Bosses Plaguing Our Dreams

February 13, 2019

Politics, Uncategorized


US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

A recent news item triggered me.

To explain: I’ve worked for great bosses, both men and women. I’ve also labored under tantrum-spewing thugs, both men and women. The latter still haunt my sleep. I remember the screaming, my powerlessness and enforced silence (anything I said was fodder for the next hostile job review, so mum’s the word while Tough-Talker throws a fit). I remember my tied-in-knot stomach – even on my days off – and the sleepless nights and my dread in the wake of those seemingly innocuous invitations: “Let’s meet in my office” … “We need to talk” and (once) … “Let’s do dinner together – bring along the wives” …

Imagine holding a straight face amid Mr. Megalomaniac’s threats and Mrs. Megalomaniac’s eerie assurances: “We’re telling you this because we care about you.” I longed to roar over the flickering candles – especially since my wife was near tears – but they’d add a “temper” to my burgeoning list of alleged flaws. So, somehow, I stayed quiet and smiled.

These tyrants stoke fear and ruin careers and mar psyches. Everything hinges on their mercurial moods and arbitrary likes and dislikes. Quality of work is no object, so duck and cover after you punch in. Your main ambition is anonymity: “Please God, don’t let the Majestic One see me today.” And throw creativity under the bus. Do everything by the rule book’s 150th edition (if we can find it).

Incidentally, they think they’re Benevolence Personified, veritable Gandhi’s because they sent you a birthday card.

Don’t confuse them with the naturally-driven boss or the slightly-snappy boss or the boss with high standards. Those bosses momentarily erupt but soon calm themselves and apologize – publicly, if necessary. Office tyrants are cruel. They berate employees before the entire staff; they scold a worker in e-mails and cc everyone; they cultivate devoted disciples and acolytes, not a talented work force. Don’t believe them when they say they want your opinion. They’ll file away your “attitude problem” and bring it up in the next rant.

Many are as smart as whips. And they’ve often survived and thrived through childhood trauma: A father swilled a nightly fifth while Mom wept in the kitchen. They dodged the belt, gleaned skills in navigating dysfunctional systems, and learned to charm the powers-that-be. The company VIPs lap it up.

But, beneath it all, they’re still fighting not-so-dear old Dad and negligent Mom. They’re hurting – and hurting people hurt people. If only they’d get help so they’d get peace. They’d transform from war lords into peacemakers and enliven the office with their spill-over energy. Work would be fun – which, research shows, is good for the bottom line. Alas, such personal reformations are rare – partly because company higher-ups feed the beast by rewarding their workaholism.

It’s even worse in non-profit firms, where the fists slam in the name of the noble cause. Donors love the charisma at the fund-raisers, so they write their checks and ignore the staff turnover rates mentioned in the embossed annual reports.

Who knows? These growlers may run for elective office. Why not? The capital city always needs a new fight …

Oh yes: The trigger. Almost forgot.

Democratic US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced her presidential candidacy on Sunday, February 10. She’s likable. She comes across as measured and judicious – the very insignia of Minnesota nice. She was even cool before Brett Kavanaugh’s antagonism during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. And there’s that compelling story of an over-comer: Her father, author Jim Klobuchar, was an alcoholic who divorced her mother and wrecked the family when she was 15. She survived and thrived: class valedictorian; a magna-cum-laude 1982 Yale graduate; a 1985 graduate from the University of Chicago School of Law; Hennepin County Attorney; three terms in the US Senate.

Impressive. Maybe even a break-out candidate.

Or not. Former staffers report berating late-night e-mails and humiliation and thrown objects and demolished boundaries (she told at least one underling to wash her dishes). The ill-treatment allegations wend their way back to her Hennepin County days, and they’re substantiated by sky-high turnover rates. Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid reportedly rebuked her for the way she grinds down her staff.

Her reply: “Yes, I can be tough, and yes I can push people. I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work for me, but I have high expectations for this country.”

A tough boss doesn’t throw things or yell or single out an employee in an all-staff e-mail. A tough boss respects boundaries and doesn’t task an underling with the dishes. Those activities venture beyond the realm of “tough.” They’re called “abuse.”

So here’s my response to Klobuchar’s reply: “The country has high expectations for you, Senator. Prove yourself to us. You’ve applied for the job and your interview has begun. Frankly, it’s off to a shaky start.”


About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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