I would like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, I had an incredibly incompetent boss. They shall remain nameless. I find it better to tell stories this way. A while ago, I had written about another incompetent boss I had. At some point, I wondered if I was the problem. Perhaps I was a bad employee.
However, I spoke to various former colleagues and managers. While I am not perfect, as expected, I concluded and as improbable as it sounds, I simply got unlucky twice in my professional life. That’s two times too many but such is life. All the other bosses I have ever had, were and still are awesome people, great managers and I still have good relationships with them. But I digress, this text isn’t entirely about me. Here is the story.
The person was incredibly incompetent as a boss, a manager, a motivator, and a leader. Well, they couldn’t lead a river to the ocean! How incompetent was this person and probably still is? Well, one simply had to read the yearly evaluation from the employees. For four consecutive years, there was only one word to describe their job performance: abysmal. Yes. It was that bad. Four consecutive years of getting bad reviews from the employees and the person still has a job! Who said miracles don’t exist?
I dealt with this person daily and as time went by, I realized they weren’t made to manage people. Yes, managing, leading, and motivating people are skills we all must acquire. However, certain people don’t have the temperament to correctly absorb those skills and use them. To put it bluntly, certain people can never and will never be good or decent managers. By the way, that’s ok. For example, I cannot work in the medical field. The blood, the pain, the intensity, seeing people on their worst day and death are things I wouldn’t be able to deal with daily. Some people cannot do certain things. That is a fact.
Please understand, I am not saying the boss in question was a bad or a mean person. Absolutely not. They were respectful, kind and available. Yet, simultaneously, they were obtuse, dismissive when things went awry, unable, and unwilling to listen to their own employees’ feedback, controlling and evasive when asked to help at times. My colleagues and I were able to deal with the boss at the beginning and it went fine. However, as time went by, my colleagues and I figured out that our boss had no idea what our day to day was even if they sat 5 meters away from the team. Sometimes, we would receive requests, orders and assignments that didn’t make much sense or that contradicted our job description. We found that odd, but we respected the chain of command and did our best.
We also realized the boss was quite smart. Any dispute sent by email was answered verbally. They would get up and go talk to the person directly. Therefore, there were never any traces of dispute or grievances. Who needs to leave traces of disputes in the 21st century when everything is documented and saved in the company’s servers, right?
Personally, I got along with my boss at the beginning, as we all did. As I said, the person was pleasant, respectful and they seemed open-minded. Nevertheless, as every story evolves and the honeymoon phase fades out, we hit a bump. They say stressful times show people’s true character and this was no exception.
The bump we hit was my fault. It isn’t easy to admit but in the spirit of honesty, I must say I was the one at fault. Yes, my performance decreased substantially. Who was to blame? Me. I am old enough to say it out loud: my job performance for a few weeks was abysmal. I sucked. I take no pride in it, nor do I feel any shame. That happens in any job as it does in life. Highs and lows are part of life anyway.
The reasons for that decline in performance don’t matter in my opinion. Any reason I could give would feel like an excuse and I personally wouldn’t want to give myself a free pass. So, I was to blame. Yet, what happened next, was another eye-opening experience. It showed me the kind of boss I was dealing with and I finally got to see the boss’ true colors.
What followed was slightly unorthodox but not completely unexpected: the boss immediately went into punitive mode. Much to my dismay and surprise, I wasn’t asked any questions. There was no diagnosis of the problem. The boss just wanted me to work harder, to hit my numbers. I know they were pressured from above and they passed the pressure onto me. That’s how the world works. Could they have done a better job by communicating with me? Of course. The boss didn’t. I received no support and I didn’t ask for any. The tone of our first meeting indicated this wasn’t a discussion; it was more of a demand to do better, at all costs.
Therefore, from that point on, my performance and my every move were scrutinized with a magnifying glass. I had a target on my back, and I knew it. Increasingly, the job started to feel like a metaphorical prison cell, where cameras would be recording my every move, keyboard hit, internet browser, my breaks, my absences, etc. The all-seeing eye was there!
My boss would literally get up to come and see what I was doing. One time, I was admonished for having LinkedIn open on my internet browser. I was accused of wandering around instead of working. I didn’t have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp or YouTube open. We are talking about LinkedIn! Isn’t that the professional website where anyone can get information on businesses and individuals, I asked my boss? The answer fell like thunder: stop using LinkedIn, while everyone on my team and our floor was using it for research! That’s like telling people to stop using google for research. I tried to protest but there was no room for negotiation. The boss didn’t like my argument.
Weeks went by, the scrutiny got tighter. I was expecting it, so I wasn’t bothered. My performance improved greatly despite the dictatorial style of managing and constant surveillance. I chose to ignore my boss, not their recommendations. Whenever they would come talk to me, I would be a true professional, but I decided not to seek them out. I relied on my colleagues and other seasoned managers for help. I never thought I could work while ignoring my boss, yet it went well. We communicated through email and simply exchanged pleasantries in the morning and at the end of my shift.
Weekly meetings were set up to follow the progression of my performance. The time was allocated to me so I could explain and justify my performance whether good or bad. In the almost 2 decades on the job market, this was the first time I experienced the dread of weekly meetings, which frankly, were useless. My guess is that my boss had to justify to their boss my performance. Please keep in mind, we had numerous meetings and at no point, did my so-called boss offer any guidance, any advice, one on one coaching, or ask any questions. It was baffling. What kind of person, let alone a manager, doesn’t ask any questions when a situation is out of the ordinary?
Then, one day, during one of those dreadful weekly meetings that were beginning to weigh heavily on my body and mind, the boss, implicitly accused me of fraud. They told me I wasn’t doing the necessary due diligence on the files assigned to me. That is fraud in the specific field I was in. That would be cause of disciplinary action or even employment termination.
I will be blunt: the damn accusation got to me. It fucking did. I was killing myself to do better, to be better and then out of nowhere and with a certain malice, my own boss accuses me of cheating and fraud, with no proof whatsoever. I couldn’t help myself. After all, I am human, and I have feelings. The latter came rushing out. I took a deep breath and I decided to defend my honor and my own moral code. I am not a cheater or a fraud. I am not juicing my stats! What the hell was going on?
After exhaling, I spoke, slowly. I was respectful but my tone was firm. I told them I didn’t mind accusations of laziness or tardiness, which had no basis either, but accusations of fraud and cheating were out of the question. I told them I wouldn’t stand there and accept that kind of verbal abuse and I wouldn’t accept accusations that have no basis. I had to defend myself!
After I was done, I looked at my boss. Their face was emotionless. Almost perfect poker face but towards the end, a tiny smirk came on their face. Damn, I said to myself. They had me. They had gotten me. Damn! I felt like a rookie. Unfortunately, I had shown my weak spot: accusations of cheating were my Achilles’ heel. They were the things I couldn’t let go. I would react to accusations of that sort. The boss now knew what would make react.
Much to my dismay, I had forgotten the number one rule of office politics: never show your weak spot. Once it is out there, people will come after it and bleed you dry. Now, retrospectively, I understand that the constant surveillance, the weekly meetings had gotten to me. I was more stressed than I cared to admit.
After my polite yet firm rant, I ended up smiling. I had cracked and it was over. It was that simple. Moreover, at that moment, I knew the bridge between us had exploded and was completely destroyed. There was no way to salvage the relationship and frankly, neither me nor my boss wanted to save it. Our personalities couldn’t possibly work together anymore. We were done and we both knew it.
So, the boss simply had to wait. They knew I would crack if enough accusations were thrown at me. Yet, I made it my mission to stay and endure. My pride had kicked in, I wasn’t going to quit! I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. After all, I see myself as tough and I ignored my boss 99% of the time. I didn’t quit.
Two weeks later, I was let go. The reason: inadequate performance. Not fraud, not insubordination, not theft or cheating. Simply inadequate performance. It wasn’t a surprise. It was a Monday and it is, to this day, the best day of my professional life! Who celebrates their firing? No one, unless the working conditions were awful.
Listen, I am not comparing my job to miners in war zones, sweatshops in Taiwan, construction sites in Dubai and Qatar, manufacturing companies in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc. I sat in an office 7 hours a day, yet the culture within my department was rotten, unbearable. A company’s culture comes from the top. The infamous boss had created a culture of fear and distrust. We couldn’t rely on them or trust them. They wouldn’t listen to us.
A good manager doesn’t get 4 consecutive abysmal reviews within 4 years. My former colleagues are telling me that my former boss is about to get their 5th consecutive abysmal review. If that happens, then, at least one question must be asked: why does management keep them around? If I were the boss of the infamous boss, I would have a few hard questions, at the very least.
After my firing, an old university classmate of mine who worked with the former boss at their previous employer, reached out to me. They told me that my former boss had been fired from their previous job. The reason? Well, they were let go because of a series of complaints. The latter highlighted the lack of managerial skills, close mindedness, manipulation, constant surveillance and targeting individuals for no apparent reason. In the end, they made the workplace so uncomfortable that employees couldn’t work in peace and they couldn’t be productive.
However, my former boss, despite all this evidence proving they aren’t made for a managerial position, found a managerial position. Interesting how the corporate world works. Competence and skills don’t matter as long as you know the right people, who are willing to hire you.
I got to understand yet again, how incompetent people get to find work and keep their job. My former colleagues still call me to tell me how the boss is still messing things up and how they clean after the boss’ mess. From day one, being fired by an incompetent boss didn’t feel like a firing; it felt like freedom and it still feels that way today, after all this time!
I salute you, former boss and no hard feelings. You were not a bad person, just a profoundly, truly incompetent manager. It happens!
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day!