The Dilbert principle says that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do least damage – management. Scott Adams – the creator of Dilbert – was spot on when he said that anyone who has ever worked in an office has endured a boss or two who made life a tad more difficult for those trying to survive the office without tearing their hair out. If one has lived and worked in Pakistan, the chances of encountering an ego maniacal boss with a wispy comb over and unmistakable god complex are higher than usual.
Like many others, I too have had my share of peculiar supervisors. They were not entirely horrible, and I never harboured a secret desire to bodily harm them, but if someone out there is writing a book about strange bosses, I am quite confident that I will be able to contribute a full chapter on the oddities that I had to endure as a professional minion. Some bosses go from this end of the spectrum to the other in 15 seconds flat, some are slackers, some are narcissistic prima donnas and some are all that and more.
At the beginning of my professional life, I had the misfortune of working under a boss who was quite insecure about her age and beauty. Her day would start with stories about how random men stop and tell her that she is mesmerizingly beautiful, how everyone thinks her daughter is actually her sister and her husband is her dad (major yikes) and how she was a glowing teenage bride who outshone the jewels she wore. She was actually quite a looker, a collection of human colours that have been tweaked and adjusted to present a perfect reflection. (Of what? Of something…) Being a person who would go to work in yellow canvas shoes, her efforts in presentation made me admire her even more and I made it quite obvious to her – at times just to get her to stop going on about her long list of admirers – that she is a walking-talking bombshell, but she never took the hint. I recently ran into her and found out that she has changed her focus and instead of regaling everyone with tales of her beauty, she now churns out stories about her family’s regal nawabi past. I still can’t decide which one is more painful to endure.
Everybody must have encountered at least one annoying colleague who quotes Dell Carnegie and Stephen Covey. Sadly, I have had a boss who would do it all the time. He was a motivator par excellence who would throw one corporate cliche after another with a smile that can rival a professional toothpaste model. From rolling out the ‘2.0 branding’ for a campaign to giving you a ‘heads up’ to ‘paradigm shift’ to ‘sweating the assets’ to ‘vertical markets’ to ‘SWOT analysis’ to ‘throwing a curve’ to ‘synergy’, he would just never stop. I am willing to bet everything I own (which is not a lot) that synergy is the lamest word ever in the English language and no one, except perhaps Deepak Chopra, has ever used it outside of a corporate conference room. There were times when I wanted to scream that we work in a service industry – a factory of the new millennium – where industrious drones like me brand, market, strategize and make money for other people. Our collars might be white but our paychecks are insipid and our outlook towards life is definitely grey, something that cannot be altered just with corporate speak. I once seriously considered handing over my resignation to this boss, citing abusive usage of corporate speak as a reason. I did leave that job soon afterwards, and I never cited that in my resignation letter, but I think my prime reason for leaving the job was the abuse of jargon and the plastic smile.
Some bosses are into over sharing. One wanted me to know how sloppy her husband is; the other – a divorced man – wanted me to know that he has scored with two girls in a day. However, it is still better than what someone I know had to endure when his boss walked into a weekly meeting wearing a T-shirt that said: “Oh Sh**, I am in Love.”
I also had a boss who preferred 20th century modes of communication. He would never respond to any email, so you would have to call him and tell him that you have written to him and would like some feedback. He would then ask you to read out the e-mail over the phone and would finally give his feedback verbally. Once you went ahead and completed the task at hand and it turned out well, he would kick you off the project and take credit for it, but if there was anything wrong with the turnout, he would go around saying he had nothing to do with it and unless you were a fan of 1980s spy movies and used to record phone conversations just for kicks, you wouldn’t have any proof that he actually gave you the go-ahead in the first place. He now has a super cushy executive post in a multilateral bank and the moral of this episode is that blaming others for botched jobs and taking credit for someone else’s work will take you far ahead in life.
Last but definitely not the least was a boss who was a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe. She would have been an asset to a magazine like Cosmopolitan but was wasted on a mainstream publication in Pakistan. She would discuss relationships, men, hair, hair products, shoes and other accessories in no particular order, which was fine by me. After all, who doesn’t love a boss who gossips with you about men and fashion? What was slightly disturbing, though, was the copious amount of time she would spend on dating websites. She was perhaps the only person I know who had shaadi.com as her homepage. Until recently, I thought she was the strangest boss ever, but then a friend texted me to say that her boss has started singing ‘Sheila ki jawani’ in the office. Can anyone top that?