Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tame a tyrant boss

Tyrants tend to be explosive and demeaning, hardnosed and demanding, and unfortunately, there are plenty of tyrant bosses still hanging around.

In fact, Harvey Hornstein, Ph.D., author of Brutal Bosses and Their Prey, estimates that 90 percent of us have worked for a tyrant. His conclusions are based on a survey of nearly 1,000 workers over eight years.

These bosses are typically manipulative and mean-spirited. They can even be verbally abusive, as many derive a sense of power and importance by publicly humiliating others. Listen in to a handful of victims' tales.

-- My boss has a short fuse and gets a kick out of berating me in front of everyone. At staff meetings, he often puts me down with comments like, "Can't you do anything right?" or "I can't believe you made that mistake again.” Once, he even brought a dunce cap for me to wear.

- In my last job, the new ad manager made it clear she didn't like me. This was probably because I was really good at my job. I was the top seller in my office for three years straight and I had strong relationships with my colleagues. Once, when I asked for a raise, she laughed at me. Personally, I think she was jealous of my popularity in the office and felt threatened by me be¬cause she thought I wanted her job.

-- My boss is a workaholic who plays favorites, ignores suggestions and tries to pit coworkers against one another thinking that will make us all work harder. It doesn't.

-- When I defended a colleague my boss was yelling at in the hallway outside her office, I became the next target for abuse. Immediately, my boss started refusing to share critical information with me on deadlines and productivity goals. He also started giving me and my subordinates conflicting instructions on major projects.

The number of bully bosses in today's workplace appears to be on the rise. Why? Hornstein attributes much of this to the pressures bosses are under because of rampant restructurings and downsizings.

"Feeling powerless, bosses enforce their power over others; feeling small, they belittle others in the futile hope that it will make them appear big." In other words, as organizations get leaner, more and more bosses get meaner.

But it's not so difficult to avoid power struggles with a tyrant and succeed in spite of their nasty behavior. If you work for a tyrant, next week’s column will give you tips on how to erect a bully barrier.

Connie Glaser