
“Are you making a joke? This is a very serious issue. You NEVER EVER RELEASE A PRODUCT WITHOUT TRIPLE CHECKING.” His face was red. Everyone was watching.
“Ok,” I said.
“Ok what?” he said.
“Ok,” I said. “I QUIT.”
Which felt great because just 10 minutes earlier I had gotten off the phone with Rob Martin at HBO who had offered me a job with almost a 50% salary increase (from $28k to $40k) plus $2k in moving expenses.
“Well,” the boss (now “Chris” because he was no longer my boss), “you don’t have to quit. It was just a mistake.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t like being yelled at. You shouldn’t do that to people. I quit.”
Chris looked at me for a second. I think all of my colleagues had their jaws slack and wide open in that Monica Lewinsky way where the whole world could just explode any moment.
“C’mon man,” Chris said, “I was just concerned about the client. But I’m more concerned about whether or not you are happy in the workplace. No hard feelings.”
“That’s OK,” I said, “I don’t ever like being yelled at. So when people yell at me, I quit. You know as well as I do that every bug can’t be checked. You should treat people better. Now,” and I shrugged my shoulders for affect, “I give two weeks notice.”
I never told him I just had gotten an offer. A few months later he had a question about my code and he called about it and I told him I forgot the code completely and couldn’t help him.
About six years later when I was running a venture capital firm he called, “hey buddy,” he said and he said he had a business to pitch me. I called him back and left a message. “Super excited to hear about your business. Send me a detailed business plan with description, bios, projections for the next ten years, a passcode to unlock an online demo, you know, all the usual things.” And he did. He put a lot of work into it.
I never called him back. He left repeated messages for about two months. He called my secretary and said he would stay on the phone until I picked up but I never did. I was really immature back then.
Bosses suck. I’ve had some real good bosses (hi Tom!) but mostly really bad bosses. Fortunately, before you finally quit there’s some good ways to deal with them and train them.
Remember BAD BOSSES ARE DOGS and needed to be treated that way.
Here’s very important advice on dealing with a DOG that happens to be your BOSS.
A) Never kiss ass
Then your DOG knows he can keep stretching the boundaries until you’re on the leash and not him. Never stop by his office just to chat. Never do any brown-nosing.
This is the rule from “How to Deal with Crappy People”. If your boss is a crappy person then you want to engage as little as possible. Only work stuff.
Never joking around. Never anything that builds a meaningful dialogue that he will twist later. Don’t make friends with an animal. This is not every boss. Just crappy bosses.
B) Never talk badly behind his back
He will eventually hear. He will also sense it. DOGS are psychic.
When you don’t talk badly behind his back his natural suspicions will lessen about you and he will treat you better. Talking badly behind his back is a passive way of engaging with him and this goes against rule “A” above.
C) Always give him credit for everything
DOGS like to be loved. When you do work and give him the full credit then the result could be: promotions for him, which leads to promotions and salary increases for you. Never begrudge when he takes credit for something you did.
Everybody already knows it was you. I once had a boss who was promoted to a high level position. Everyone stopped by my desk to congratulate me because they knew what the reasons my boss were promoted for.
D) Write a cover-your-ass memo every day describing what you are up to and who you are dealing with.
You need to do this every day: what you do, who you spoke to, etc: so that all blame gets deflected off you. Nothing can stick.
When I was running Reset (which made websites and software for Fortune 500 companies) every project manager working for me had to do a cover-your-ass summary to the client of everything they did the day before. Every detail had to be tracked.
E) Build relationships with his network of colleagues and contacts
Eventually your boss is going to try to screw with you. But he can’t get away with it if your network includes his entire network. This isn’t as hard as it sounds.
If your boss deals with someone then it’s not hard to ask them for coffee so you can “learn more about their job so you can help them better.” Nobody will say “no” to that and everyone will be grateful when you start helping them.
F) Help other employees of your boss with their jobs (without acknowledging at all your feelings about the boss).
They are going to want to vent to you. Remember rule “B” above. Don’t let them vent to you. It’s none of your business what their work problems are.
This is very important. But help them with their jobs so that when it comes time for everyone to start pointing the finger then you’re the last person they point to.
On anything he asks you to do provide an extra touch. This is how he gets promoted. When you are more creative than him, overdeliver for him, and he gets full credit. Then he gets promoted. Then you get promoted.
H) What’s your market value?
You know that BS phrase “Always be selling?” It’s sort of true: Always be Selling Yourself! Always be applying for new jobs for two reasons. The job market is like any other market: prices are ruled by supply and demand. So you always want to know your market value.
Information is power. The second reason is that it gives you a good plan B if you need to leave. Ideally you leave before you leave. i.e. freelance and generate multiple streams of income so you know you can afford to quit.
G) Then quit.
And finally, here are “10 Things You Need to Do if You Were Hired Today”
Corporate America is almost by definition an exploitative environment. They pay you less then they make from your services.
So you have to make sure that if you are going to let them get away with it then they can’t take advantage of you and that if they treat you badly you have other options.
I have more about this in my recent book “I WAS BLIND BUT NOW I CAN SEE”
Please tell me your worst boss stories in the comments below!