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Toxic Managers: The Boss Isn't Always Right but He is Always the Boss



 From Goober, July 2016, 

The original owner and founder of my present employer (now retired) is an entrepreneur, and a classic Type A personality. Hard driven, and demanding as hell, but as demanding of himself as anyone else, and under it all, a decent human being. (Only Type A I've ever known who, when confronted with evidence he'd made a mistake, would just say, "You're right, I'm wrong, now go fix it." Mind you, he'd never apologize, but he'd admit he was wrong.) Let's call him Bill (because that's not his name).

So, we had this store manager who made assholes smell like cinnamon flavored unicorn farts. If someone did something wrong, or sometimes if they did something right, he'd threaten to hold them down and fart on their head. (He never pulled that shit with - or around - me, despite me being his assistant at the time, because I'd been around longer, and got on well with corporate. If I'd complained, it would have been taken seriously, and the California Labor Board likes to drag employers out into the parking lot for public executions. I don't like office politics, but that's not the same as not knowing how to play the game.) Let's call him Fred.
Displays sell merchandise, and while Fred had the leadership skills of a child molester in front of an angry mob of peasants with pitchforks and torches, he knew retail, so we always had working displays of novelty merchandise, like singing fish (remember Big Mouth Billy Bass? I wish I could forget), and we sold the hell out of them. (This is why I have a pathological hatred of all merchandise that makes noise. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Homer Simpson Talking Beer Opener.) Well, this particular year, one of the hot Christmas items was a "singing Christmas frog." Basically, a frog plushie with a sound chip. Push the little switch embedded in its little paw, and it plays the melody from "Jingle Bells" using various croaking sounds for a minute or two. It was cute, once, mildly amusing about twice more, and caused blind, murderous rage after that. And they sold like hotcakes, because we had a display. It was on an endcap next to the cash registers (where better to put impulse items?), and there were about a hundred of them. Fred would, several times a day, walk by, hit the switch on _every single one_, and walk away. If looks could kill, there wasn't a single cashier who would have avoided prison. Fred was an asshole. And everybody knew it.
But he was a smart asshole, and knew that everybody knew it, so he was only around for a year or two before he found another job, and gave two weeks' notice. A day or two before his last day, the most memorable Fred event occurred.
RHSEPT 259It was an El NiƱo year, and it was the heart of Wet Summer (Southern California has three seasons: Summer, Wet Summer, and Road Construction. Some years, we skip Wet Summer, which is usually January or February). On this particular day, it was raining so hard we could barely see the cars in the parking lot. It's the end of the day, and Bill is heading home. He gets to the front door, and stops, perhaps to contemplate whether or not we had everything in stock that he'd need to build an ark, and Fred walks up to stand beside him for a moment of companionable silence. Then offers the following words of wisdom:

"You'll be OK. Turds float."

I was truly surprised he wasn't tossed out of the store on the spot, even if he did only have a day or so left. Bill had mellowed as he got older. Or maybe he'd gotten rich enough to have a sense of humor surgically implanted.


But speaking of Bill, there was the day that the store manager (not Fred) in the fishbowl (the store where the corporate office is) got a comment from a customer about an employee who smelled of alcohol. The manager, very concerned, asked which one, and the customer pointed out Bill. "Well, you see, he's the owner, so he's allowed to do that." Customer thought that was perfectly reasonable. (Bill is the sort of guy who is absolutely incapable of walking by a customer who wants to give us money, and not stopping to see if he can convince them to give us more, whether he had a shot before he headed home or not.)


Carolanne 020And then there's Abe. Abe has true leadership skills, and his people generally like and respect him. But he's one of those people who can't turn a computer on and off without help, and literally can't read an error message off a monitor screen in front of him because "I don't know anything about computers." (I know this from experience - multiple times) Completely helpless with computers. So he was transferred to a different store. The morning he took over, he tries to ring up a sale, and corporate had forgotten to add his logon to the new store. Phone call, complete panic, and I didn't have the security at the time to fix it. "Have a cashier sign in for you, and <guy who can fix it> will be here shortly." Civilization ending catastrophe averted. A little while later, the receipt printer runs out of paper, and we're in the middle of cash register upgrades, and he hasn't seen the new model before that day. Another phone call, complete panic again. "Have a cashier show you how, they've done it a hundred times." (The new printers, it's a matter of open the cover, drop in the paper, close the cover. No feeding paper through slots you can't see, like the old ones.) Catastrophe averted again.

The next morning, I get an email from a customer complimenting him by name on his customer service. (We get at least ten times as many complaints as compliments, so this is notable.) We need to make sure he has an assistant who is computer savvy, but there are reasons why we keep Abe around.



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