How to Survive and Work under an ‘Evil’ Boss – by Wangari Maina

During my years in corporate not very long ago, I went through what many of my colleagues dubbed ‘hell on earth’. We had just gone through a change of management with an expatriate being brought in, as seemingly, he had experience in the industry and he came highly recommended by the principles of the multinational. With hindsight those four years were more of ‘ore-to-gold’ season.

It is this season that inspired me towards understanding and walking others through their professional transitions. Through my newly-defined career as a Transition Researcher, I have reviewed my past experiences, read widely, and interacted with people who have had similar experiences in the corporate world. I would like to share some of my learnings and conclusions in this blog.

  • Bring your spiritual centre to the workplace

As DP Mavia says, human beings are designed to offer solutions in the visible and concrete … yet the market place is a space governed by forces or laws. One thing you quickly learn and embrace as part of your survival kit when working under an ‘evil’ boss is that your spiritual centre gives you a footing in that space! Evil, Cruel, Inhuman etc are attributes that express a spiritual centre that is not confused about its mandate – to disrupt, weaken, frustrate and eventually crush all for selfish gain. You don’t find evil debating whether it is allowed in a certain space or not. It shows up where a door has been opened, it legislates and accomplishes its mandate. A lot of people suffer the silence of the evil gods and spiritual centres that their bosses bring into the work place because they attribute the mean and cruel expression to ‘the nature’ of or circumstances surrounding the boss. Why? Because they never see beyond the presentation and physicality of the spiritual centre.

When my difficult boss started out, my dream job soon turned into a battlefield before I could even know what was going on. No amount of logic, respect for elders, kindness and submissiveness worked. The reality is, in the unseen and seen spaces, there is no vacuum. As such the legislating unseen will always occupy unless and until a more authoritative legislator comes into play. I knew I carried the right-standing biblical based spirituality and it was time to call it into play. It is the kind of right standing that counters evil day and night – no matter the form it takes. It’s the kind of authority that yearns to be put into the same playing field with evil, injustice, and destruction. The kind of right standing that legislates truth, love for your neighbor as yourself, places good value on people as human beings not objects; it chooses to build rather than destroy. It holds up a mirror to the face of the carrier and perpetrator of evil with the intention of self-conviction rather than self-condemnation.

Bible-based spirituality is not meant for Sunday morning only. On his last day with the team my difficult boss confessed, “You worship a living God. You say He is heaven but I have seen Him in you.”

Bring your bible-based spirituality to the workplace but don’t make it stand at the doorway or sit like a pretty picture on your desk.

  • Stand and dress the part of a confident and invaluable resource for the organization.

High self-esteem, believing in, and valuing yourself are key elements of life. Here are some facts that every employee should read from a secret diary every time they feel like they are in a furnace when working with an ‘evil’ boss:

  1. Unless his/ her name is on the company documents as an owner, (s)he is an employee just like you
  2. If (s)he is an expatriate working in your home country, you have more rights than (s)he.
  3. If the organization hired and kept you all this time, they needed you and there is something you deliver that the evil boss does not

On bad days when the maximum prison looks like a very good residential address after sending the boss to where (s)he seemingly came from, the above should enable you to take a deep breath and re-evaluate your options.

At the bare minimum, if you are of good character, if you deliver on what is demanded of you by the organization, and you maintain respect and good relations with your team mates, then nitpicking by a cruel boss should not be on your priorities list.

Bullies operate from a simple strategy, “Capture the mind and you don’t have to kill the body.” An inhumane boss is a bully. They get on a high horse and convince themselves that they are superior to you, then they seek an opportunity to get into your space with your permission (like you arriving late at work by 5 minutes) and by a few choice words they convince you how inferior you are. Beating you down on your ego and downplaying your contribution to the organization is as easy as ABC from that point. Just like Rick Warren says, “When you give the devil a foothold into your life, he takes a stronghold.”

When you are personally convinced of your great worth in that organization, that evil boss’s attempt at shaking you up will be an exercise in futility.

  • Develop a support system outside of work

The fact is, there are days you will prefer to be buried alive than face the volcano in your boss. When that happens, recovery is best done in a support system. A group of people who know you well, who will wipe your tears, listen to your rants, and diplomatically tell your boss that you are not coming to work because you are not well. People who will then sit down with you to evaluate your options soberly and without judging you. People who will not be afraid of telling you to go back because looking from outside in, they can see you are in a refiner’s fire not a bottomless pit.

A support system outside of work means that they are not tarnished by the culture and politics of your organization. It means that they will be objective in advising you to leave or stay. It means they will give you a different perspective of the issues at hand.

  • Deliver. Deliver

You manage the battle field by making sure that you deliver on your end. Whether that means working extra hours or helping a team member who is lagging behind, just make sure that your targets are achieved in the right way. Where it doesn’t work out and you gave it your best shot, take responsibility, and go back to the drawing board if it possible. If the venture is lost, prepare for the next one.

You see, failure is in two levels: First, you dropped the ball and did not do your job properly. Do you deserve to be shouted down? No. You deserve to be corrected and held responsible so that it doesn’t happen again. But because you are dealing with an ‘evil’ boss, that is not likely to happen; so, critic yourself before anybody else does and by the time (s)he gets to you, you will listen carefully to glean the helpful criticism while rendering ineffective the stuff that gets you down.

Second, you delivered as expected or better than anyone expected but because the boss chooses not to see it, (s)he renders your output ‘not good enough’. Don’t despair. Seek to understand what you could have done better, and take it in stride. If the job done was so well done that (s)he is embarrassed to acknowledge, smile and walk away remembering this, “No one has an obligation to accept how good you are, except yourself.”

  • Upsell the boss’s good elements especially in his/ her absence

One of the things that you should know about ‘evil’ bosses or as many call them, “bosses from hell”, is that they are human. They have a past, a present and a future. They have prejudices, ambitions, passions and above all, someone loves them. Their past could be full of painful moments that left scars which make them embarrassed. They could be going through a difficult patch in their life and the only place they can vent is to their junior staff. It could also be that they do not know they were being ‘evil’.

My difficult boss did not leave because his contract expired. He left because the team could not take it anymore. His approach in managing people was beginning to take its toll and the negativity was toxic even to the performance of the department. Nonetheless, the man had his good-natured moments and even in your case, you need to find the good in the so called ‘evil’ boss.

If it is true that man is made in the image and likeness of God, then there is an inherent component of goodness in him/ her. Just because (s)he does not appreciate the respect you give in his presence, you do not have permission to disrespect him especially in the presence of colleagues – senior or junior to you.

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