I was watching a horrible film the other day, Horrible Bosses. In the film’s only redeeming moment, Jason Bateman’s character said something interesting… something along the lines of “how far you go up the ladder depends on how much shit you’re willing to take from your boss”. That hit me like a ton of bricks because I’d often thought I should be further along in my career than I am – and I couldn’t pinpoint what was holding me back! My shit meter! That’s it. I lost my last job for that very reason – not that it was a job worth hanging on to for any reason! But telling the boss “You’re a liar” in an e-mail is certainly a risky move on the shit meter scale. And it’s all the more satisfying when you can do it knowing you’re financially sound enough that they have no control over you.
I’ve taken a lot of shit in my day. Many years ago, during my first week at a new job, I was accused of authorizing an outrageous salary for a show host. It was on a conference call with the CEO, his lawyer, his sidekick minion, who I later learned created these little scandals every three weeks or so just for fun, and me. Because I, technically, worked for a company other than the one the others worked for, I asked the CEO directly….
“Do I have the authority to authorize or approve any salary for that host even though I’m not an employee of your company?”
was the answer. Upon which I asked,
“Is anyone in your company permitted to take orders from me when it comes to salary issues involving the talent?”
was the answer.
“Well, since I can’t authorize a talent’s salary and I cannot tell your lawyers what salary to put in the contract, then clearly I am not the one to blame in this situation.”
The Harvard-educated soul-less weasel of a lawyer then said,
“I will go back in my e-mails from Ray and see if that’s true…”
Upon which, totally frustrated, I said,
“Oh, is this the kind of job where I’m going to have to keep referring back to my e-mails to cover my ass?”
The CEO jumped to attention.
“Of course not. That’s not how we operate!”
And of course, it was. Literally every three weeks a new accusation would arise that I would have to defend myself from. It was corporate b/s instigated from the sidekick minion that really slowed down my productivity with this organization.
Not every company is like this. The reason several of my shows were so successful, in part, was because management stayed out of our way and let us do our jobs. We didn’t have to play corporate games in addition to running the show. But there’s always one or two companies that get off on corporate gamesmanship. And, as I’ve discovered, there are always a few companies littered with sociopaths in powerful positions, who enjoy creating sphincter-tightening situations for its employees.
Choosing your bosses and choosing your co-workers in an economy like this one is not so easy. And oftentimes, you end up inheriting bosses you never agreed to work for. Many times I’d taken jobs based on who I would be working for, only to have a shakeup in management and I’d end up with a sociopath or a liar, or someone who was insecure having a competent EP working under them. I’m really trying to resist getting to the point where I don’t trust anyone around me. I don’t want to go into a project thinking everyone’s out to screw me over. I want to like and respect the people I work with. I want to learn from them. Used to be the hero of the ballgame took the time to shake the loser’s hand. I suspect those days really are long gone.