Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bully Pulpit

"Don't worry," my friend Jim used to say. "You're not totally worthless--you can serve as a bad example." Today, as a counterpoint to my post-Labor Day post, an ode to workplace tyrants and bullies, and the "benefits" thereof. (Sorry, not naming names, eh.)

Most of us aren't in the working world terribly long before learning a lesson: No matter how tough your parents were, you have no idea what's in store once someone is paying you to obey, whether they're a freelance client or a full-time employer. There are maybe a half-dozen of them that stick out in my own career, ranging from garden-variety micromanager to full-on, desk-pounding, neck-vein-bulging maniac.

From a bully at my first job, I learned (daily) that titles don't necessarily equal talent, and vice versa, and so never to assume one from the other. Another taught me that tyrants can come in unassuming packages, a rule underscored by yesterday's parade of fools at the UN. And yet, several of the most-demanding managers, coworkers and clients were also the wisest, and pushed me to a higher standard, taught me innumerable tricks of the editorial and marketing trades, and provided insights about business in general. I guess you could describe such a dynamic as unpleasant but worthwhile--a rite of passage.

How you deal with the various incarnations of bossy behavior requires recognizing that what motivates you and deciding whether the best course of action is to stand your ground or catch the next bus. Because one thing is for sure: You're not going to change them.


  1. Wow, Jake. It must be a full moon. Everybody is pissed off, and with good reason. The Pied Piper is playing, and we the rats, are following. Damn. What lies at the bottom of the cliff?

  2. Exactly, envision me chattering at the moon as I jump off the cliff! Wheeee!

    What occurred to me as I was on a run shortly after posting is this: For me--and I wonder if this is true of the majority of freelancers?--the ability to say "thanks but no thanks" to a toxic client is a primary source of my freedom, which I value highly. Maybe it's a reaction to all those office-bound years. Maybe an overreaction.

    The flip side of that is that you darn well better 1) cultivate a diverse set of happy clients and 2) have the financial wherewithal to make objective decisions. If you follow those two basic precepts, everything else kind of takes care of itself.

  3. Hahahahahaha! This is too funny. My post yesterday talked about the fear you have when you leave a corporate job and it boiled down to this: As a freelancer, you finally work for someone who actually cares about your well-being. How can you NOT succeed in that environment?

    We are all on the same wavelength in being anti-corp job this week :)

  4. Ah, yes--brings back memories of my first CD. As I mentioned in some post or other, that CD drove me to tears, repeatedly. I dreaded seeing the CD in my doorway. I could sense the anger all the way down the hallway, and somehow I bore the brunt of it (although I was far from alone).

    Still, I learned at lightening speed--mostly out of complete fear. Yet those lessons are still the ones I apply to my day-to-day work, and I wouldn't be where I am, I don't think, if I'd ben safely coddled or gently probed.

    I'm wise enough now, though, to realize what a mess the CD's personal life must have been to have spent so much time so terribly angry. And I doubt I'd put up with that shit today, either.

  5. @Yo, it was the pervasive mood, wasn't it? Weird.

    @Teenie, time always seems to put things into perspective (as you obviously have). Learning by fear isn't for everyone or every occasion, but it can be awfully darn effective under the right circumstances.