Working for a living is a sucker's game, and I pity anyone who didn't have the good sense to be born independently wealthy. But the fact remains that at some point most of us will have a boss. And not one of those New Age bosses like "your heart" or "the universe," but an actual man or woman who will sit at a desk nicer than yours and, eight out of 10 times, be a complete prick.
That's probably why so many people fantasize about their dream boss, who typically comes in one of two varieties: 1) the completely oblivious simpleton who lets his staff get away with murder because he doesn't know any better and 2) the super nice boss who would never dream of yelling or asking you to break a sweat in the performance of your duties.
"Hey dude. If it's not too much bother, when you're done with Minesweeper can you show me how to work the copier again? Thanks, buddy."
But I have to tell you, whether you've just entered the job market or are struggling in this awful economy, those are not the bosses you want. You want a boss who is super smart, super good at the job and super demanding. You want a boss who is much better at your job than you. A boss who will notice every single mistake you make and call you out on it. A boss who is so impressive that his or her abilities will fill you with self-doubt. Why? Well, I could explain that thoroughly in a conversational-style essay, or I could put it in list form so those of you reading this on a smartphone while defecating can jump around and miss points between wipes. Hmm, what's that, Internet? Ah. List it is!
Here are the five reasons you want a super demanding and competent boss:
#5. They Don't Hide Information Due to Insecurity
Here's a lesson I've learned. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a political administration, an investment company or a corner store bodega -- most people obtain and increase their power by controlling information. Those who rise to the top often are not the smartest or best, but the most intent on acquiring an unfair advantage. They covet information. They hide details, no matter how small.
"No one shall know the secret of what condiment Mr. Penske prefers on his sandwich!"
In my life I've met no shortage of people who make a calculation before divulging any and all information. I have a word for these people: weak, pathetic, shameless, scared assholes. Is that more than a word? Sorry. Odds are at least half the people reading this column fall into this category. You know you're not actually smarter or better than your peers, and you need every advantage to succeed. If that means coveting some bit of data you've gathered to create the false appearance of being smarter, you'll do it. You don't believe in a meritocracy, where talent is rewarded, because you know you're really not that talented. Personally, I find living in such a way utterly exhausting and embarrassing, but it really does seem to be the norm. And those of you who don't play these games could well suffer because of it.
Even worse, so often these scared, game-playing pricks end up becoming the boss one day. After all, knowing the limits of their talents and living in fear of those who can call them out on it makes them desperate to be the boss. That way they can't get fired. But even when these crafty fuckers make it to the big time, they're still not content. All that fear and paranoia now get directed below. They hide information from their own employees. After all, if they expose their subordinates to the same information they have, they might get shown up. Outshone from below. If they were content to hide data from their peers, do you think they'd have any problem withholding facts from underlings like you? You don't even have a corner office with a pretty ficus plant.
I don't know why this popped up when I searched "ficus plant," but there are decent odds your boss has one of these in his office, too.
So they keep those details about the client secret. Or they fail to disclose how the other pieces of the machine fit with the part you're working on so they can watch you spin your wheels in a vacuum, polishing your little section just before they sweep in and explain why your tiny efforts could never fit into a larger whole.
But a Frighteningly Talented Boss ...
Know who doesn't pull shit like that? People who are really smart. People who know they're the best. They're so confident no one could solve a problem as well as they that they have no compunction giving their employees all the tools to shine. After all, why would someone that smart want to waste vital hours out of every day manufacturing games to make others fail when they can spend that time just doing a job well? Is it hard to work for someone who's possibly smarter than you and fully aware of it? Yeah, especially if they're arrogant about it. But the five minutes a week you'll groan to yourself about the size of your boss' ego will never devour your soul like working for someone who needs to maintain power through deceit.
#4. They Don't Create Fall Guys
Here's something else about bosses who are too aware of their failings: They make mistakes. All the time. But if others find out, well then they might not get to be the boss anymore. They might have to sit in a smaller office like yours, completely devoid of ficus plants. This is why lesser bosses always create distance between their decisions and any project that must ultimately be accomplished. The more distance they create, the more people fit between them and the end result. And the more people between them and the end result, the more people they can blame for something going wrong.
Dumb bosses create fall guys. Could that fall guy be you? Of course it could. That fall guy can be anyone except the boss and anyone with the ability to fire him or her. That leaves you.
It also could be any of these people, but odds are, eventually it will be you.
Well, wait a minute you say. If they create more distance, then isn't it also harder for them to take credit? Harder, yes. But not impossible. After all, when the project's done they'll probably just scoop it up for the presentation. Or if you're presenting, they'll swoop in with a criticism about how this project didn't jibe with some other bit of information they never told you about in the first place. (See #5 and try not to start drinking.)
But a Frighteningly Talented Boss ...
A truly competent boss got where he or she is by doing the job better than anyone else. That boss won't want anything substandard under his or her watch. It bothers such bosses. Makes them feel bad about themselves. They'll want to see the project before it's due for that presentation, and you'll curse them because now you've just been deprived of a day to get something done. But you should be grateful, because if it's wrong, they'll tell you to set it right and the project will get done without some poor sap having to fall on his sword to make the big guy look good.
#3. You Know Where You Stand With Them
The funny thing about no-good, treacherous, game-playing hack bosses? So often they're, like, super nice! After all, they have to be. Having everyone like them is a trick they used to become boss in the first place. And they need to be able to rape you for their benefit on a moment's notice. How are they gonna do that if you walk around all distrustful with a clenched anus all day? (That's not sexist. Metaphorically, these bosses engage exclusively in anal rape, regardless of gender. Also, female bosses use a strap-on with a smiley face emblazoned on the head.)
Due to current obscenity laws, I have redacted the smiley face strap-on. But I've used a smiley face to do so for the convenience of your imagination.
I always laugh and shake my head when I hear people say they want a boss who's "nice." Then the people at the bus stop usually look at me weird and ask me to stop eavesdropping and go back to my paper-bagged booze. Still, the point is the same. Nice means nothing. I once worked at a place that was super nice. In my four years there, I almost never heard anyone yell. About anything. Lots of firm handshakes and bright smiles. And when nice people are nice to you, it's very nice and you can say "Wow, this is so nice." But y'know what else? Sometimes things get not nice, and when that happens, do you know what those people do? They still act nice! And "act" is the vital word in that sentence, because none of the act is true and most people never see the knife in the nice guy's hand.
That warm sensation you feel is my smile. Also, the shiv I've just jabbed between your ribs.
This nice place I worked practically laid off an entire department across several offices. Hey, these things happen -- especially in a recession. So these nice people laid off gobs of people. So many that some statistics put them at third in layoffs in the entire country in their industry. Oh, and because they were so nice, they also issued a press release that said they weren't firing anyone. They claimed the layoff rumors were completely untrue. And then after that, because they were so nice and never yelled, they made the people they laid off sign confidentiality agreements saying they wouldn't talk about the layoffs or they'd lose their severance pay. Isn't that nice? I mean, that way anyone looking for a job would appear to have been fired for their own incompetence, because no boss would ever tell the press there were no layoffs when so many people had been laid off. Certainly not one that nice. This is a true story, even though the behavior is so cartoonishly evil I would never include it in a novel because a reader would never believe it. (Not even in my forthcoming novel, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. Thank you.)
But a Frighteningly Talented Boss ...
Given all of the above, I'm actually a fan of bosses who yell. I don't really trust anyone until I've had at least one good disagreement with them. It's best to see people at their worst on occasion. And in bosses and friends, I still believe distance grows not so much from things said in anger, but from those left unsaid. The unspoken words and phrases build a wall of hurt and insecurity that makes a friend an acquaintance. And in the case of bosses, it makes a wall that obscures the wrecking ball that's coming toward your head.
I'm not saying abusive dicks are great. But raised voices and reprimands don't have to be the same thing as abuse. It's always best to know where you stand, and so often, "nice" people are just not good at that. Smiles and silence come easier than honesty.