Part of my series about owning your power in 2017:
A toxic boss may be a boss who is headed for legal trouble. And all the bubble baths and affirmations in the world aren’t going to help you once law enforcement knocks. The only thing to do is get out.
Well before I entered law school, or worked for lawyers, I had my own devil in [knock-off] Prada. It took me some time to realize that her bizarre behavior wasn’t just self-importance, but also likely a cover for irregular activity. The only way to avoid having her acts stick to me was to walk away, leave my plant on my desk, and burn that part of my rolodex (which is what we had for LinkedIn connections back then).
Shortly after I left, I got word the boss was under investigation. Had I stayed, my own reputation would have been tied to hers.
For those of us who aren’t accountants and have no empirical way to catch on to chicanery afoot, I offer this list of 7 signs that your devil is more than overbearing, but may be bearing over to the criminal side:
- Paranoia. Everyone was cheating. My devil made executive-level employees (me) punch in and out on timeclocks. Our expense reports were subject to bizarre scrutiny, with feigned confusion over whether sales tax on a restaurant bill could be reimbursed. In retrospect, it was an attempt to deflect guilt. The state’s attorney, you see, might be so obtuse as to think discrepancies came from sales tax on a meal, not flying to Nova Scotia on company time and expense.
- What the? My devil did some things that were so weird, there’s just no word for it. We were required to keep a stash of brightly-colored (Astrobrights) copy paper. Each month, she would choose “her” color. No one else could use it that month. For anything. Rather than trying to convince you this really happened, I’ll leave it at this: when everything is so weird (the devil hopes) no one has time to look at the financial records. If they do, blame it all on Fireball Fuchsia.
- Belittling. Employees often feel belittled, but take note if Rod Serling could narrate your staff meetings. My devil repeatedly insisted she had done my job and excelled at it. In fact, she had a degree from a mediocre college, worked in our organization’s education department popping “educational videos” into VCRs for high-school kids for a couple of years, and then got appointed CEO by marrying into a politically-powerful family. Maybe she did, at some point, write great grant applications (my job, and I tripled our funding in a matter of months). Who could resist a proposal on Fireball Fuchsia?
- Lying. People embellish. However, my devil was a Savannah belle. Until someone with a map (and maybe some southern cousins) figured out her family was actually from a strip-mall laden community a couple of hours from Savannah. When someone’s entire biography is a lie, that’s a bit different from puffing up one’s resume. And it sort of makes one wonder where the board of directors of the non-profit is. Perhaps sipping juleps in Savannah.
- Biting the hand . . . . I cannot count the number of times the devil berated donors for the amount of their gift. I was a generous donor, and I came under fire. Another donor was expected to be content with seeing the same $20,000.00 in receipts for each of her three consecutive annual $20,000.00 gifts for computer upgrades. This is part of the maelstrom that is needed to conceal financial mismanagement—it’s not mismanagement, it’s having to make your clothes out of drapes.
- Feigned illness. The devil was always sick. She made a huge deal over starting her day with “prayer” in her “garden areas.” Employees had to come to her house for meetings, because she was too delicate to drive. There wasn’t a thing wrong with the woman when one of her trips on the company dime rolled around—but who would be rude enough to question someone who is ill?
- Delusional. No one can keep so many lies alive without starting to believe some. The devil assigned her home—a tacky split-level ranch in a subdivision–an estate name (think, “Shady Acres”). The suburb where she lives is a morass of strip malls. There isn’t a shady acre in the place.
After I left, delusional did as delusional was. She was not indicted. She lived to write a book representing the family into which she married as regional royalty (Northwest Indiana) and faded into whatever disingenuous people fade into.
There’s room for analysis of workplace personalities and styles. However, when it doesn’t all add up, it may be a shell game. Drop the self-help article, roll up your yoga mat, pocket your list of affirmations, and run. Leaving a job is intimidating, but it beats trading cigarettes for ramen noodles in prison.