Author Jon Littman here before, as he has written a lot of books and a lot of other stuff. He co-authored gems including The Art of Innovation, Ten Faces of Innovation, and most recently "I Hate People." Jon has many talents, including writing in-depth stories about performance-enhancing drugs in sports on athletes including Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong. His current adventure is Snowballnarrative.com where he works with entrepreneurs and corporations to help them with branding and storytelling.
I ran into Jon at the speech I gave on Good Boss, Bad Boss at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last Monday night. His reaction to the speech was to write a "morality tale" called "Boss Poop" for this blog -- a true story that will definitely make my "top 11" list of the comic, clueless, and cruel acts of crappy bosses, along with examples from other readers. Here is Jon's story. I hope you love it as much as I do -- I think his writing is beautiful.
By Jonathan Littman
We can learn from tales of bad bosses, and the most revealing of these stories have the resonance of classic Grimm’s fairy tales. They pack a moral within the framework of a frightening narrative. Sometimes they can be almost comical. At least for those who don’t have to suffer under a nightmare of a boss.
Consider the long-time president and founder of a successful small Los Angeles advertising firm. Premiere Fortune 500 clients valued his company’s services. But the boss tended to treat his staff somewhere below his dog.
The Boss’s wife used to occasionally visit the office. She was friendly and invariably brought the family dog, a cute spaniel.
The staff dreaded these visits. Spot, as they nicknamed the dog, made clear this was his territory. He’d knock over things, mess up papers, generally wreak havoc, and interrupt work. And that wasn’t all. As if on cue, the dog always went potty during his visit. It was always a number 2. And Spot always left his present in front of someone’s door.
This disgusted employees. They saw it for what it was – a stinking metaphor for their predicament. It screamed a direct and demeaning message about their lowly status. The boss’s wife never cleaned up her dog’s crap. That was a job for the employees.
Then Spot did something exceptional, something that for one day made him a hero in the eyes of the downtrodden staff. He padded right by all the employees and left a big present by the door of his owner, the boss.
The wife left. The dog left. The present remained.
Then the boss hopped on the office intercom. Taking command, he issued a general directive for the prompt removal of Spot’s present. But this was like no other incident before. Not a single employee moved.
The present remained in front of the boss’s door.
The boss tried again and again. Finally, he switched tactics. One by one, over the speakerphone, for all to hear, he called upon virtually every staff member, encouraging them as individuals to rise to the challenge.
This went too far. No one wanted to get fired, but there is a limit to how much humiliation most people will suffer at the office. Not a single staff member responded to the boss’s insulting call for personal humiliation. Finally, the message got through. Upon hearing her name, a shy, recently hired immigrant, rose obediently from her desk, bent before her boss, and scooped up the poop before her boss’s door.
It sounds too bizarre to be true, like a modern day parable. But it gets worse. To further rub it in, so to speak, the boss cheerily got back on his speakerphone, and sang his praise of the poor woman’s good deed. She had delivered a lesson, he said, in “the value of dedication and teamwork.”
Of course, this bizarre, company-wide degradation only served to insure that the boss was even more roundly hated. Key employees soon quit. Sagging morale plummeted farther.
The moral of this bad boss tale? Clean up your own messes. Especially, if you are the boss.
See my book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the best... and learn from the worst., now a New York Times bestseller.
If you’re an employee with a boss, you should take my survey called the BRASS (Boss Reality Assessment Survey System). It will help you determine if your work for a bad boss. Or, as Guy Kawasaki likes to put it, if you work for a certified brasshole.