Friday, February 17, 2012


Sooner or later everyone, if they work long enough, confronts the 'boss from hell' ( and if they are lucky, only one). Up to that point I had counted myself very lucky that almost a decade into my career, I had liked all my superiors. Sure they had ticks and quirks, but I ultimately got along with them and they were decent, intelligent, and fair. One editor-in-chief even played matchmaker and introduced me to Excy!

The irony of the B from H was I had met her a year earlier when she was a senior editor of another magazine, and she was utterly charming, and I assured the staff when her name was given as our new editor, we would all like working with her. OOPS. Well, she came, and within days she fired the entire staff save for myself and one other editor and the graphic artist. The staff members let go -- five in all -- were long-time, senior-level editors, and frankly I feel they intimidated her. Upon retrospect. L and I were junior editors, and I think she felt we would easily conform to her new regime.

DD ruled by cruelty and fear tactics. She tried to alienate us by forbidding us from talking to one another, be it in the hallways or even in the break room. She would patrol the hallways and if she saw anyone talking in the other's office she would quickly tell us to 'get back to our desk,' like we were errant little kids. This was even more awkward by the fact that working on a magazine is a collaborative effort, with everyone pitching in with ideas and editing help and whatnot. Not only are there staff meetings, but it takes a lot of team-work to research, interview, write, and edit, not to mention illustrate a story, column or feature. So DD's paranoia really hampered creativity and work on each issue.

DD chose to lead by focusing only on the negative. She never mentioned anything she liked, but would lambast what anyone did 'wrong.' The more people around to witness her humiliating diatribes the better. Her 'critiques' were mean-spirited and often personal.

Although she gladly trumpeted her status as 'editor-in-chief,' she firmly believed the 'buck never stopped' with her, and she never, ever, took any blame for anything, no matter now small and inconsequential the error, and whether or not she was, indeed, to blame.

We were taken to task for a story she had signed off on, if later some reader had a problem with it. She would immediately throw the writer under the bus, claiming she had no knowledge of it whatsoever. We were even to blame for her editorials, which were never written by anyone else, of which she seldom showed to us before they were published.

DD was truly a miserable, passive-aggressive person. She would wait, regardless of how long one worked after office hours, until you left, so that the first thing you would find in the morning was a memo on your desk dripping with venom about whatever she considered to be your latest transgression. She believed in busting morale.

She would even try to put restrictions on people getting together for lunch or after hours, sure that we were plotting against her or something. Of the new staff she hired, and the freelance writers who worked for us, she fired half of them in the 18 long, long months I soldiered through (I worked for the magazine 12 years so leaving was a hard decision). Our new graphic artist (the last was fired in a typically horrible way), wanted to attend his grand mom's 90th birthday bash out of town over the weekend. She refused to let him go - we had to stay in town and 'work over the weekend' if needed because the issue was almost going to press. He knew if he refused his ass would be on the line. I overheard him tell her, "that's okay...I'm sure she'll have another." Our technical editor's grand mom died, and when he told her he needed one day off to fly out of town to make the funeral, she asked in a nasty voice,
"She was old, wasn't she??"
"She was my grandmother, so yes. But I still want to attend her funeral!"

At the time I was also responsible for two columns. One was on new products, and the other featured news and designs still in production, and I cannot count the times she would order me to write up a product or design to please some person or manufacturer (she strongly believed in playing favorites), and then would chew me out after someone called with a complaint that it seemed we were currying favoritism. At design shows, she expected me to cover so many different things at the same time I was sure she thought I was a twin. If I showed her the appointment schedule or schedule of events and suggested she prioritize the logistics of meeting these demands, after being chewed out enough times trying to decide on my own, she would reply she 'didn't care' how I'd manage it.

On two separate business trips where we had to travel together and we'd be gone at least three days and often four, she'd show up at the airport without so much as a carry-on bag, and she'd wear the same outfit day after day. Her hair would grow greasy and I don't even want to speculate on her underwear.

In the end -- interestingly -- as soon as I quit, she hired me as a freelancer and the same writing she complained about incessantly she then had no problem with -- she fired every single person, even the people she hired to replace the people she fired initially. Even the editorial advisors and freelancers went to the publisher and advisory boards to complain about working with her. Numerous letters and petitions were circulated, and ignored, about her. I remember seeing one well-known and respected architectural critic's letter on her desk that stated he 'wasn't going to have anything more to do with the magazine until her disastrous reign was over.' Inevitably she was fired, but after several years the damage to the magazine had taken its toll, and a once-prominent architecture magazine had slipped in rank and reputation.

I heard she worked for an architecture column on a FL paper, and then someone else spotted her working at the counter of a department store back in DC. Then she surfaced as a scriptwriter for an HGTV show I did some writing for - as soon as I heard that, my heart sank, and sure enough, the work didn't pan out -- later confirmed by a production assistant who said she was badmouthing me. She's still floating around. As miserable, and making those around her, as miserable, as ever, I'm sure.


ReformingGeek said...

How greatly unhappy she must be.


How unfortunate that we have to put up with it, though. I did some time with a BQ (Bitch Queen) from H boss.

Ms. A said...

I've known some people like that. They are so miserable, they want to make everyone else miserable, too!

Retired English Teacher said...

I think I worked for this woman's sister. Well, the one I worked for wasn't quite as bad, but almost. I was just thinking about writing about how hard she was to work for. I'm sorry you had to work under this type of personality. The problem is that those above this type of leader don't do anything about them because of their own pride.

Belle said...

She brought to mind an article I read about psychopaths in a recent Reader's Digest. They are without compassion and are cruel. Sorry you and everyone else went through this.

Kittie Howard said...

I feel for you. You should have to go through that. It's sad how another person's bitterness seeps out. I have a neighbor like that and avoid her as much as possible. I've come to the conclusion she's happiest being unhappy.

Angie said...

You can only hope their time will come day.
Thanks for dropping by my blog ...I will be dropping by your again definately ...wonderful writing....and yes its fun visiting people around the world and reading about their lives ... how wonderful your place sounds.

Arkansas Patti said...

Wow,I thought I had a bad boss once but he was just stupid, not mean. I would say just feel sorry for the one she went home to but that isn't always the case. I have a family member that was a terrible boss who was equally hated. He had 49 grievances filed against him at one time, even made the newspapers. At home, he was a sweet, thoughtful husband and great father. Pretty sure he was an exception and she was the rule. In either case, the employees had to go thru Hell. So sorry you had to endure her and glad she is now just a bad memory.

Chris said...

Amazing that these people so often succeed. At least for a while. I can only imagine what sort of experiences produced that kind of bitterness. Sad, really.

Clint said...

A few thoughts:

---A wise person once told me that when someone asks you how you like your job, the answer will reflect HOW YOU LIKE YOUR BOSS.

---I have had a number of lousy bosses in my time. I discovered that a great boss is one who sees her/his purpose as being to assist his/her workers to excel. And she doesn't care who gets the credit. Very rare qualities.

---Leadership is a hard-to-find attribute; and, it is more important than knowledge.

---You should watch the movie, "Horrible Bosses". You'll get a laugh or three.

Suze said...

'She never mentioned anything she liked, but would lambast what anyone did 'wrong.' '

I wonder if there lingers an outright incapability to praise in some.

I am very sorry you endured all of this.