I recently had lunch with two very dear friends; friends I had not seen since our days at my first “real” job. I say “real” because I had plenty of jobs before this one, but this is the first gig where I got to sink my teeth into writing. I had not seen these two marvelous women in quite some time, but our mid-day rendezvous was as familiar and comfortable as my favorite Chuck Taylors.
During our catch-up conversation, we recalled our glory days of working long hours for little pay in a startup non-profit. Make no mistake, it was hard work; but I loved (just about) every minute. Sure, I had to eat a lot of mac 'n’ cheese, cheese pizzas and boxed wine, but the payoff was being a part of something new and wonderful for the city. Little parts of me are still there and I smile with great pride every time I see my handiwork. I am lucky enough to see my mark on various entertainment outlets throughout the city. And it’s this recollection that had me, and my friends, in happy spirits.
But there were costs to all those marks; costs from the lessons of the unfortunately common, small-minded, fearful teachers. The ladies and I referred to them as, “The Bitchy Boss(es).”
That’s right. I said, “The Bitchy Boss(es).”
Now I’m not regulating “bitchy” to any one gender (because in my case it can apply to both), but more often than not my fellow double-x chromosomes are the culprits. And why, ladies, do we do this to each other? Why do some of us feel the need to belittle rather than teach? Ridicule rather than guide? Be bitches rather than leaders? Really…I’m asking because I’ve never really understood it. What are the benefits to being, “bitchy” to a fellow employee? Is it a power trip thing? Or are you lashing out from a place of a misguided, heightened threat? Because let me tell you, there is a clear difference between leading with grace and leading with intimidation. One earns a life-long respect; the other a fleeting, murky apathy.
So my friends and I began talking about our journeys after our mutual workplace. Each of us has encountered more than one “Bitchy Boss.” We agreed each case was easier to identify, and thus, maneuver around, but we also remarked how exhausting it was to work for such unhappy souls. This got me to thinking about the other extreme…of how lucky I was to have worked for wonderful bosses; true leaders who shared more than just workplace skills, they showed me the value of leading well results in more than increased bottom lines.
I can recall more than one honest, one-on-one conversation with bosses who stood behind me (even when I was wrong) and encouraged me to do my best through example. I had great true leader examples from both genders, just as the “Bitchy Bosses.” The difference between true leaders and “Bitchy Bosses” is that I always wanted to please the former like a puppy; and the latter I wanted to piss on…like a puppy.
The natural progression of this conversation got me thinking about the people I tend to gravitate towards, rather than be repelled by. My Sunday Boyfriends came to mind. I took it a step further and thought of two of my Sunday Boyfriends whom I met in a workplace. Lucky for me, I met both of them while working at the same place, but I didn’t work with either of them in the same office. Both had, albeit limited, interactions with the “Bitchy Boss” in my environment. So whenever she (yes, in this case my bitchy boss was a she) was in a particular mood for seemingly irrelevant tyrant behavior, I could always rely on these two SBs for a commiserating clever word. They were my “go-to”guys to put me in a better mood.
Years after the fact, I have come to realize this particular “Bitchy Boss” was really just unhappy being herself and wanted everyone around her to feel just as miserable. I know how poorly she behaved towards me, so when I think of how much energy she expelled on a daily basis toward everyone, all in an effort to mask her own sad state of being, it wasn’t all that surprising to learn of her unfortunate breakdown.
So again I ask…why do this? What sort of power-trip results in a nervous breakdown? I’ll tell you…a very misguided one.
To be clear, let me say that for me, there is a clear distinction between bitchy and assertive. Bitchy is mean. Assertive is determination in motion. One achieves in making allies along the way to problem solving and the other, enemies. Assertive is good and never let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, well, I’m going to let you in on something…they are probably intimidated.
I also believe bosses get confused with what commands respect. Respect, in my book, isn’t handed out upon promotion or a title change. And it certainly isn’t given because you demand it (Yes, I actually had a boss who came right out and declared to all employees that we all needed to respect him because he was him. Utterly, and transparently, foolish.).
Respect is always earned.
Let me say this again…
Respect is always earned.
And to earn respect, your actions and your words are in sync; you have a clear expression of empathy and drive for compassion. A leader who knows “up” from “down” because they have been both “up” and “down” is more apt to circumvent any signs of trouble…and thus earns respect. A boss who isn’t afraid to share the way to get up the ladder…earns respect. The common element to all “Bitchy Bosses” is fear. Not power. Not security. Not selflessness. Fear. And fear never earns respect. Never.
These days I am fortunate enough to be my own boss. Sure, sometimes I’m hard on myself. Maybe even a little too hard at times. These are the moments I tend to subconsciously reach out for my Sunday Boyfriends. Maybe it’s a learned behavior…much like calling my Sunday Boyfriends for a friendly word whenever a “Bitchy Boss” was on the warpath. Only this time…I’m the “Bitchy Boss” and I’m looking for reassurances that I’m not all that…well…bitchy. Sometimes I get the affirmation, sometimes not. But I’m always guaranteed it will be honest. And not much goes farther in my book than honesty.
So here’s hoping more of us shed the fear (and “Bitchy Boss” moniker) and start earning that respect one put-up-or-shut-up moment at a time. And if you have a “Bitchy Boss,” remember they are just afraid and try to put your energy toward things that deserve your time…like your Sunday Boyfriend.
As always...stay comfy; and be good to yourself and all your Sunday Boyfriends.
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