In the bully pulpit

One of my former bosses, Mitch, had a reputation for being a terrible bully. He was a slight man who greatly resembled a rodent. Seriously, he did.

We’d have senior staff editorial meetings every morning since we worked on a daily newspaper. We’d review that day’s paper and go over the issue we were putting together for the next day. Mitch would publicly castigate at least one member of the staff at every meeting. He wouldn’t just criticize a headline, a photo or a story he didn’t like. He’d attack the writer or photographer as if he or she had committed a crime against humanity–Saddam Hussein style. Once he screamed so violently at Joe, a headliner writer and copy editor, that we thought he could become physically dangerous. Mitch was hateful (an alcoholic, too, I might ad), but he was the boss and we cowered as if we were lambs about to be led to the slaughter.

I remember the Joe episode clearly because he was one of the best writers on the paper. Funny thing is, bully boss Mitch couldn’t write worth a darn. He could barely string two articulate sentences together. During his screeching, I wanted to storm out of the room, but I was paralyzed. I intensely disliked Mitch long before this outburst, but my disgust reached a new level that morning. Most of the staff couldn’t stomach Mitch, but we wanted to keep our jobs and were too insecure/young/stupid to stand up to him.

I was, thankfully, offered a new job in another part of the company a few months later. Meanwhile, Mitch kept getting promoted until he became the president of the company and was again my boss. (Some things defy logic.) He wasn’t quite the bully he was years before, because he had stopped drinking, but he was still an ass. And he looked more like a rodent than ever before. And he still couldn’t string together two perfectly coherent sentences.

When I left the company to start my own business 13 years ago, Mitch was still at the helm. When the company was sold a few years later, the new owners were wise to Mitch. They fired him. He bullied and bulled his way to the top, and, in an instant, came crashing down.

Bullying bosses still are pretty common, according to a year-long nationwide study of 5,600 full-time workers, conducted by CareerBuilder, the online career site. Overall, 27 percent of workers reported they’ve been bullied at work, with the majority neither confronting nor reporting the bully. Women, aged 55 and older, and workers, aged 24 and younger, were more likely to report feeling bullied. Bullying behavior included: Harsh criticism, bosses yelling at employees in front of co-workers and false accusations regarding mistakes.

The thing I learned from Mitch is that bullies are terribly insecure people. I guess if I looked like a rodent, I’d be insecure, too.


0 Responses to “In the bully pulpit”

  1. Duchesse says:

    I find far less tolerance for bullying in the workplace now than I did 35 years ago; do you? Bullies depend on people being young, insecure or scared for their jobs.

    A woman executive I know got a phone call from a senior exec who said those kind of things. She replied, in a polite way, “Please come to my office and say this to me in person. Otherwise, I am not available for this abuse”, and hung up.

    Naturally he never showed up.


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