Almost everyone has a turn with a bad boss. Our careers include time with a bully, a blowhard or a borderline egomaniac, giving us all great material for cocktail party stories, but leaving us with acid reflux and shaking hands. I can think of one in my life (fortunately not a recent vintage), and maybe you can, too. The story of Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly that came out during the week of July 4th struck me, leaving me remembering my days with Godzilla. In case you missed it, here are some details about the general’s reign of terror in the US Missile Defense Agency.
O’Reilly, while considered brilliant and an expert in his field, also bullied and berated his people, at least according to the dozens of statements taken by investigators. His repertoire of supervisory torture tactics included yelling, screaming, threatening, berating, insulting and the creation of a toxic atmosphere that had subordinates either heading for the doors or shutting down in fear. O’Reilly, according to some, frequently killed the messenger.
Dealing with someone like this is one of the most challenging workplace issues, and the military command and control structure made this case that much more difficult for subordinates to navigate. In the private sector, we have more choices, but none of them are particularly easy to execute. Here are a few to consider.
Leave. Yes, this requires a job search and all of the pain that goes with it, but if your boss is that bad, it could be the best decision. The moment of resignation will be a personal victory.
Talk with the Boss. If you have the guts to do it – and we all need to find the nerve at some point – ask for a meeting and ask your boss this question: “How do you think it makes me feel when you yell and scream?” This may, of course, lead you back to option #1 above, but sometimes a direct approach is best.
Take it to HR. If your company has a functioning HR department that acts when complaints are made, this is an option. An important point to consider, though, is your performance before taking this action. You will be seen as more credible if you have good performance. If you don’t, the complaint could be seen as a smokescreen and an excuse for your own shortcomings.
Build Relationships. If you work for a larger organization, there may be opportunities to build relationships that are outside of your current boss’s area. Over time, this could lead to a job working for someone else. Or, it could give you support when the time comes to confront the bully. Finally, these relationships may give you insights about the company, your boss and the issues that you had not previously considered.
Of course, you can always read the articles about O’Reilly. Your boss probably isn’t that bad, right? That will make you feel better.